by Justin K. Hite
I waited 23 years for this.
I was around 8 years old when I received my first copy of Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite For Destruction” on cassette. I remember staying up late at night, watching MTV and seeing “GNR Live from The Ritz.” I remember MTV playing Guns N’ Roses videos every 15 minutes in the early 90’s. I wore GNR t-shirts to elementary school. Teachers, and even some members of my family would regularly confiscate my cassette tapes and GNR comic books, which were thrown in the garbage, only to later be retrieved with ketchup stains and coffee residue. My blank “over-dubbed” Michael Jackson cassettes - you guessed it, those were actually Use Your Illusion I & II.
As you could imagine, no one wanted to take me to see my beloved Guns N’ Roses when they were at the top of the music game. We’re talking early nineties now, and little Me wasn’t yet old enough to venture off the street block without an adult. Only a few short months later, my chances to see GNR would be over. At least for 23 more years.
And then it happened. A reunion was announced, and eventually a tour. 23 major cities listed, and one of them was my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio - Paul Brown Stadium, to be exact. A stadium I’m usually frequenting during NFL season, rooting for my Cincinnati Bengals! How fitting would this all be? GNR announces a reunion tour, and not only are they stopping in my city (a city notorious for being passed over for major tours), but they’re going to be playing in the stadium we’ve all nicknamed, “The Jungle.”
Let’s skip past all of the pre-sale costs, Ticketmaster shenanigans, and third-party brokers I spent countless hours on the phone with to get as close to the action as I could - for Myself, and three of my closest friends - all diehard GNR fans. Let’s now just fast forward to the night of the show. We arrived, and Guns N’ Roses were waiting.
Walking into the arena - there were people everywhere wearing GNR shirts. Sometimes, it’s traditional to not wear the performing band’s shirt, and instead wear something else you represent. Those rules weren’t obeyed by anyone at Paul Brown Stadium, as i don’t recall seeing many fans in attendance wearing anything other than an Appetite, Lies, or Use Your Illusion-era t-shirts; retro, vintage, and brand new. This place was a GNR factory.
As we walked around the concourse, paying for overpriced beverages and seeing familiar friends and faces in attendance, we listened to the opening band (Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown) perform, and began to make our way down… down.. all the way down… to the PIT!
Standing directly in front of the stage, we waited, as one by one, members of the band casually walked out and waived. I have goosebumps as I write this, even a full day and a half later.
The entire show was amazing. Absolutely the best concert experience I’ve ever had in my life. Watching Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy, and the rest of the band performing… no, OWNING the stadium, as if we had suddenly transported back to 1993.
As the band played crowd pleasers like “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and “November Rain,” they would also bang out heavy songs like "You Could Be Mine," “Coma,” and “Double-Talkin’ Jive” - a song which I made it a point to jump up and down hard for, and letting everyone around me know how I felt. Duff needed to know I had a punk rock fist banging along. Slash needed to know that I knew that nasty solo was coming. Axl needed to know I still understood and felt those lyrics. The band needed to know that they were still superior.
Slash truly looked right where he belonged all these years - courted just beside the guys that helped get each other where they are today, allowing him to shine as the prolific and expert lead guitarist that he is. At times, it seemed Slash was the one who had been waiting 23 years to unearth this performance.
Axl Rose absolutely owned the crowd, middle-fingers and fists banging along to his signature vocal lines & abrasive lyrics. You could literally feel the energy of the fans, even those chanting some of the more obscure GNR songs, found on the taboo "Chinese Democracy" album - a true testament of the true Axl Rose loyalists. And when the crowd-pleasing anthems like "Paradise City" arrived, forget about it. Everyone in the stadium sang along.
This went on for nearly three hours. I could continue to write and attempt to explain the details of the show. There are thousands of videos already posted online. Everyone attending probably has a story of their own. This was just mine. It will forever be one of the greatest night’s of my life. Something I needed to be a part of, just as much as it’s been a part of me. This was part of my “holy grail.”
If that weren't enough excitement, Cincinnati fans were treated to something many had waited even longer than 23 years for. Original drummer, Steven Adler (who has been absent since 1990) jumped onstage and played two songs with the band (his first time ever performing with GNR since 1990), which he helped write and record - "Out Ta Get Me," and "My Michelle."
This story would dominate social media into the next morning, as rock fans everywhere were treated to news of yet another original member of the band reuniting. Watching Steven Adler jump onstage and grinning ear to ear was probably even better for him than us, fans. You couldn't break the guy's smile!
From the front row. My favorite band of all time. They never let me down, after all.
Well worth the wait of 23 years.
Thanks, G N F N R!