United States — While the festival has hosted many types of music and culture over the past 50 years (hippies, punks, ravers, crusties, reggae, world music, indie, grime, etc.), the grounds of Worthy Farm in Somerset have proven unsuitable for hard rock. Even seven years ago, when Metallica headlined the festival, they couldn’t win over the crowd with their usual level of intensity and emphasis.
Guns N’ Roses has a few advantages over Metallica, including a larger fan base, more recognizable songs, and two more charismatic front men. Their decision to start the show with fan favorites like “It’s So Easy,” “Bad Obsession” and “Chinese Democracy” rather than their greatest hits may have been misguided. It takes half an hour galloping “Welcome To The Jungle” to draw the crowd.
Blankets could also be viewed negatively. Live and Let Die (which turns the original’s orchestral bombast into a dystopian nightmare) and Knocking on Heaven’s Door (thankfully minus Axl’s “Gimme some reggae!” proclamation) are both great picks. Axl features bassist Duff McKagan and his “silky, sexually intoxicating voice” while performing heart-pounding Motown punk from the Stooges of “TV Eye”, and the band plays Down On The Farm by lower-league London punks The UK Subs (a GNR track first played at Farm Aid in 1990).
McKagan’s Iggy Pop impression is passable, but Axl Rose’s vocal prowess becomes immediately apparent. His natural voice is a shrill falsetto; on some notes it sounds like a silent drag queen, while on others it sounds like a vehicle alarm. He will describe one song as a “heartfelt anthem to a beautiful relationship”, then rush into the scabrous and horribly misogynistic absurdity, about a “screaming fucking banshee”. Axl’s Lydon-like moan of revenge and dread makes the song all the more unsettling.
The pretty, long-haired 1980s pin-up girl may now look like seasoned English comedian Charlie Drake, but her level of activity is unquestionable. He twirls around like a whirlwind as Slash plays a solo, giving the impression of a crazed fighter in a cage. Axl says he’s sorry he never uses the walkways to the left and right of the Pyramid Stage because he can’t hear the rest of the group. I hope you don’t take me for a wimp,” he apologizes.
While playing bold harmonics, slides, strings and Morse code effects up the fretboard, Slash is a comforting presence in his top hat, plaid shirt and golden Gibson Victoria. However, the band’s second guitarist, Richard Fortus (who has been with the band for almost as long as Slash) is equally notable.
It’s a long performance; the band with a history of being late actually starts their set at the stated time of 9:30 a.m. and continues until midnight. The beginning of the setlist could have needed some tweaking, but hits like “Civil War” (with Axl in a T-shirt supporting the Ukrainian revolution), “You Could Be Mine”, “Sweet Child O Mine”, “November Rain , “Patience” and “Nighttrain” set us up for a massive rendition of “Paradise City,” which featured now-regular Glasto mystery guest Dave Grohl on guitar. While this part of Somerset is unlikely to fully embrace metal, GNR came close to convincing them.