Live Review: Guns N’ Roses at the Ritz, New York City
For one night only, one of hard rock’s most legendarily forward-looking bands, Guns N’ Roses, attempted the unthinkable: they looked back…as best they could. Nearly a quarter of a century after MTV filmed them for its Live at the Ritz series—which went on to become a highly collectable bootleg video—the group revisited the 1,400-capacity venue, now known as Webster Hall, on Wednesday, to play one of its smallest public shows since the 1988 filming. But while it was set up to hark back to GN’R’s early days—the venue changed all of its signage including its marquee to read “The Ritz”—and the band played all but two of the songs it recorded for Live at the Ritz, the concert itself was very much a modern Guns N’ Roses show. And that isn’t a bad thing.
Guns N’ Roses original Live at the Ritz video from 1988:
Unlike the Guns N’ Roses who performed at the Ritz in the ’80s, just getting their first taste of success, this was a band putting on a Madison Square Garden–sized show on a small stage. They opened by playing the theme to TV’s Dexter, shortly after which the group’s three guitarists and bassist clamored to the stage to play the opening notes of “Chinese Democracy.” (See the full set list below.) From there, frontman Axl Rose—named one of the 100 Greatest Living Rock Stars in Revolver’s 100th issue, on stands now—became the band’s ringleader, snake-dancing his way through the group’s classic material and songs from 2008’s Chinese Democracy.
In all, GN’R played three-quarters of their breakthrough debut, 1987’s mega 18-times platinum Appetite for Destruction—including “My Michelle” and an almost reggae-fied “You’re Crazy,” neither of which the band has played at a public gig in the U.S. since 2006. And they peppered these with more hits, extensive solos (during which bassist Tommy Stinson played his solo song “Motivation” and guitarist DJ Ashba hammed it up with call-and-response solos with the crowd) and covers ranging from AC/DC’s “Riff Raff” (introduced by Rose as, “This is a song we like to play for ourselves”) to hints at “Heartbreak Hotel” and Elton John songs.
Although much has been made of the band’s current lineup—especially in anticipation of its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April—the fact is, the musicians played the set perfectly and songs like Chinese Democracy’s “Street of Dreams” and Use Your Illusion II’s “You Could Be Mine” sit comfortably next to each other in a live setting. Rose’s voice sounded as great as it ever has, especially considering he’s now 50, and the musicians segued between the songs with ease and, moreover, they had their own personalities distinct from the ’80s lineup.
Throughout the night, Rose seemed comfortable and playful, barely noticing he was on a smaller-than-average size stage. (This might help since, as part of GN’R’s current Up Close and Personal Tour, the group had already played New York’s 3,200-person capacity Roseland Ballroom and 3,000-person capacity Terminal 5.) He leaned over and shook fans hands during “It’s So Easy,” and when it came to the part where he sings, “Turn around bitch, I got a use for you/Besides, you ain’t got nothin’ better to do…and I’m bored,” he pantomimed a comic shrug. He played his own piano solo before going into “November Rain.” And he did his classic snake dance throughout. If anything was evident, it was that he would feel natural at any venue. But maybe he was excited to have returned to where the band first took off.
“Tommy just told me that the Replacements got signed here in 1985,” he said of Stinson’s former group after the grand piano he played “November Rain” was shoved back under the stage’s giant drum riser. “So it holds a special place in all of our hearts. And it was Richard’s [Fortus, guitar] idea to bring it all back.”
Bringing it back for Guns N’ Roses, though, means doing it on their own terms—with stadium lights and a supersized set list. Having taken the stage at 11:53 p.m., they didn’t end the show until 3:10 a.m., when Rose chucked his mic stand on the stage after playing a confetti-strewn “Paradise City.” But if anything is true of Guns N’ Roses, it’s the chorus to the song they had played just before that final encore: “All you need is just a little patience.” Lasting through to the end of the set may have been an exhaustive stamina test, but it was worth every minute.
Photos of Guns N’ Roses at the Ritz 2012 (shot on an iPhone):
Guns N’ Roses Set List:
“Welcome to the Jungle”
“It’s So Easy”
Richard Fortus Guitar Solo
“Live and Let Die”
“This I Love”
Dizzy Reed Piano Solo
“Street of Dreams”
“You Could Be Mine”
DJ Ashba Guitar Solo
“Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Axl Rose Piano Solo
Bumblefoot Guitar Solo
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
“Used to Love Her”