Guns N’ Roses rocked Voodoo’s Altar stage through the rain with the same vigor that made them famous.
Guns N’ Roses still deliver on their original promise. Since their 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction, the group has maintained its formulaically bad-boy persona. GNR was always a project of excess, of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll with a punk bent. More than 30 years later, they’re reassuring fans that they’ve still got it on their reunion tour, "Not In This Lifetime."
They opened their three-hour set at Voodoo Friday night in New Orleans with “It’s So Easy” from Appetite for Destruction with a vocal part unusually low for Axl Rose’s wide range. Other songs, like “Better”,“Nightrain”, and “Rocket Queen”, gave him the chance to flaunt his impressive vocal range and feel proud that he could still hit all the high notes. While the band members have visibly aged, they performed as if playing a younger version of themselves. By acting out the same off-the-rails persona that made them famous, they confirmed the magnetism of the familiar. They gave fans at Voodoo a perfectly packaged version of Guns N’ Roses as they knew them. People came to see a familiar band, and they got just that.
Axl was predictably unbridled and threw up as many middle fingers as one might expect. He hardly missed an opportunity to call any given thing a “fucking” thing. He managed to hit the high notes while prancing and galloping around the stage, though not with the same ease or grace. Axl basked in his own rock star persona and seemed to genuinely enjoy playing himself. What else are legacy bands’ reunion tours for?
Slash was still Slash and the audience was grateful for the many on-screen close-ups showcasing his guitar chops at work. He gave a crowd-pleasing solo around the set’s mid-point and from there segued into the intro for “Sweet "Child o' Mine”, to which everyone sang along.
Guns N’ Roses doesn’t have to try anymore to excite a crowd. Casual listeners and diehards alike already have enough information about who the band is to continue cycling through it and enjoy the same experience on repeat. Legacy bands are granted an extended half-life, and as a consequence, the band almost gets off too easy. GNR has little incentive to innovate in their performances or produce new material when they can succeed by continuing to replicate the same formula. Guns N’ Roses stick to the familiar and it works for them.
The irony is that what is now familiar used to be shocking and far-out. Being “punk” means something different today than it did for the band in the '80s. What was considered edgy and risky has since flattened out. The band’s early forays into drug use and heavy partying are well-known and so ingrained in the culture as to seem banal, for younger audiences especially. Their party-hard image might even resonate with a younger generation coming as fresh listeners to their music; not as the rebellious punk rockers they once were, but perhaps as a charmed dad band. GNR was once outrageous, but on Friday night parents brought their kids--even infants--to see them.
The punk and rock 'n' roll aesthetics have long seeped their way into mainstream culture by way of fashion and popular music. Nothing GNR did or said at Voodoo shocked anyone, and the gritty, hard rock of an aggressive, bad boy band is now a familiar, even tired image. Yet, it still worked for Guns N’ Roses. People love and remember them or can at least delight in what they imagine it was like. GNR is steeped deeply in the popular musical canon so that their legacy has crystallized in a tight, consumable package. Younger listeners could hear "Welcome to the Jungle" or "Sweet Child o' Mine" and feel like they had the GNR experience. The Voodoo set contained few surprises and gave audiences at Voodoo exactly what they paid for. Classic rock doesn’t have to reincarnate; it just needs to remind us that it happened.