The last time that Guns N’ Roses set foot in Western New York prior to Wednesday’s conquering of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor was July 25, 1992. The band was riding a commercial wave in the wake of the “Use Your Illusion” frenzy and decided that embarking on a stadium tour with Metallica would be an ideal way to celebrate their coronation as one of the meanest rock machines the world had to offer.
Two weeks later, the tour, and the life of Metallica frontman James Hetfield, would be flipped upside down following a pyrotechnic calamity in Montreal that left Hetfield unable to finish the show.
This should’ve been the moment in which Axl “rose” to the occasion and turned in a performance worthy of his talent and creative stature, but he had something a little different in mind.
Anyone who has followed popular music in the last 25 years knows exactly what that something is, so delving into it here is unnecessary.
Incidents such as the Montreal Riot are just as responsible for attracting fans to the shows as the music itself, because people want to see one of the true Rock and Roll renegades in action.
They want a physical representation to keep the media’s lurid sensationalism on an even keel, which, since the original lineup dissolved in the 90s, has been easier said than done.
Like the line from “My Michelle” that says, “Drivin’ your friends crazy/With your life’s insanity,” Axl’s public tantrums had taken an irreparable toll on the band’s collective psyche.
Would Buffalo be the latest locale to suffer from his aloofness and affinity for delayed set times?
Thankfully, the gods had Buffalonians in mind on this night, because, not only did Axl take the stage at 10:04 p.m., but he also played a nearly three-hour set that more than satiated fans of the GNR mystique.
Opener, “Chinese Democracy,” segued into a venomous stretch of “Welcome to the Jungle,” “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone,” all of which were played with the flare and reckless braggadocio of the original recordings.
Next up were a majestic rendition of “Estranged,” an underrated cut from 1993’s swan song, “The Spaghetti Incident,” and a version of “Live and Let Die” that made the entire trek across the skyway worth it.
Rose’s voice and stage conduct remain a vital force in the band’s impact, because he’s essentially the ringmaster in charge of lassoing in the surplus of musicians he’s assembled. It was clear from the opening note that he came to give Buffalo his best, and the rest of the crew followed his lead.
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, DJ Ashba, and Richard Fortus took turns working the crowd with their flamboyant guitar stylings, while ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson patrolled the stage with the same spark and authority he brought to those early Minneapolis gigs.
Even the material from 2008’s “Chinese Democracy” was compelling enough to warrant revisiting at some point, so it’s hard to believe that anyone would’ve left the venue disappointed.
Axl and Co. came, performed, and triumphed over the skeptics when the establishment had all but counted them out.
Given what DJ Ashba told me about Axl’s genial offstage personality, perhaps the tide has turned after all.