HRH Mag paid a flying visit to Download for what always promised to be a super Saturday. Here we discuss the key talking points from what proved to be a divisive set by headliners Guns N Roses…
Three hours was excessive in the extreme
Was it? Really? Fans waited a lifetime for one of the most iconic line-ups in rock and roll history to reform and then thousands turned to social media moaning that they’d had too much of a good thing. Unbelievable. Would those same punters really have been happy with a 90-minute dash through the greatest hits and for Axl and Slash to pocket their cash without showcasing anything beyond the early 90s? This was an epic trip down memory lane celebrating the very best of ‘classic’ GnR mixed with choice cuts from the last 20 years – including a stirring version of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun in tribute to the late Chris Cornell. At a time when too many bands take the easy option, Axl and co. put in a seriously impressive shift, swapping the tardiness and the tantrums of the past for a polished and professional live performance. Three hours flew by and we’d have happily sat through more of the same.
Slash’s solos were far too long and far too frequent
To blame Slash for serving up a series of stunning solos is like hammering Lionel Messi for scoring too many spectacular goals. Absolute madness. Why on earth wouldn’t the tens of thousands of fans packed into Castle Donington want to see one of the world’s most talented six stringers go to work time and time again? Stoke’s favourite son won’t be around forever and to see Slash slide across a series of Les Paul fretboards with a mixture of passion and precision was a joy. The man responsible for so many of rock’s most identifiable riffs has earned the right to widdle and diddle his way across the Download stage as often as he likes and it’s just a shame Axl started singing again from time to time. If there’s one reason to watch GnR live in 2018 it’s Slash. The lad is a class above and watching him usher in Sweet Child Of Mine against the backdrop of a hazy blue sky was worth the admission money alone.
Axl can’t sing anymore
Could he ever? The snarling, sneering, snivelling bastard son of the Sunset Strip was never a latter day Robert Plant, a would-be David Coverdale or Paul Rodgers reincarnated. More frontman than singer, his late 80s swagger compensated for a lack of vocal talent and those high-pitched squeaks and piercing shrieks were perfect for a band built around angst, attitude and anti-establishmentarianism. Three decades down the line and it was always very doubtful indeed that Rose would be a better singer now than he was back then but at least it sounded real. Real, raw and retro. As Axl wailed his way through Welcome To The Jungle it was blindingly obvious this would be no vocal masterclass but then that was never the way with this wayward genius. And as it happens he sounded just great on the emotive November Rain and during a scorching rendition of Civil War.
There were too many covers
Fair point. Including intros and snippets, a 28-song set included 14 references to other artists – Slash ushered in Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door by delivering the first few bars of Only Women Bleed to create a Bob Dylan/Alice Cooper mash-up and aside from Live And Let Die (an anthem the Gunners genuinely made their own) there were nods to Misfits, Pink Floyd, The Who and more. Hollywood Rose’s Shadow Of Your Love – featured on the new Appetite boxset – kinda counts and Velvet Revolver’s Slither never belonged to Axl. Maybe it never should. Perhaps the reborn rabble rousers were too heavily reliant on a series of covers by their rock and roll brothers but bar a decidedly dodgy take on Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather) there wasn’t a dud among them. Guns N Roses doing Wings is way better than Wings doing Wings. Always was and always will be.
Thirty quid for a tee-shirt?
Frankly, it’s getting ridiculous. Forty-eight hours earlier HRH Mag had forked out £15 for a bright and breezy tour tee at a banging club gig and it seemed like a fair price. Two days later and paying twice as much for something without sleeves or a hood seemed utterly bonkers. The Donington special GnR tee – date stamped with a flashy biker design – might have been worth a punt but for anything less paying a tenner in Primark seemed like the sensible move. And while we’re on the subject of merch – what on earth happened to Thunder on the official festival hoodie? Danny Bowes’ British blues rock royalty were replaced by a series of white lines where the band name should have appeared…anyone know why?