When the announcement came in early 2016 that original band members Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan would reunite for a world tour, Guns N’ Roses fans everywhere let out a collective gasp. Could they really be playing together after more than two decades?
The bitter split of Guns N’ Roses in 1994 – due to personal differences fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse – made attempts at reunification impossible. For twenty years Rose and Slash were not on speaking terms, and Rose missed the group’s 2012 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A recluse by nature, Rose withdrew from public life soon after the band broke up while Slash went on to find commercial success with new group Velvet Revolver. For fans, it was an overwhelming sense of loss for one of the greatest bands of all time.
Rose eventually resurfaced with a new line-up of GnR. In 2010 they performed at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. I was curious, so when they returned in 2013 I quickly bought tickets. True, there was no Slash. But Rose sounded great and had put together a talented group of musicians who hammered out all the hits as well as songs from Chinese Democracy. They started on time and delivered a smooth set. No riots, tantrums or controversy, hallmarks of classic GnR.
But it did not have the mesmerising performance quality that was on full display earlier this month. On March 3, the original GnR played Dubai’s Autism Rocks Arena as part of 2017’s Not In This Lifetime world tour. The chemistry between Rose and Slash is undeniable, and while they are older, more mature and sober, there is no question we were witnessing a singular musical performance. GnR gave the giddy audience a triumphant three-hour show packed with songs from Appetite For Destruction, GNR Lies, Use Your Illusion I & II, Chinese Democracy and The Spaghetti Incident. It was hard enough to process the scene. There they were, sharing the stage and unleashing Sweet Child of Mine. LIVE. It was harder still to believe they had gotten even better. This was especially true of Slash, whose multiple guitar solos were sublime.
Dubai’s Autism Rocks Arena can hold a maximum of 21,000 people. But this was GnR, and GnR 23 years later drew a capacity-busting crowd of 30,000. Hundreds of die-hard fans flew in from Pakistan, where the band has a cult following. I was surrounded by groups of teenaged boys who weren’t even born when GnR’s first album came out. Concert organisers were overwhelmed and arrangements unravelled quickly at the end. Many were stranded after the show and walked kilometres to find a cab.
For the most anticipated reunion in rock, I had to pinch myself it was happening in Dubai. It was further evidence of just how far the city had come. This would have been unthinkable in the early 90’s when GnR were at their peak; the infrastructure simply did not exist. So thank you, Dubai, for letting so many enjoy a truly incredible moment in rock history!