TOKYO, Feb 17 — All I needed was a little patience. On January 28, I finally fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams: Together with tens of thousands screaming Japanese fans, I caught Guns N’ Roses’ first show in Tokyo in nearly 25 years.
This show was made extra-special by the return of founding members Slash and Duff McKagan — as first announced in late 2015. Watching Slash and Duff back onstage together with lead singer Axl Rose brought back memories of me as a 10-year-old kid — one who could remember every lyric to every song in Appetite for Destruction, and who till today still watches old concert footage of the band performing at their peak at the Ritz in New York in 1988.
I bought my tickets for the Tokyo show about two months before the Singapore show on February 25 was announced (I’ll be going for the Singapore show too).
But since I know many Singaporean GNR fans would want to know what they might expect, I thought I’d give you some pointers — from how to get the best merchandise, to what you might see and hear onstage — based on my Tokyo experience.
Out ta get me-rchandise
Quick tip: Come early if you’re looking to score choice band tees or memorabilia.
In Tokyo, I arrived at the Saitama Super Arena at 12pm — four hours before doors actually opened. Still, I was so far back in the line for merchandise that I had to queue for approximately three hours.
According to some GNR fans I spoke to, some had been at the concert venue since 6am in the morning (during winter, I might add) just to have their pick of concert merchandise. In fact, by the time I got to the counter, at least three T-shirt designs were sold out, and some designs had limited sizes available.
Pretty tied up
Another tip: Get your “business” done before heading to the Changi Exhibition Centre. Having been to the venue before for the Metallica show in 2013, I can confidently say that the restrooms are not as numerous nor as clean as those in the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo.
Yet the toilet queues in Tokyo, even for men, were incredibly long. Although the Tokyo show was sold out and the Saitama Super Arena holds a larger capacity that the Changi Exhibition Centre, I expect a similar toilet situation to happen in Singapore.
Knockin’ on heaven’s door
The build-up: The excitement in the air was palpable hours before GNR went on stage. Outside the venue, Japanese fans, in their typical orderly manner, queued up for nearly half an hour just to get a photo of themselves in front of a concert poster. And when two fans dressed as Axl and Slash showed up, there was another queue to take photos with the doppelgangers.
The demographics of the crowd also spoke to GNR’s wide appeal. From the middle-aged fans in their 40s-50s, who were GNR’s main target market during their peak years; to the Gen-Y fans, like me in their 30s, who grew up with GNR; on the teens and young adults who were still influenced by GNR’s legacy — we were all there to witness the return to Asia of what critics once called “the most dangerous band in the world”.
Admittedly GNR has mellowed down plenty since their heyday. Notably the band actually went on stage on time — a pleasant surprise given how Axl was known in the past to be notoriously late to show up for concerts, sometimes starting shows more than three hours behind schedule.
Welcome to the jungle
There is no doubt that the founding band members — who are now all in their 50s — remain powerful forces in rock n’ roll. Throttling in with the punchy bass lines of It’s So Easy, Axl and co ripped through most of their greatest hits with aplomb and vigour.
Duff, who has maintained a clean lifestyle for nearly a decade, was as commanding as he’s ever been on stage — pulling off his licks and riffs with poise and strength, while still giving a virtouso performance on back-up vocals.
Slash meanwhile was the MVP of the night. Be prepared to move him up your list of the greatest guitarists of all time once you catch him live with GNR.
A consummate showman, performer and entertainer, he was onstage for the entirety of the show. His energy levels were off the charts — pulling of his classic moves such as spinning duck walks. And just to psych up the audience even further, more than half of Paradise City was played with the guitar behind his head.
Of course, I couldn’t leave out Axl’s performance. Given his recent weight and vocal issues, there was doubt that the GNR frontman would deliver. Allow me put your mind to rest: The Axl on tour today is clearly fit and able, and most importantly, his trademark high-pitched wails were rockin’.
What you’ll immediately notice about Axl’s voice is the level of sensible self-preservation he now exhibits — a trait that other top rock singers of his age group also possess. Instead of trying to go flat-out all the time, Axl sings about one or two octaves lower on the melodies and slow rhythms, in order to conserve his voice for the “big moments” — like the scream in Welcome to the Jungle or the frenetic howls of Sweet Child O’Mine. As such, Axl’s high notes were mostly on mark — and let’s face it, those high notes are what he’s judged on.
Meanwhile, Axl’s stage presence has only slightly diminished from the glory days. Unlike the pre-reunion days, Axl can now run around stage without struggling to catch his breath after; and yes, he can still pull off the trademark “Axl Dance”, where he moves his body in a snake-like fashion. One might say the move isn’t quite as good as it was in the 1980s, but it’s not as though it’s shoddy, either.
The most impressive thing about GNR today is how tight the band’s performance is, despite the original members having not performed together for nearly 25 years before last year. There were no slip-ups, no awkward moments, and if you didn’t know the band’s history, you wouldn’t think that Axl and Slash had been in a 20-year-long feud.
GNR today may not have the same punch as they did in their heyday, but they easily prove why they firmly hold a place in the hearts of rock and roll fans around the world, young or old. Arguably the most influential rock band of their generation, the band members haven’t lost their technical abilities or their showmanship, despite their age.
If you’re new to GNR, going to the Singapore show could be an education into rock history. Beyond GNR’s original hits, you can expect the band to perform their famed covers of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Wings’ Live and Let Die and The Damned’s New Rose — on top of a fresh cover of The Who’s The Seeker.
Additionally, Slash and Axl on guitar and piano respectively used Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Derek & The Dominos’ Layla to lead into November Rain, while the opening notes of Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Going to Leave You transitioned smoothly into GNR’s performance of Don’t Cry.
In total, the show was two-and-a-half hours long, played at an almost frenetic pace that covered GNR’s incredible repertoire of hits. And for those who are wondering, only three songs from the much-maligned post-breakup Chinese Democracy album made the set list.
In my opinion, the final encore of Paradise City was worth the ticket price alone. Just expect minimal audience interaction and banter as the band rips through their discography. Forgive them — with everything else they’ve got going on, there’s no time for that.
Most likely set-list
It’s So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
You Could Be Mine
New Rose (The Damned cover) or Attitude (Misfits cover)
This I Love
Sweet Child O’Mine (lead in with Slash improvised guitar solo + guitar solo of The Godfather theme)
Used to Love Her or Yesterdays
Out Ta Get Me or My Michelle
Wish You Were Here (guitar duet)
November Rain (lead in with Derek & The Dominos’ Layla)
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
ENCORE — Don’t Cry or Patience + Sorry
The Seeker (The Who cover)
Paradise City — TODAY