Guns N’ Roses’ first headlining tour, bursting off to a start at the scarily large Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis., on May 24, was exactly what the L.A. hard-rock outfit needed. In the four years following the runaway success of their 12 million-selling debut, Appetite for Destruction, the band has had little in the way of creativity and much in the way of debilitating controversy — ranging from drug use and charges of racism and sexism to (heavens!) using naughty language on the televised American Music Awards. The Alpine Valley show, to put it bluntly, was a sign of maturity and growth from a band that lately hasn’t displayed much of either, publicly, for several years. Highly professional, articulately staged and performed, and unapologetically loud, the show suggested that the band’s ambitions remain high. If Guns N’ Roses’ two new albums — the much-delayed simultaneous release date now announced, perhaps whimsically, for late July — are similarly impressive, the band will indeed be back, as the slogan on tour T-shirts puts it, ”in the motherf—ing ring.”
Lead singer Axl Rose, resplendent in skin-tight green velvet short shorts and sporting a ring in his pierced left nipple, coursed around the multilevel stage like a racehorse, letting a calf-high plaster cast affect his mobility not a whit. (The cast protected a torn ligament suffered from too-wild jumps at a series of smallish ”rehearsal” shows in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.) Rose looked a tad overserious — crack a smile, Axl! — but he probably just wanted the most important show of his group’s career to come off right.
It did. Highlights: Rose’s ”Estranged,” clearly the most significant of several new songs, a grandiose romantic epic full of piercing solos from guitarist Slash, powerhouse dynamics from the band, and soaring melodies that put Rose’s supple, protean voice to work; and the band’s concussive assault on another epic, ”Civil War” (Guns N’ Roses’ contribution to the Romanian children’s relief album, Nobody’s Child). They clawed their way through Paul McCartney’s ”Live and Let Die,” complete with blinding strobes, blasts of sound, and the sort of furious ensemble playing many groups spend their careers trying to get right. An encore that included the band’s three biggest hits, ”Welcome to the Jungle,” ”Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and ”Paradise City,” sent 40,000 rhapsodic kids home exhausted. (Good thing — they’d already spent the intermission ripping out the outdoor theater’s grass in a massive sod fight.)
Guns N’ Roses, of course, won’t be home for a long time; they’re at the start of a planned two-year tour. Some bands release a record, then go on tour. Thanks to multiple delays, Guns N’ Roses have ended up doing it in reverse. But then, they’ve never done anything the easy way.