Guns N’ Roses review: too late, too quiet – and as unpredictable as ever

From left: Slash, Duff McKagan, Axl Rose and Carrie Underwood - Jeff Johnson
From left: Slash, Duff McKagan, Axl Rose and Carrie Underwood - Jeff Johnson

To a chorus of displeasure expressed online, ticketholders gathered to see Guns N’ Roses’ performance on Friday night were required to wait two hours later than advertised before at last being permitted entry to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Such was the delay that Michael Monroe, the night’s opening act, was cut from the bill, while the headliners themselves appeared onstage almost an hour late for a set that was trimmed by no fewer than seven songs. All the same, at Gate 11 a cheery steward explained that the occasion represented a slice of history. “It’s the first ever concert here,” she reasoned, “there’s bound to be teething problems.”

According to a well-placed source, the reason for the delay was that singer Axl Rose had fallen victim to a bout of anxiety that was only assuaged by the event’s organisers agreeing to allow him to remain in the venue, night’s sleep and all, until after the second of his band’s consecutive evenings at the gleaming North London stadium. “Nice place you’ve got here,” he said, when at last his band appeared before an audience that in some cases had paid more than £250 for the privilege of being kept waiting. Elsewhere, on the pitch, the crowd vented their displeasure at what for them were pitifully low volume levels. “Turn it up,” they chanted. After less than an hour, a steady stream of people began trudging towards the exits.

In a night beset by problems, it was surely testament to the scale of the concert that, in the seats hard by the stage, Guns N’ Roses’ emphatic rock rang out clear and true. The sight of Rose violently tossing aside his microphone stand in the thick of the thrillingly nihilistic It’s So Easy – “cars are crashing every night, I drink and drive everything in sight,” he sang – recalled a time when he couldn’t always be relied upon to finish his night’s work playing to the kinds of audiences not averse to causing serious damage to venues as large as this.

But if the atmosphere in London was less explosive than at concerts of old, Guns N’ Roses’ continued ability to play with a measure of menace exemplified just one of the qualities that set them apart from the hair metal pack of the 1980s. So too did the refined grandiosity of songs such as Estranged and November Rain, both of which were last night elevated by the inevitably imperious lead guitar playing of top-hatted top-tier rock star Slash. Such was the towering charisma of bassist Duff McKagan that it didn’t much matter that his lead vocals on a cover of the Stooges’ fittingly punkish I Wanna Be Your Dog made Iggy Pop sound like Pavarotti.

What did matter, though, was the manner in which the set was cut. For reasons known only to themselves, the Los Angelinos excised the epic and masterful Coma from the running order in favour of newer songs that were simply not its equal. The decision to remove the searing You Could Be Mine was similarly mysterious. With a set list comprised of 22 songs performed over the course of two and a half hours, few could reasonably complain that they were short-changed by Guns N’ Roses, but it seemed as if the men responsible for some of the finest songs in the hard rock canon didn’t know the worth of some of their best work.

For Paradise City, the night’s final song, the group were joined onstage for a second time by singer Carrie Underwood. As if oblivious to the night’s lavish surroundings, leaning into its murderous groove, Axl Rose delivered the line “I’m your charity case so buy me something to eat” with a venom that implied he remained hungry after all these years. At moments such as these, it was only fitting that Guns N’ Roses themselves seemed as precarious and as unpredictable as ever they were.

Guns N' Roses play Glasgow Green on July 5;