Arriving at Brooklyn Bowl at 7:55pm, five minutes before the doors were scheduled to open for the Guns N’ Roses sold-out secret show, the line to get in was already snaking around the corner. An hour later, the bouncers had still not let a single fan in the door, but nobody seemed too frustrated by the delay: These were clearly real fans, the kind who know to never expect Axl Rose to start anything on time. In front of your reviewer, three 40-somethings—with Guns N' Roses shirts proudly draped over the button-downs they wore to work—reminisced about their favorite concert memories: “I've seen them six times” one boasted, “but I've only seen the real Guns N’ Roses once.” Since Slash’s departure, Guns N’ Roses feels like an entirely new band—like the greatest tribute band of all time. Nowadays, it seems like Axl & Co. have all but given up on writing new music, and instead pay the bills with exuberant, note-for-note renditions of the Appetite for Destruction–era hits.
From beginning to end, last night’s show felt more like a five-hour celebration of "not being dead just yet" than it did a concert. Fifty-year-olds passed around joints and mushrooms, all the while double- fisting overpriced cheap beers. When Guns finally came onstage around 11:20pm, the crowd hardly cared that Axl seemed as if he might pass out at any moment. Everybody sang along passionately to favorites like “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle,” and waited patiently through the occasional Chinese Democracy lull.
During each of the famous guitar solos, which even without Slash were nothing short of jaw-dropping, Axl would stumble backstage where I can only imagine he was hunched over trying to catch his breath so that the show could go on. In a rare moment of crowd banter just before the show's conclusion, a momentous performance of “Paradise City," Axl exclaimed to the crowd, “Sorry I don’t have as much energy as usual; it is taking everything I got just to not fucking throw up onstage.” Even if the band cannot perform like it used to, it still knows how to party like Guns N’ Roses—and that is more than enough to keep the crowds coming back, decade after decade.