Whether or not you accept that the 2016 version of Guns n’ Roses is a close-enough recreation of the original or near classic version is a source of considerable debate. At least it was before the band performed its first “reunion” shows. Already its authenticity was in doubt, what with the absence of rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, a member that anyone within the GNR camp will tell you was as, if not more important, to the band’s quan than Axl or Slash. Then there was no Steven Adler or, hell, even his Use Your Illusion-era replacement Matt Sorum, either of whom would have made this GNR feel more like a throwback than a thrown together. And it’s not just that the original rhythm section is alive but absent (Adler, after all, may have a legitimate excuse). It’s that the guys replacing them were part of the dubious Chinese Democracy-era of Guns n’ Roses, from which Axl Rose was its lone original member. The inclusion of the anti-Izzy, Richard Fortus, and anti-Adler, Frank Ferrer, are equivalent to Axl marking his territory, pissing on the notion that this Guns n’ Roses is anything but his band. It’s not unlike a Chinese democracy.
Even before this Guns n’ Roses played a single note, it was clear the quasi-reformation would occur only on Axl’s terms. Immediately after Slash gave an August 2015 interview confirming that he and Axl had mended fences, he shut the fuck up. Slash didn’t say and hasn’t said another word to the press, and neither has Duff, two guys that, up til then, would talk to anyone about anything and even provide the de rigueur soundbite about their feelings on a possible GNR reunion. Hell, they wrote books about their days in GNR and their relationship with Axl, and did tours to promote them. Then, suddenly, nothing, not a word. Just like Axl would have wanted, and probably (definitely!) demanded. The mercurial singer, of course, refuses interviews because interviewers would have the audacity to question his lack of productivity, his refusal to go on stage on time, him cancelling shows no little explanation, why he hates everyone …. Did we miss anything?
They, of course, were careful never to use the word “reunion” because the promoters, booking agents, manager, lawyers, accountants and, oh yeah, the band knew this Guns n’ Roses was as much the classic line-up as it was the Chinese Democracy one.
Plus, silence was the best way to confirm what they already knew, that this wasn’t really a GNR “reunion,” but something that would just have to pass for one. I can’t shake the feeling that Live Nation did market research to ascertain the market value of three-fifths of GNR. And then, after some surveys and focus groups, they determined it best to say nothing about the line-up—beyond Axl, Slash and Duff’s participation—and allow conjecture to serve as promotion. They, of course, were careful never to use the word “reunion” because the promoters, booking agents, manager, lawyers, accountants and, oh yeah, the band knew this Guns n’ Roses was as much the classic line-up as it was the Chinese Democracy one.
The encore, of course, are the set lists. They scream despotism. Axl has released exactly one studio album since Slash and Duff left GNR in the ‘90s, while Slash and Duff, collectively, have released 12, including two together in Velvet Revolver (which also featured Sorum). But, somehow, Axl has decided that this Guns n’ Roses perform songs from Chinese Democracy, an album that Slash and Duff had as much to do with as whoever’s still reading this rant (unless, of course, Buckethead can read from underneath his bucket). It’s unprecedented. Vince Neil wouldn’t perform anything from the Motley Crue album that featured his temporary replacement, David Lee Roth won’t play anything from Van Hagar and, clearly, Axl won’t play anything from Velvet Revolver even though, technically, Velvet Revolver is more Guns n’ Roses than the previous version of Guns n’ Roses was.
It may be hard to remember now, but, back in the day, Guns n’ Roses felt like a band. Sure, Axl and Slash were its ambassadors, much like Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Daltrey and Townshend and Plant and Page, but it still felt like a unit of talented misfits. They were, at one time, the biggest band in the world. And now, sure they’ll be playing stadiums, just like they did on the Use Your Illusion tour 23 years ago, but for very different reasons. Then, they were promoting dual albums chock full of songs destined for classic-rock greatness, and now they’re simply promoting the auspices of nostalgia, and nothing else. (They reunited, what, six months ago and couldn’t record a single new song?) Axl has released but one album of new songs in 25 years—that’s insane!—and is, in no uncertain terms, Slash and Duff’s boss. Meet the new boss; there was no old boss.