Live

No Riot Act: Guns N' Roses and St. Louis Hug It Out at First Show Since 1991

Guns N’ Roses Not In This Lifetime Tour live at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 1, 2016.
Katarina Benzova

Guns N’ Roses photographed during the Not In This Lifetime Tour live at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 1, 2016.

"The last time we were here was half of my life ago... Half of my freaking life ago. It's good to see you again."

Axl Rose got through "Rocket Queen" without starting a riot on Thursday.

The last time Guns N' Roses visited St. Louis, way back on July 2, 1991, the Los Angeles hard rock band was in the middle of the Appetite for Destruction corker when a hot-tempered Rose dove into the crowd to confront a camera-wielding fan before storming off, thus setting off what's now known as the "Riverport Riot."

More than a melee, angry fans reacted to Rose's leap by tearing up the then-new Riverport Amphitheatre, leading to dozens of arrests and injuring 65, including two-dozen police officers. He was later arrested, charged, found guilty and fined, followed by civil lawsuits that ended in undisclosed settlement amounts.

Rose dispensed some justice of his own over the years, via a shout-out in the Use Your Illusion liner notes ("F-ck you, St. Louis") and by wearing his "St. Louis Sucks" t-shirt and, of course, steering clear of the Gateway City during the few occasions the band has played North America.

It's an ugly chapter in the band's history, but one that Rose and company finally decided was time to move past.

"The last time we were here was half of my life ago," Rose said during Thursday's return concert, held at the cavernous Dome at America's Center. "Half of my freaking, fu--ing life ago. It's good to see you again."

And Rose really seemed to mean it, leading the nation's top touring act through a marathon 31-song set that included early rockers ("Mr. Brownstone," "It's So Easy," "Nightrain"), strut-and-sway ballads ("Patience," "Don't Cry," "November Rain"), faithful covers (Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie," The Who's "The Seeker") and all the greatest hits you'd expect, nee demand at a GNR show, with a few Chinese Democracy tracks thrown in for the completists. Rose maintained his familiar high-growl the entire night -- aided by frequent breaks and years of conditioning -- and the band was as tight and relentless as you'd expect.

What Rose (or Slash or Duff McKagan or even Dizzy Reed -- all GNR members back in 1991) didn't do on Thursday was hammer the Dome audience with many direct references to the riot, its aftermath or all those hurt feelings over the years. They cliché-edly "let the music do the talking" -- a wise move.

That said, there were a few very subtle nods to 1991 and its legal fallout. Introducing Slash, Rose snickered, "Ladies and gentlemen, my partner in crime, as we return to the scene of the crime."

And setting up the Use Your Illusion II classic "Yesterdays," Rose noted the earthy aroma in the air: "We're all law abiding citizens here... I know I am. So that smell must be... somebody must be having a medical emergency. Let's make sure they're okay."

The band also dished out some t-shirt diplomacy, which may have gone over the heads of many in attendance. McKagan, for example, wore a tee from Streetside Records, a beloved-but-defunct local music store chain; Rose donned a shirt with the Coral Court Motel, a long-gone Route 66 motor inn known for its art deco stylings; and in a sincere (and very cool) gesture, guitarist Richard Fortus, who lives in St. Louis, wore a shirt from Kennedy's, an also-gone rock club where his old band (Pale Divine) used to play. "He fu--ing lives here!" Rose said in amazement at one point of Fortus, "inviting" the crowd to his house for the after-party.

Slash went with one shirt the entire night, but he did give St. Louis a nod during his solo, which included a portion of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."

Fortus, who played with Richard Butler in Love Spit Love and later Enrique Iglesias before joining GNR, didn't say much the entire night, but his joy in playing in front of family and friends in a massive hometown stadium show was evident.

(In a recent profile in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fortus recalled playing a gig the night of the 1991 riot. "I remember people coming in from the riot with pieces of chairs," he said. "I didn’t realize the scope of it until later. I would have been there if I wasn't working.")

The band chose their long-awaited return to St. Louis as the launching pad for the next leg of their North American "Not In This Lifetime" tour. Through 23 shows, the tour has grossed a tick over $99 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. The band's reunion has also helped its promoter, Live Nation, maintain a dominant position among its competitors -- the concert giant has grossed more in the first half of 2017 than the seven next biggest promoters combined.

Twenty-six years is a long time to wait for a GNR show, but the "truce" between band and city on Thursday seems to have changed that. "We hope to see you soon," Rose said before walking -- not storming -- off. "Hopefully a lot sooner."

The set:

It's So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Better
Estranged
Live and Let Die (Wings)
Rocket Queen
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Misfits cover off "The Spaghetti Incident")
This I Love
Civil War
Yesterdays
Coma
Slash Guitar Solo
Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather)
Sweet Child O' Mine
Used to Love Her
My Michelle
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
November Rain (Axl added some "Layla" in there)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan)
Nightrain

Encore:

Sorry
Patience
Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC)
Don't Cry
The Seeker (The Who)
Paradise City