Live Review: Guns N’ Roses – British Summer Time (BST), Hyde Park, London 30.06.2023

Guilherme Nunes Cunha Neto / @guilhermeneto

By Adrian Peel

Following their headline performance at Glastonbury, which drew mixed reviews from critics, Guns N’ Roses – “Every 50-year-old’s favourite band”, according to support act Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders – played a lengthy three-hour set at Hyde Park on Friday, June 30.

Before that, a number of acts had spent the afternoon entertaining the crowds across two stages, my favourites being The Darkness on the Main Stage and LA rockers, Dirty Honey on the Rainbow Stage (see below for an interview with a member of the latter).

In times gone by, Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose was renowned for his tardiness, often coming out on stage two hours later than billed, but not tonight as he and the band – fellow original members Slash (guitar) and Duff McKagan (bass), long-standing guitarist Richard Fortus, drummer Frank Ferrer and keyboard players Dizzy Read and Melissa Reese – were out promptly at around 7.20pm.

It’s So Easy, the first song of the evening – and the first from the band’s explosive debut, Appetite for Destruction (it wouldn’t be the last) – was a great choice of opener and definitely succeeded in getting the 60,000-strong crowd pumped.

During the second number, Bad Obsession, there was a heart-in-the-mouth moment as Axl took a tumble. Joking about it afterwards, the 61-year-old singer said, “I don’t want to jinx it but hopefully I’ve got all the slip-sliding out of the way.” 

Returning to Appetite for Destruction (surely still one of the greatest debut albums of all time) after Chinese Democracy and a cover of Slither by Slash and Duff’s previous band Velvet RevolverMr Brownstone was very well received – but not as well received as what came next.

When an instrumental segued into Welcome to the Jungle, the proceedings went up another level, to something akin to fever pitch, and the response from the crowd was absolutely deafening.

I’m glad I had my earplugs in as the very off-key rendition by the man behind me screaming at the top of his lungs would have probably damaged my hearing! “I was 14 years old!” he yelled, recalling the year the song first came out.

There were a couple of ‘lesser’ tracks in the form of Hard Skool and Absurd (dedicated to “all the things you might read”) – both of which didn’t really do anything for me – but then the epic Estranged came along and got things back on track, although it was apparent that Axl struggled at times to get through it.

Indeed, his voice is not what it was and he found it difficult to reach some of the higher notes, though on a number of the songs, such as Civil War and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, the star’s voice sounded pretty good and there were more than a few flashes of the old magic.

“This little ditty is by one of your countrymen,” said Axl, introducing Live and Let Die, from the classic Bond film of the same name. He also noted that this Paul McCartney masterpiece is now 50 years old.

“I’m having a bloody good time,” said the singer, who came across as very affable throughout, at one point. “What about you Richie?” he asked the guitarist. “I’m having a bloody good time,” came the reply.

The audience were having a ‘bloody good time’ too – more than the festival-goers at Glastonbury seemed to be having when witnessing the band in full flow – and this was clearly evident on songs such as Rocket Queen and the euphoric You Could Be Mine, one of my very favourite G N’ R tunes from ‘back in the day’.

Duff took over lead vocals on TV Eye by The Stooges and Axl impressed on the aforementioned Civil War. An extended Slash guitar solo morphed into the timeless show-stopper that is Sweet Child O’ Mine, again sending the fans into raptures.

Appropriately, the rain came down as Axl, wearing a sparkly jacket (he made a number of costume changes during the show, involving hats, T-shirts, shirts and jackets) sat at the piano and beautifully played and sang the stunning power ballad that is November Rain.

After the impassioned Night TrainAxl announced, as Don Henley did with the Eagles last year at the same venue, that the band weren’t going to go off stage and come back on again.

“It’s like an insurance policy, we’re hoping it pays off,” he joked, implying that the plug might get pulled on the gig if it ran over, as the first notes of the gorgeous Don’t Cry rang out.

The final tune of the evening was the classic rock staple Paradise City, the G N’ R song that first made me really sit up and take note – and realise I was onto something special – in the late 80s.

Ahead of it, Axl expressed his appreciation, saying, “Thank you very much for coming out, we love each and every one of you – thank you very very very very very f*****g much.”

After the mixed response to their Glastonbury appearance, here in Hyde Park Guns N’ Roses were clearly among friends and very few people, having witnessed what was pretty much a ‘greatest hits’ set spread out over 27 songs, would have walked away from tonight’s gig feeling disappointed. 

A few hours before G N’ R took Hyde Park by storm, Backseat Mafia sat down backstage with Justin Smolian, bass player with Dirty Honey, for a bit of a chat.

Dirty Honey, who have opened for Guns N’ Roses on various occasions, first toured Europe in 2022 and Justin says it “feels good” to be back, adding, “it feels like we’ve been here a lot…

“I was calculating that by the time this is over, we’ll have been in Europe for like four months in the past year. It’s starting to feel a little more like home, we’ve got friends here now.”

Does Justin see a difference in the way audiences in the UK and Europe respond compared to those in the US? “Oh yeah, way more enthusiastic,” he replies.

“I’m from LA and everybody in LA kind of watches a show like this [folds arms], whereas we were playing at 11 o’clock in the morning at Download and there were 7,000 people there, for our first gig in the UK really – and people were losing their minds!

“And we’ve had some amazing shows in Spain; the Spanish are crazy, same with the Italians – great everywhere, love it over here.” 

Photos by Guilherme Nunes Cunha Neto / @guilhermeneto

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