Meet the new Guns N' Roses: punctual, professional, and still defiant

The element of astonishment surrounding the resurrection of Guns N’ Roses should be wearing off by now, but for longtime fans, it remains undeniably thrilling to witness GNR’s remarkable third act — one in which the band starts promptly and delivers muscular shows designed not to outrage or provoke, but with the goal of delighting their most devoted followers.

Eighteen months into their “Not in this Lifetime…” comeback tour, already one of the highest-grossing tours of 2017, and more than a year since Guns N’ Roses first made a triumphant return to Philadelphia, the band circled back Sunday night for a second stop (the tour is named for an answer that frontman Axl Rose once gave to the question of whether the band might ever reunite). As before, the new GNR was on full display: taking the stage just before 8 p.m., the band performed almost continuously, with only momentary breaks, until nearly 11:30, dropping an impressively satisfying 30-song set list that included all the hits, deep album cuts, and a handful of covers.

Far from the scummy degenerates that once encouraged crowds to tear apart L.A. nightclubs, today’s Guns are a well-oiled, professional machine. Rose, 55,  once blamed largely for GNR’s scandal-plagued tours in the 1990s and the band’s subsequent dissolution, can no longer hit each note of the soaring, howling vocals of which he was once capable. But he greeted the audience graciously, and his performance only improved as the night went on. He was anchored by the iconic Slash, as reliably amazing as he was when he first appeared on MTV 30 years ago, and ever-cool bassist Duff McKagan, as always a grounding presence. Together with a handful of assisting musicians, including original keyboardist Dizzy Reed, the chemistry on stage projected confidence and maturity.

The show was similar to the band’s 2016 appearance at Lincoln Financial Field, down to the unfortunate (and unnecessary) 1990s-style animation and graphic effects used on the video screens, and included all the hits from 1991’s Use Your Illusion I and II albums, as well as blistering performances of eight out of the 12 tracks from debut album Appetite for Destruction, which turned 30 this year. Slash, who typically has the heaviest lifting due to his impressive, too-numerous-to-count solos, provided palate cleansers in between songs with his renditions of “Wish You Were Here” and the theme from The Godfather.

Sunday’s concert also included “Patience,” the only big fan favorite missing from 2016’s show, and a defiant version of the provocative “Used to Love Her,” which, though not the only GNR song to advocate violence against women, has aged significantly worse than many of the others. Deepest cuts from the Use Your Illusion era included “Double Talkin’ Jive,” “Yesterdays,” and the 10-minute “Coma.”

The band added covers: a low-key rendition of “Wichita Lineman,” a reference to the recently deceased Glen Campbell, and a beautiful, poignant version of Soundgarden’s 1994 hit “Black Hole Sun,” presumably in honor of singer Chris Cornell, who committed suicide in May. James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” on the other hand, came off as oddly sinister in the hands of Rose, who still retains an uneasy, vaguely unpredictable quality despite his newfound professionalism.

Sure, hints of the old troubles remain. There was little warmth evident between Rose and his bandmates on stage, and the persistent inclusion of several songs from Rose’s less-than-beloved 2008 album Chinese Democracy suggests not every power struggle has been put to rest. But by the time the pyrotechnic sparks fired and confetti burst over the crowd during “Paradise City,” all was mostly forgotten. Welcome to the new jungle: We’ve got nostalgia and grown-ups.