The notorious kings of 80’s and 90’s rock are more than capable of headlining a festival the size of ACL. The sun hadn’t even begun to set Friday evening when pockets of Guns N’ Roses fans began to collect at the American Express stage. Die-hard fans stood in the heat for hours, pushing forward any chance they got.
At 7:30, the lights went down, and the Not In This Lifetime tour intro began to play on the screens. After some bike mechanics and a ride through a graveyard of musicians we’ve lost, the detonation of some good ‘ole TNT finally welcomed the band to the stage.
The band started their set with “It’s So Easy” off their 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction. But you couldn’t really hear the song until it was nearly over, as the cheers from the fans nearly drowned out all sound. Things calmed down noise-wise for “Mr. Brownstone,” the energy being channeled into vigorous dancing instead.
Chinese Democracy’s titular track followed. Although not nearly as many people knew the words to the single off GNR’s least popular album, there were no negative reactions to it as there might have been when it was first released. The rendition was beautiful, reworked to showcase the best of the band as well as vocals and synth from newcomer Melissa Reese.
The rest of the setlist was a series of crowd pleasers. This is a pretty easy feat to accomplish as a band like Guns N’ Roses, boasting a trajectory of hit after hit.
Although there were no dancers, wild pyro, or lead singers diving into the crowd to fist-fight an audience member, the band made good use of the screens behind them. The images during “Welcome to the Jungle” of city streets rushing out towards the edges of the screen had you believing you were flying down Sunset Blvd. on a Harley. “Estranged” called back to it’s 90’s music video, flashing the definition of estranged and other related imagery in synch with the music.
Axel Rose killed vocals, holding steady notes in every song. But the real energy came from Richard Fortus and the indomitable Slash himself. The pair of guitarists leapt and sprinted from edge to edge of the stage, never missing a note on their instruments as they zipped past. Fortus has proven to be an excellent addition to the band, holding his own with talent and charisma, earning wild cheers during solos through the set.
At 5’10, Slash seemed larger than life whenever he stepped to the edge of the stage in hit top hat, nearly among the crowd while he played what many have come to hail as some of the greatest solos ever written. Austin went wild at the first notes of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” jumping harder than anyone should be able to. Exhausting panting following the sound was replaced by gasps of recognition when “November Rain” began to play. The slow start to the song allowed fans a chance to catch their breath, returning to full force by the end of the track.
The band came back for an (ironically) tear-jerking encore of “Don’t Cry,” but ended on the happy note of “Paradise City,” complete with fireworks shooting from the stage. GNR played until the last of the fireworks faded above the Austin skyline, walking backstage as the audience roared. They came back one last time to bow as a unit, and the show was done.
Guns N’ Roses is a defining band in the history of music, a must-see for anyone regardless of age or taste, If you missed them this weekend, rash to buy tickets to see their Weekend 2 set here.