Guns N’ Roses transform Bethlehem into Paradise City.
It has been just two years since the Sands Event Center opened in Bethlehem and in that time they have become the premiere venue for live music performances in the Lehigh Valley. To celebrate their upcoming two year anniversary they booked one of the biggest, longest standing and most iconic bands in rock n’ roll for the occasion, the one and only Guns N’ Roses. Last year’s celebration brought us two back to back nights of Motley Crue so the bar was set very high when booking this year’s show but they stepped up to the occasion and the stars aligned just correctly for this one off Guns N’ Roses show to take place.
Guns N’ Roses is currently getting ready for a residency in Vegas titled “No Trickery – An Evening of Destruction” but before that they are set to play Rock on The Range in Ohio later this week, which was the catalyst that made this show possible. It was a great chance for them to get back in front of large sized US audience and get warmed up before the busy weeks ahead. The Sands Event Center was packed to capacity for their show, tickets were sold out months in advance so it was clear the Lehigh Valley was eagerly anticipating this show. It has been many, many years since Guns N’ Roses came through the Lehigh Valley, though they were just at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia and the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden in the past 2-3 years. After a brief opening performance from Unlocking the Truth (which started later than scheduled) the stage was set for Guns N’ Roses, instruments were sound-checked and the night was ready to begin; the only question left remaining was when that would exactly be.
The band was originally set to take the stage at 10PM, however Unlocking The Truth started their set much later than their scheduled time of 9PM which put everything back a good 25-30 minutes for the rest of the night. At right around 10:45 the house lights shut off and the opening music for Guns N’ Roses set began, which means they were in all fairness only 20 minutes late if you factor in the delay that the openers caused which is more than acceptable. The local newspapers failed to address this factor and immediately pointed the tardy start time to Guns N’ Roses even though that clearly wasn’t the case but we will address this further later. I’ve seen bands half their size and reputation go on a lot later and get way less heat so much credit is due to Guns N’ Roses for sticking relatively close to their set time for the evening.
As the opening riffs of “Chinese Democracy” were struck from Dj Ashba’s guitar it was very clear that we were in for a great show, there was this air of intimacy in the air if that makes sense any sense. It is a hard thing for me to explain in words but the size of the venue really made every fan feel included in the action on stage and the band could see everyone in the crowd without straining their eyes. The rest of the stage lights flashed to life behind Ashba with GNR imagery displaying across them all and Axl Rose ran out jumping on top of a riser in the center of the stage to begin what would be close to a three hour performance.
To give credit where it is due I want to give a proper shout out to the entirety of Guns N’ Roses, people focus far too much on who is and isn’t members these days and these guys don’t get the recognition they deserve in the end. The current line up have been performing in the band almost as long and longer than most of the “original” members were at this point and put on a much more technically sound and talented performance than the band was capable of putting on in during their earlier years. I know a lot of people have this grandiose vision of what Guns N’ Roses should be but it is exactly what it should be at this point, talented musicians putting on a technically perfect show. I don’t want to discredit the originals contributions to the band’s legacy but Axl Rose has incredibly high standards when it comes to picking who he shares the stage with and it really shows during the entirety performance. It was great to see each member get a little bit of the spotlight too at some point in the night. Dizzy Reed (who Sight of Sound interviewed a few days prior to the show) had a very nice melodic keyboard solo early in the night, Dj Ashba of course delivered his solo just before the intro of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Bumblefoot shined during his solo performance of “Abnormal” which he dedicated to his mom who was out in the crowd, and Tommy Stinson’s cover of “Chatterbox” was equally entertaining to watch. Again, I know some people think that this stuff makes the night drag on but it really enhances the show, it gives Axl a kick break to go grab a drink of water and the rest of the band deserves a few minutes in the spotlight. Could they play another Guns N’ Roses song if they didn’t do these solos? Sure, but that isn’t the point of it, they do it to add a level of diversity to their live show and it works quite well for them as a whole.
The real question on everyones mind both at the show and reading this review is most likely, “how did Axl Rose sound?!” Well, let me tell you a little something about how he sounded. I’ve seen them perform before on this seemingly never ending Chinese Democracy tour and I can honestly say that this is the vocally best I have heard Axl Rose perform in recent memory. I think doing shorter tour runs and having some time off have benefitted his voice greatly, so much so I would make a bold statement that his voice at Sands Event Center show sounded the best is has in the past decade just based off live recordings and some streams I have seen, as well as the shows I’ve attended. Was it perfect? No, but no one is ever truly “perfect” live because there needs to be a level of grit with some raw emotion in order for the songs to work live. The vocal highlights of the night were scattered about the setlist, I thought “November Rain” was beautifully delivered by Rose and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” sounded equally incredible. They changed it up a bit from the studio version but that is what a live show is all about, things should be a little unpredictable and loose. Sweet Child O’ Mine” was also very on point, some songs were certainly better than others but I don’t think any of them would qualify as “bad.” It takes a lot for a performer to sing a near 3 hour show, let alone hit some of the notes Axl Rose does. People can say what they want about him but too many are on a witchhunt to stain his reputation just to get some more views to their website or attention from their friend group. Love him or hate him, Axl Rose can still put on one hell of a good show regardless of who is and isn’t in the band alongside him.
I don’t want to start a “beef” with some of the other local media outlets but after reading their reviews today I can honestly say that they aren’t a truthful representation of the night’s events. It is one thing to be critical of a performance and find things to critique but it is another thing to belittle a performance and completely write it off as something it isn’t at all. I consider this act of misrepresentation to be slanderous and downright fraudulent. Shame on you local newspapers, but for a dying print based paper just trying to make a few mores pennies from their web content what can you expect? The word choice alone in their article gives such a distasteful representation of the performance with statements that call the band “diminished,” and rife with “shortfalls.”I ask you to please discredit their review, this is not accurate journalism and should under no circumstances be treated as such. Fans who were at the show and those that will be going to their upcoming shows will see through these attempts to stir up controversy by using the Guns N’ Roses name in their publications in such a way. Consider this review both a rebuttal and a challenge to the review but most importantly consider it for what it is, honest.
That being said the show really went off without any issues or hiccups. Axl Rose was quiet most of the night when he wasn’t singing only having conversation with the crowd a few times to chime in about the Sands Event Center saying it was “a real nice place we got here.” He also said that they would like to come back sometime, hopefully that he is a promise he can keep because the crowd gave a bellowing roar of approval after he said that. The level of friendship on the stage was another aspect that I have not seen in a Guns N’ Roses performance for quite some time, they were all smiles all night. Axl even danced for a fan who was taking a video in the front row on their phone and broke out laughing after doing so. Dj Ashba seems to love seeing how far he can get into the crowd without falling in, I think he tossed about 150 guitar picks out to fans over the course of the night too which makes for a great souvenir for those who made it up front. The setlist spanned the band’s entire discography mixing in a good few from Chinese Democracy but was heavily loaded with tracks from Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusions as well :
Guns N’ Roses Setlist from May 13th, 2014 – Sands Event Center – Bethlehem, PA
Welcome to the Jungle
It’s So Easy
Richard Fortus Guitar Solo Live and Let Die
This I Love Chatterbox (Tommy Stinson on lead vocals, with band introductions)
Dizzy Reed Piano Solo
Catcher in the Rye
You Could Be Mine
DJ Ashba Guitar Solo (La Bella Vita)
Sweet Child O’ Mine Band Jam Session (“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin)
November Rain Abnormal (Bumblefoot on lead vocals)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Band Jam Session
By the end of the night the venue was still packed to the brim with only a few people leaving before the encore’s end to try to beat the traffic out of the venue it would seem. As Paradise City concluded confetti rained down across the Sands Event Center in the most epic finale that I have seen put on this year by any performer. Would the show have been better with pyro? Maybe, but it would have certainly made the venue uncomfortably hot and smokey so we were better off without it for the evening. The confetti was blinding enough as it rained down thicker than a heavy snow storm. Guns N’ Roses ended the night with a formal bow of all the members, the tossing of a few more items from the stage and huge smiles on their faces as they walked off the stage knowing that they just put on one of the best shows the Lehigh Valley has seen this year.
It is a long shot to speculate such things but it would be rather interesting if the Sands could land Guns N’ Roses for an east coast residency sometime in the future, food for thought perhaps but the band will probably be announcing a full fledged US Tour run of a few more dates later this year so keep an eye out for that announcement and be sure to check out our exclusive photo gallery of the show at the Sands Event Center from Matt Christine Photography below.