File photo: Guns N' Roses at Gillette Stadium, July 2016 by John Hutchings
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but rock concerts in 2017 are incredibly different than rock concerts were in the 70’s, 80’s, even 90’s. On Sunday Night, fans at TD Garden in Boston, MA were treated to what can best be described as a vintage rock concert. The iconic Guns N’ Roses took over the building for a 3 and ½ hour show that left everyone in the arena in awe.
Concerts today are different. Today, bands gain enough popularity with their album releases and social media followings that they can easily sell out gigs without any indication of how their live performance is, but based on pure popularity alone. Additionally, when people come to those shows, they’re generally satisfied with a band playing 15-18 of their songs, note for note, exactly as you hear them on the album. Now that’s not a knock on modern bands, I’ll spare you the platitudes like “you don’t know how it was in MY day.” There are modern era bands whose live performance is on par, if not better, than most bands in the past. But it’s a totally different standard now. Unless you have a catalog of recognizable and timeless songs as big as GNR has, putting on a three-hour concert would be near impossible and frankly boring.
But the concerts of yesterday were a different experience, in the era when Guns N’ Roses got started, there was no such thing as a guaranteed sell out. No online sales, no StubHub, no apps, you had to either call a venue or for the most popular shows, go in person to the box office on the on-sale date and wait in line to buy tickets.
When buying tickets required more than just a few clicks on a screen or taps on your phone, bands had to give you something worth your time and money. They had to provide a show that was worth standing in line for hours just to buy tickets for, and then standing in line again 3 months later at the actual show. Bands had to earn their ticket sales by putting on a buzz worthy performance that was unlike anything you could see elsewhere. That’s what Guns N’ Roses gave Boston on Sunday night, a show that you couldn’t experience on an album, or a YouTube video, but had to see in person to get it. 3 and ½ hours of music performed in a way where each song was vastly different from what you hear on the original recordings.
In those 3 ½ hours GNR got through 32 songs, 23 of which were GNR originals. The others were covers or instrumental solos. Now, cover songs are a whole different conversation for another day, today’s covers are usually popular songs everyone knows the words to played as heard. But for GNR live covers consist of either well known songs (Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here") but with an added touch or songs that maybe not everyone knows, (see "Wichita Lineman" by Jimmy Webb) a song that anyone who didn’t look up the setlist prior to coming would have never seen expected, but they played it, and they made it their own.
Guns N’ Roses bring each and every song they perform to life. Key word being "perform," each song is exactly that, a performance, multi-faceted display that includes visual thrills and a monster stage presence by the band members. This is a product of a bygone era, when GNR made their bones, bands who wanted to sell out an arena concert had to deliver something worth talking about, something that would leave everyone in attendance talking about the gig so exuberantly that just hearing about it made you want to buy tickets for the next show.
For better or worse there is perhaps no band in history who has done this as well as Guns N’ Roses. Sometimes their shows were flawless and spectacular, people couldn’t stop raving about them. Other times they were chaotic and unpredictable even resulting in full scale riots that would lead to the band facing criminal charges and barred from every playing there again. In their era, one thing was for certain, when Guns N’ Roses came to your city everybody knew about it.
So here we are in 2017 with a reunited Guns N’ Roses earning every cent of their ticket prices, Guns N’ Roses shows are no longer a volatile experience, the band now shows up on time and plays through a full set without incident. But that extra effort that made them famous is still there, Guns N’ Roses are still putting heart and soul into their shows, as if they were still a band trying to make a name for themselves.
For one of the world’s best-selling artists, it would be pretty easy to get by on a halfhearted 90-minute set with two opening acts, GNR could easily sustain doing that, they have the track record and star power to sell tickets on name alone. But they don’t, complacency doesn’t exist in Guns N’ Roses’ world, they still work every show to give their audience something unique.
No rock concert will ever be like those late 80’s early 90’s Guns N’ Roses concerts again, the industry has changed too much, similar behavior today would get you shut down and blacklisted pretty quick. But while Guns N Roses have ditched the antics, the talent is still there. When you’re looking at rock legends, it’s sometimes easy to forget that at one point those legends were just kids with a whole lot of musical talent. But the members of GNR, even the ones outside of the original three, don’t let you forget that for even a second. Their talent is not taken for granted, but is instead in the open for all to see.
Seeing Guns N' Roses live is like stepping back in time to the golden era of live music, when concerts were less rehearsed, more fluid, and encores were genuine, an era when you could see something different every night on the tour. They're still providing that experience today, so if you want to see what it was like when rock concerts were nightly news material, catch Guns N' Roses while you can.