Quick: Which summer stadium tour features a singer in a shiny outfit, a special guest and a three-hour set that includes a few surprise curveballs? Would you believe Guns N’ Roses? The band is back on tour again this summer — it plays North American stadiums until mid-October — with Slash, original bassist Duff McKagan, longstanding keyboardist Dizzy Reed and, for many concerts, a surprisingly sincere cover of the Jimmy Webb classic “Wichita Lineman.”
In the case of the East Rutherford, N.J., show – its fourth in North America and second in the U.S. this year – the shiny outfit was frontman Axl Rose’s and the special guest was Andrew Dice Clay, who came on to tell jokes for a few minutes after a tight and tough opening set by the Pretenders. “The Diceman,” as he refers to himself, remains upset about several things, including the social-distancing circles on elevator floors that were introduced during the “pandemical,” and the prevalence of senior citizens in Florida, which seems like an issue that’s been around for quite some time. He’s one of the few comedians who can get as much applause for a vocalization — “Ohhhh” — than he can for a joke. That’s not really a good thing, though.
And Guns N’ Roses? They still have it — and much more of it than before Slash rejoined the band in 2016. Slash’s guitar playing is as sharp as ever, and he and McKagan play well together with the touring band, but Rose’s voice isn’t what it was years ago. By the end of the opening “It’s So Easy,” it was clear that Rose has lost some of his range, although how much is hard to tell — he bellowed the chorus of “Mr. Brownstone” to give it the menace it needs and rose to the occasion of “Welcome to the Jungle,” then struggled to hit the high notes of “Rocket Queen.”
Rose isn’t just a compelling performer for his voice, though. Far more than during the shows without Slash, he stalked the stage like a man on a mission, full of menace but also smiling charisma, taking what seemed like a slight bow after some songs. As Slash played along under his usual top hat, Rose actually seemed to be having fun — his history with his bandmates may be soap-operatic, but they all seemed to be having a great old time. He especially shone on songs that didn’t require piercing high notes, such as “Live and Let Die,” “Civil War” and especially “November Rain.”
At a time when critics seem positively shocked at the idea that a stadium show can run for more than three hours and include two surprise songs, it’s worth remembering that this was once simply what rock fans expected — play for a while and surprise us a bit. Guns N’ Roses went beyond this to give each member a chance to shine: McKagan sang a powerful “TV Eye,” Slash snuck pieces of “Voodoo Child” and “People Get Ready” into other songs and “Dizzy f–king Reed,” as Rose called him, showed off his keyboard work. There were plenty of covers, too: “Down on the Farm” (the U.K. Subs song the band covered on The Spaghetti Incident?), “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and, yes, “Wichita Lineman.” It’s hard to think of a song that seems less suited for a hard rock band – sincere, minimal, tasteful – but it worked well enough to make up for Andrew Dice Clay.
After a hard-hitting “Nightrain,” the band came back with an encore that started with “Coma,” then played the AC/DC song “Walk All Over You,” which Rose said had “his favorite f–king drum fill ever.” (Rose uses profanity as punctuation the way the characters on Succession do.) It’s not the easiest song to sing, but Rose jumped around as Slash powered through the riffs and the band shared parts of the chorus. For a few moments — at various points during this show but especially during this song, “Patience” and a show-ending “Paradise City” — you could believe that these musicians weren’t celebrities who had spent three decades feuding, but just guys who fell in love with the power of loud, crunching hard rock. Which, in some way, they still are.