Though it didn’t have the paradigm-shifting power of Nirvana’s breakthrough a few years later, when Guns N’ Roses exploded internationally in the late ’80s, it was the kind of breathtaking moment that doesn’t seem to happen anymore. In a relative instant, the band emerged with a blast of freshness that showed a side of Rock & Roll many young people hadn’t experienced — with a ton of natural swagger, GNR took the grittiest, dirtiest elements of Classic Rock bands like Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy and The Rolling Stones and made them grittier and dirtier. The group stood out in its purity and rawness. In 1987, the year GNR’s legendary Appetite for Destruction was released, the biggest Rock songs included Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.”
That magic, of course, didn’t last. Appetite was the sound of a hungry band with nothing to lose, a context that is impossible to recreate after massive success. Rockers become “serious artists,” egos grow, drug use gets out of control and, perhaps most importantly, infighting damages the chemistry between the musicians. Each member contributed to the revelatory sound on that debut album, while GNR’s two-album follow-up — 1991’s Use Your Illusion I and II — sounded less like a band of brothers and more like a bunch of talented studio musicians with a lot of money to spend. The albums had their moments, but the energy of Appetite was gone. By the end 1991, so were drummer Steven Adler and guitarist Izzy Stradlin.
Guitar hero Slash left in 1996 and bassist Duff McKagan split a year later, leaving frontman Axl Rose as the sole member from the Appetite years. Rose steered his Guns N’ Roses (with a weird rotating cast of players) through the next two decades, keeping the band a strong draw on the touring circuit and releasing the album Chinese Democracy, which took a decade to complete, in 2008 to some commercial success and scant critical praise.
Now, Rose has reunited with Slash and McKagan for this year’s “Not in This Lifetime…” tour. Unless you have a time machine, GNR (rounded out by various players from the band’s lifespan, plus newcomer Melissa Reese on keys/synths/programming) will never be what it was on Appetite, even if the other members of that era were a part of the tour. But early reviews have been positive, suggesting the group — which runs through GNR’s entire discography, even touching on Chinese Democracy — is playing with a renewed energy. If you were ever a fan, this is probably the best it’s going to get in terms of seeing “the real Guns N’ Roses.”
Tickets are still available for GNR's Cincinnati tour stop. Click here for info. Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown open the show.