Welcome to the post-COVID concert jungle.
Guns N' Roses came to Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night a year later than planned, at a smaller venue than planned, and with a lot of uncertainty still hovering over the show like the dark cloud of hair that looms above the band's iconic guitarist, Slash.
The first of two concerts on back-to-back nights at the St. Paul arena — followed by British pop star Harry Styles on Wednesday — GNR did not implement any kind of vaccine or mask requirement despite the concert being moved indoors. Attendance may have suffered because of it.
Ticket prices were, um, slashed in the days leading up to the concert to around half-price. And that's after the show was already downsized from Target Field last summer (with about a 35,000-person concert capacity) to the X. Only about 11,000 fans showed up in the end, about 1 in 20 of whom rocked out with masks on. At least there were plenty of empty rows for the fans who did want to play it safe and socially distance.
Conversely, tickets to the Styles concert remain sold out and priced over $200 on the resale market. That's after the former One Direction heartthrob announced both a mask and vaccine/test mandate for all U.S. tour dates.
Of course, the difference in demand may have more to do with career trajectories than COVID worries.
Guns N' Roses filled U.S. Bank Stadium on their 2017 reunion tour, when Slash and bassist Duff McKagan first rejoined frontman Axl Rose in the band after 15 years apart. They haven't really done much of note since then, though, and have only one revered album to their name — although 1987's "Appetite for Destruction" remains one of rock's most celebrated records. Especially in hockey arenas in Middle America.
Tuesday's concert at least offered some noteworthy new music, courtesy of opening band Mammoth, the group Wolfgang Van Halen formed following last year's death of his father, guitar god Eddie Van Halen.
The 30-year-old rock vet — he joined his dad's namesake band as a bassist at age 16 — sounded more like the offspring of Foo Fighter Dave Grohl throughout the 35-minute set, in a good way. He shredded more as a deep-howler singer than as a guitarist during grungy and hard-driving but melodic anthems such as "Don't Back Down" and "Circles." There was still plenty of guitars, though. Two other axemen rounded out the live lineup after Wolfie played all the instruments on Mammoth's album; so he still has a little of Dad's great showoff attitude in him.
GNR hit the stage promptly at 8 p.m. — unheard of in the old days! — and opened with two old favorites, "It's So Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone."
Shaky at first, Rose sounded warmed up by the time he bellowed and screeched through "Chinese Democracy," title track to GNR's Slash-less 2008 album. That was followed by "Slither," a song from the guitarist's 2000s-era band Velvet Revolver with McKagan — one of only a handful of Tuesday's tunes not also featured on 2017's GNR set list. (Others included "You're Crazy," the trashy new one "Absurd" and covers of "Wichita Lineman" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog.")
Rose's voice is nowhere near as hair-raising as it was in the band's hairsprayed days. Like Robert Plant, though, the 59-year-old Rose has learned to modify his approach to get around the unreachable notes — a tactic that proved effective in the slower and dirtier "You're Crazy" and that should've been employed in the whimpering "You Could Be Mine."
Slash was, as always, a marksman on guitar throughout the nearly three-hour set. His grimy and downright groovy solo in "Rocket Queen" turned that semi-forgettable oldie into a highlight. His extended solo after "Civil War" — based around Muddy Waters riffs — raised the excitement level just in time for "Sweet Child o' Mine."
Along with "Patience" before the encore — and "Paradise City" at the show's end — the big singalong moments sounded as sweet as ever coming out of quarantine and without the troubled acoustics of the band's last show in town. Too bad a third as many people attended this time.
Here's the GNR setlist from Tuesday:
- It's So Easy
- Mr. Brownstone
- Chinese Democracy
- Slither (Velvet Revolver)
- Double Talkin' Jive
- Welcome to the Jungle
- Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings)
- You're Crazy
- Rocket Queen
- You Could Be Mine
- I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges)
- Civil War
- Slash's guitar solo
- Sweet Child o' Mine
- November Rain
- Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb)
- Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan)
- Don't Cry
- The Seeker (The Who)
- Paradise City
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658