I woke up today with my ears ringing. I usually protect them with fancy monitors, foam plugs, or old fashioned spitballs from bunched-up cocktail napkins. But last night, there would be no filter. Not when you’re in the pit at a Guns N’ Roses concert.
My original plan last night was to see an Improv show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, but my guest list spot fell through, and serendipitously the American Authors merch girl Julia hit me up an hour later, and wanted to see if me and the boys wanted some floor seats to G N’ R. I think I peed a little bit upon reading the text.
We took NJ Transit to get to Met Life Stadium amidst hordes of aging rockers and millenials alike, all donning their bandannas, ravaged denim, and cherished Guns N’ Roses Skeleton tour shirts, crushing brown-bagged Miller Lite tall boys and wearing Aviator sunglasses well into the evening.
Lenny Kravitz opened the show, and he is one hell of a showman. I have never been THE biggest fan, but his command of the stage displayed the true aura of a rock star. He got pretty jammy with his horn section, backup singers, and all-star band, but sadly he did not attempt any splits this evening; ergo we didn’t get to see his special “flute” solo he has become infamous for of late.
Julia found us in our seats, gave us hugs, and slapped some yellow wristbands on us, granting access to…(Duhn duh DUUUHN!): the PIT. Being in the pit at a Gun N’ Roses show back in 1987, when Appetite for Destruction first came out, must have been like being on the field at Shea Stadium for the Beatles, or watching the Hell’s Angels idle their bikes in front of the Stones at Altamont. The same pit in 2016: a lot more tame. People were talking OVER the music about their snapchats. Taking pictures of Duff McKagan was more important than seeing him rock those classic riffs. Sleazy grey-haired agent types were strolling through the crowd with a handful of 90-lb. models who were probably not old enough to drink that Michelob Ultra.
Watching the newly reunited band perform, I imagined them as excited teens with acne playing air guitar in a basement somewhere in LA in the early 80s. “We need a super rad but tough-sounding name..how about Guns AND…nay… <N!> Roses! Hey William, you should call yourself Axl! And Saul, that name is too weird, you should be called Slash! No mom, we don’t want brownies, we are down here making HISTORY!” I’m sure my history is way off, but it’s my fantasy so shut up.
And Axl. Oh, Axl. Mr. Rose sounds about as good as he looks when you compare him to the sleek slithery rock god he was three decades ago. His voice sounded great on some tunes; on others he sounded like someone doing a hilariously over the top Axl Rose impression at a drunken karaoke. But oh man–you can tell it’s him. We got close enough to see the whites of his eyes, which is remarkable in an arena that holds 82,000 people. And you can see the crazy in there— the kind of crazy only the frontman of a legendary 80s rock band can have. Also, you can tell that Slash and Duff have been hitting the gym in the meantime since the breakup; Axl has been hitting the hoagies.
And Slash. Holy shit. Simply jaw-dropping. Hearing his ferocious improvised wailing, mixed in with all the singable solos on classics like “November Rain” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Whoa. You need to be in the same room as his amplifier, to really feel the playing in your chest, to really realize a guitar player’s true greatness. I learned that in 12th grade when I saw Eric Clapton. I was reminded again a few years ago when I saw Lindsey Buckingham. And I sure as shit saw it last night when Slash ripped me to pieces.
Note to self: sit down with some classic G N’ R tunes and get some of those Slash riffs down, because he was the star of the show for me. And also: avoid NJ transit when possible.