“Do you know where the fuck you are? You’re in the jungle, baby. And you’re gonna die!”
A threatening statement to be sure, but one that was met with cheers from the almost sold-out crowd at the Houston stop of Guns N’ Roses Not In This Lifetime tour Friday night.
Sure, the band played “Welcome to the Jungle” fourth in their 25-song, two-and-a-half hour set, but opening songs “It’s So Easy,” “Mr. Brownstone,” and “Chinese Democracy” didn’t engage the crowd in the same way as the familiar opening riff to “Jungle.”
For those in the crowd — mostly 35 to 50 — songs like “Jungle,” “Sweet Child of Mine,” and set closer “Paradise City” provided part of the soundtrack of their collective adolescence. For those fans, Guns N’ Roses harkens back to a time when CDs came with parental warning stickers and a rock band from Los Angeles could seem legitimately dangerous.
With the band's debut album Appetite for Destruction set to turn 30 next year, those days are gone, but the music still resonates.
As promised by tour production manager Dale "Opie" Skjerseth during a media preview on Thursday, the stage had been designed to "present the band." Two giant video screens on either side of the stage spotlighted different performers throughout the night, and three center screens alternated between showing the band and a series of graphics matched to the song. And, yes, there was “a lot of pyro” boomed throughout the set.
Overall, the band turned in an impressive, high energy performance that utilized the multi-level stage well. Lead singer Axl Rose, bassist Duff McKagan, and guitarist Slash moved from the center stage to two side stages and elevated platforms in the rear of the center stage. Maybe Rose and Slash didn’t stand very close to each other more than a couple of times, but they don’t have to be buddy-buddy to deliver the thunderous spectacle the crowd expected.
Rose’s voice displayed power and range throughout the set as he held notes on tracks ranging from “Estranged” to “The Seeker.” Ever the showman, he even swapped T-shirts throughout the set, mixing in a few jackets (white alligator for “November Rain,” a weird, fringy western thing for “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”).
In many ways, the night belonged to Slash. The guitarist, sporting his signature top hat and sunglasses (and the same shirt throughout, natch) dropped a number of impressive solos throughout the set. Highlights included long intro and outro solos for “Rocket Queen,” a solo performance of the Love Theme from The Godfather, and busting out a double-necked guitar for “Civil War.” The cameras provided numerous close-ups of the guitarist's hands as he wrung every note out of his instrument.
McKagan got his own opportunity to shine when he took over lead vocals a cover of the Misfits’ song “Attitude” while wearing a shirt with the image of Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister.
The setlist followed the one played two nights before in Arlington pretty closely, but the band mixed in “Catcher in the Rye” and “Don’t Cry” into the encore. Shortly thereafter, the final notes of “Paradise City” mingled with the last explosions, and it was time to go home. Judging by the cheers echoing off NRG Stadium’s ramps as people headed to the parking lot, just about everybody had a great time.
Setlist (via setlist.fm):
It's So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Misfits cover)
This I Love
Love Theme from the Godfather
Sweet Child O' Mine
Out Ta Get Me
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Catcher in the Rye
The Seeker (The Who cover)