Not in this lifetime, they said. But they went ahead and did it anyway.
That was the storyline for both the Guns N’ Roses tour that came to Minneapolis on Sunday and the venue where it landed, U.S. Bank Stadium.
Polls showed the new Vikings megastructure faced as much opposition from taxpayers as the idea of a classic GNR reunion had from frontman Axl Rose. Money talked in both instances, though, and almost 50,000 fans filed into USBS on Sunday to hear “Welcome to the Jungle” played by its originators.
Only the third concert at the new football stadium, it was also the first time Rose performed in Minnesota with his “Jungle”-era guitar hero Slash and bassist Duff McKagan in 25 years, going back to when they played USBS’ ill-remembered predecessor, the Metrodome, with Metallica in 1992. Thus, the sold-out show was as much a test of the old bandmates’ revived chemistry as it was another trial run for the new stadium, which will also host U2 and Coldplay in coming weeks.
Fans at least got their money’s worth on one of those fronts: GNR delivered an intense, tight and lengthy performance that might have surpassed anything the band could’ve offered in their late-’80s (drug-addled) prime.
As for the stadium, USBS did not live up to its billion-dollar price tag Sunday. The acoustics were decent on the floor and lower sides but echoey and muddied toward the back and in the upper levels. Congestion was a big problem again, too.
Many fans missed GNR’s opening songs “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” due to long beer and restroom lines and the stadium’s weirdly unnavigable hallways. What is this world coming to if a GNR lover can’t get a beer without a big hassle (never mind the hefty $11 price tag)?
Of course, many of those fans may have been caught off guard by the fact that GNR actually took the stage on time, just after 8:30 p.m. In the old days, that was about the time Rose got out of bed.
The hot-headed redhead, 55, showed up on all fronts Sunday. His voice stood up relatively strong, whether it was screeching like a follically challenged banshee in “Welcome to the Jungle” — rushed in as the fourth song of the set — or building to dramatic climaxes in moodier epics like “Civil War” and “November Rain.” He worked the stage like a tireless showman, too, his trademark shaky-shake dance moves just one of many ways he expended energy.
“Nice place you have here,” Rose said for his hello almost an hour into the concert. That was right before his crew let off an arsenal of fireworks during “Live and Let Die” (that much pyro would have been a death wish in the Metrodome).
While Rose kept up his GNR chops over the past decade and a half on tour with replacement band members, it was really up to Slash to put the show over the top of those prior outings. He put it into the stratosphere. It’s hard to remember a recent concert where fans seemed so enthralled every time a guitarist took a solo.
The muppet-haired, top-hatted, leather-clad axe-man delivered his first extended, wow-inducing solo in “Double Talkin’ Jive” and kept them coming in rapid succession. He added a mean talk-box effect to help make “Rocket Queen” soar. He and second guitarist Richard Fortus fiercely played off each other in “You Could Be Mine” and coolly traded licks in an instrumental cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” As if out to prove something, Slash sounded especially mean in the few GNR songs from after his tenure, including “Chinese Democracy” and “Better.”
Sporting a Prince glyph on his bass, McKagan got a turn in the spotlight to sing a hard-charging cover of “New Rose” by British punks the Damned. The rest of the band, including longtime GNR keyboardist Dizzy Reed, mostly blended into the background in a good way.
As a unit, the old and new bandmates really hit their stride two hours into the show during “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and kept up that moment for almost another hour through a fun grab-bag of songs including “Used to Love Her,” the outro jam of “Layla,” a stormy cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and, during the encore, “Patience” and AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie." In the end, they not only sounded great, they also sounded like they were having a great time.
Also newly reunited as of last year, Northern California alt-metal heroes the Deftones helped set a more metallic tone for the show compared to other cities’ opening acts. Songs like “Digital Bath” and “Passenger,” with their moody ups and downs, boomed through the mega-venue with awesome force — but also with a slightly stymieing echo. Frontman Chino Moreno was nonetheless impressed with the new digs.
“First time we played here in town [in 1995] it was in a McDonald’s parking lot,” he told the crowd as the sunset glowed through the giant glass facade behind the stage. “And now we’re here.”
Here's GNR's full set list from Sunday, clocking in at 3 hours, 15 minutes total:
It's So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney cover)
You Could be Mine
New Rose (The Damned cover, sung by McKagan)
This I Love
Slash guitar solo (with parts of "The Godfather" theme, Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll")
Sweet Child o' Mine
Used to Love Her
Layla/Wish You Were Here (Derek & the Dominoes and Pink Floyd instrumental covers)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover)
The Seeker (the Who cover)
Guns N’ Roses’ strict photo-ownership policy prevented the Star Tribune from photographing the band.