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Guns N’ Roses at Coachella: How the Mighty Have Fallen (And Can’t Get Up)
The ’80s rock gods performed a headlining set in the Cali desert Saturday, reminding us how great they used to be—and how fest organizers will mine nostalgia by any means necessary.
It’s been 23 years since Guns N’ Roses—the actual version, sans Buckethead—have graced the stage on tour together. Coachella’s mélange of frat bros and their H&M collection/flower crown-donning female counterparts were, for the most part, conceived long after the hard rockers stopped dancing with Mr. Brownstone, but that didn’t stop the Indio, California, festival from wheeling out the ghosts of ’80s past for a headlining performance Saturday night.
Have you ever wondered how you could possibly make the typical douchebags that attend Coachella even more unbearable? Switch out their “Reagan/Bush ‘84” muscle tees for sleeveless Guns N’ Roses shirts and tie an American flag bandana around their head. Now have them sloppily jump around in a sold-out crowd to their high school football warm-up tracks.
Rather than serve as a triumphant return to the stage, the GnR performance was more reminiscent of what Christmas is like—if you too had a drunk uncle that always refused to leave the couch while screaming incoherent profanity to the rest of the family from across the room.
Lead singer Axl Rose managed to make it all the way to the first night of their U.S. reunion tour before his frail, bloated bod gave in, resulting in a broken foot. Rose was gifted an arena-style version of Game of Thrones’ Iron Throne by fellow rocker Dave Grohl, who was forced to use it to finish out the remainder of the Foo Fighters’ tour last year following his own injury. Thus, instead of Axl’s trademark writhing, sinewy, sexy dance moves—which, granted, would have been neutralized anyway given his corporal neglect—the Coachella audience was left with what seemed like a story time session, featuring a largely unrecognizable rock star sweating profusely in his chair, as if enduring a particularly painful deposition, while driving any shred of his badass legacy he had left further into the ground.
Like Joe Dirt crossed with Professor X, Rose was limited to swaying about in his rocker-throne as he attempted to pantomime along to celebrated tracks like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “Mr. Brownstone,” as well as less celebrated tunes, e.g. the McKagan- and Slash-less “Chinese Democracy.” Somehow, a lifetime of zero cardio, hard-partying, and an unfortunate penchant for plastic surgery left the Ginger Rock God gasping for air more times than showcasing his impressive vocal range, screaming that unmistakable high tenor into the mic.
With the handful of hits taken from their landmark 1987 album Appetite For Destruction, as well as some lesser-known tunes, the cool Indio desert magically transformed into a happy hour karaoke session that one immediately regrets having agreed to meet their co-workers for.
Of course, no Coachella headlining performance would be complete without a few noteworthy celebrity cameos (from musical artists, not Kendall Jenner).
Fans were treated to an onstage appearance from Angus Young, the diminutive, schoolboy-dressed guitarist of AC/DC, to play alongside Slash during the night. Young’s appearance was unfortunately tied to even further disheartening news, as an announcement was made earlier that afternoon that the immobile Rose would be joining AC/DC as their replacement lead singer to finish out their U.S tour immediately following the GnR dates.
It was, in all, a perfect night for hearing a poor karaoke rendition of ’80s hit performed by the actual band. Their Coachella stop-by indeed served its purpose for those moneyed fans looking to check Guns N’ Roses off their concert bucket list, but truthfully, some acts from the past should stay in the past. From The Police to Guns N’ Roses, the “reunion tour” has become a meaningless cash grab designed purely to fleece nostalgic fans of their hard-earned (or parentally-gifted) money while helping long-past-their-prime musical acts pay off their mortgages and child support.
But it’s not just the over-the-hill musicians at fault. The blame should also be placed on the shoulders of the ever-avaricious Coachella organizers looking to ruin any legacies they can get their greedy little hands on. The promoters recently announced plans for a mammoth (and presumably mammoth-priced) three-night event featuring Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Neil Young, and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters later this year. For the folks behind Coachella, “Making America Great Again” means bribing your most cherished musicians with six- and seven-figure paydays in order to pimp nostalgia. We should be better than that.