This was a concert most of us thought would never happen.
After the original members of Guns N’ Roses left or were fired one by one until only Axl Rose was left in a band that was a shadow of its glory days, who would have thought that we would see Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan share the stage once more, let alone on Philippine soil!?
The gargantuan Philippine Arena was no match for the throngs of GNR faithfuls who came in cars and shuttle buses to witness the band that defined a generation’s youth. I didn’t think that the concert would start at exactly 7:30PM, so I played the part of the Good Samaritan and waited for a teammate to arrive and hand him his ticket.
People-watching outside, I counted a considerable number of concert-goers wearing plain black shirts with the GNR logo in front. “Business must be good for the shirt makers,” I thought to myself. Then the cheers erupted from the arena, so I began smashing my phone’s keypad, asking my co-writer, “WHERE ARE YOU!?”
I entered the massive hall just as Slash was playing the intro of “Welcome to the Jungle”, jolting me back in time to when I first pressed play and listened to the first track of their seminal album “Appetite for Destruction”. No one was sitting down. Everyone was cheering, recording with their phones, and having a good time!
I reviewed Slash when he toured with Myles Kennedy a couple of years back. I may have come off as a bit harsh when I wrote that he missed a couple of notes during an extended solo. This time around, he slithered through all his riffs and solos in virtuoso fashion. Slash shredding his Les Paul guitar is a thing of beauty that makes me want to pick up my guitar and practice, and despair knowing I can’t be as good as him, all at the same time.
Axl Rose is obviously not in his prime anymore. But I couldn’t care less. Even if his voice’s power could not match the instruments in several songs, and he is unable to sustain the notes as effortlessly as before, he delivered when it mattered, especially in the songs “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Civil War”, “November Rain”, and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”. His vocals were like a valve amp, slowly gaining power as he warmed up through the night. Come the second half of the concert, he was noticeably punching with more power and intensity, feeding off the energy from the crowd as the night grew longer and the cheers and shrills grew louder.
Of the three original members, I think Duff McKagan aged the best. McKagan’s voice was in tip-top shape as he and Melissa Reese provided back-up vocals to Axl Rose. Taking center stage in a raucous cover of the Misfits’ “Attitude”, Duff greeted the crowd, “Manila, t*ngina!” causing the crowd to rupture with laughter and cheers. Richard Fortus held his own, going head to head with Slash in a guitar duel of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and working through complex solos on multiple occasions.
Memorable portions of the evening include GNR paying homage to Scott Weiland and Chris Cornell when they played “Slither” and “Black Hole Sun”, respectively. I love the main riff of Velvet Revolver’s “Slither”, and at the same time I missed Weiland’s unique vocals. On the other hand, Axl Rose did absolute justice to the vocals of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”. The realization that we lost so many rock icons in the last few years makes this event seem extra special.
The string of songs starting with “Wish You Were Here”, followed by “November Rain”, “Black Hole Sun”, and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” was the perfect end to the night’s main set. “November Rain” in particular sent shivers down my spine as Slash played the closing solo. After the two-and-a-half-hour main set, GNR came out for a four-song encore including “Patience”, “Don’t Cry”, and closing with “Paradise City”.
I think most of us who went to the concert (and those who didn’t) questioned whether the band still had it in them. To that, my answer is a yes and a no. It’s not a secret that Axl Rose has lost his vocal power over the years – perhaps due to age, to abuse, or both. But the concert was well-paced to suit his limitations, allowing him to rest his voice, interspersing songs that were not as demanding vocally with those those that required his maximum effort. Axl himself has learned or developed techniques to compensate for gaps in his vocal prowess, such as taking in a quick breath before belting out a long note. Above and beyond the technique is the essence of rock that the band brought with them last November 11. This was by no means a tribute concert, where the group banks on their greatest hits and lazily beckons the crowd to sing the songs for them. Axl Rose and the rest of GNR were constantly engaging the crowd, singing and playing their hearts out, and rewarding their loyal fans a performance that is truly once in a lifetime.
Our utmost thanks to MMI Live for allowing When In Manila to cover Guns N’ Roses Not In This Lifetime Tour.