Hundreds of people snaked around the shuttered Tower Records building in West Hollywood on the afternoon of April 1, 2016. The date couldn’t have been more ironic. The people were all waiting in line in hopes of snagging a ticket to one of the biggest rock events of the century, one that had been teased countless times over the years but, even now, seemed like a pipe dream or elaborate joke: the Guns N’ Roses reunion show at the Troubadour nightclub.
Well, three-fifths reunion, to be precise. After years of mudslinging in the press, baseless rumors, solo projects, supergroups and Chinese Democracy, three core members of Guns N’ Roses — Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan — would take the stage together for the first time since 1993. The Troubadour gig would serve as a warm-up for their massive, wryly titled Not in This Lifetime tour, which ended up zigzagging the globe several times.
Fleshing out the semi-original GNR lineup were keyboardist Dizzy Reed, guitarist Richard Fortus, drummer Frank Ferrer and second keyboardist and programmer Melissa Reese. Original drummer Steven Adler made sporadic appearances with the group throughout 2016, but cofounding rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin has kept his distance from the reunion.
Hundreds of fans and numerous celebrities — including Lenny Kravitz, Nicolas Cage, Kate Hudson and Jim Carrey — packed into the Troubadour on the night of April 1 to witness the band’s historic, 17-song set. They kicked things off with the one-two punch of Appetite for Destruction classics “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” before barreling through the title track off 2008’s Chinese Democracy for the first time with Slash. The rest of the set largely comprised Appetite songs along with popular covers (“Live and Let Die,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”) and the occasional deep cut (Use Your Illusion’s “Double Talkin’ Jive”).
Cellphones, cameras and other recording devices were banned from the gig, but that didn’t stop fans from smuggling them inside and capturing a few glimpses of the group in action. The amateur videos that emerged found the band shaking off some rust and speeding up some tempos but bringing the heat nonetheless. Rose, in particular, looked and sounded rejuvenated, bringing his serpentine dance moves and sandpapery, high-pitched scream to classics like “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Watch Guns N’ Roses Perform ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ in 2016
The Guns N’ Roses reunion no sooner got off to an explosive start than an onstage accident threatened to derail it, when Rose slipped and fell a few songs into the set. High on adrenaline, he laughed it off and finished the show, but it was later revealed that he broke his left foot.
The volatile frontman had been known to cancel gigs for far smaller inconveniences during the band’s heyday, so skeptical fans naturally feared the worst. But Rose soldiered on, borrowing Dave Grohl’s guitar throne from the Foo Fighters’ 2015 tour and performing the next several gigs while seated and with his leg in a cast. That included two shows at Las Vegas’ new AT&T Arena and Saturday-night headlining slots at both weekends of Coachella.
Rose was back on his feet by the time the Not in This Lifetime tour resumed in late June. (He spent the intervening two months fronting AC/DC on their Rock or Bust world tour.) The massive trek has since stormed six continents, sold more than 5 million tickets and become the third-highest-grossing tour of all time, pulling in $584 million across 158 shows and counting.