It’s the middle of summer in London but today the skies are quite characteristically moody. British Summer Time, now in its 10th year, seems to grow in size and caliber every year, with swathes of notable artists taking turns to headline. Friday night was all about Guns N’ Roses, a real coup for those that missed their bombastic and widely acclaimed performance at Glastonbury just a week before.
BST Hyde Park 2023
What’s enjoyable about a festival of this scale is to simply observe the types of revellers the main acts attract. With a classic rock lineup there’s the standard black T-shirts, leather jackets, bandanas, and a few Slash hat/sunnies/wig combos, but what’s also evident is the generational variety – from the very young, the long-timers, the families, and friends some of whom share how Guns N’ Roses has been a part of their lives since they can remember – “my parents would sing Patience when I was a baby, and I walked down the aisle to a rendition of November Rain” said one.
BST Hyde Park 2023
Preceded by their loyal touring companions The Pretenders – rock legends in their own right – it was a joy to see frontwoman Chrissie Hynde and her band back touring. Together they played an engaging set, blending hits with back-catalog tracks, looking classically cool while doing so. With the wind picking up on stage (would it be a rock show without a wind machine?) the group moved quickly through their set ticking off Talk Of The Town, Hymn To Her, Tattooed Love Boys and the classic I’ll Stand By You – “I promised Axel I’d do this one”, Hynde proclaimed. It was a smooth and easy exercise, and perhaps not before the type of crowd they had a week earlier, but an excellent opener no less.
Seven o’clock and the anticipation was palpable, the gaps between bodies promptly filling up.
Rock ‘n’ roll imagery beamed onto giant screens, skull caricatures with snakes moving slowly from one eye-socket to the next, before it transformed into a chaotic and dizzying spiral through buildings, waterfalls, mouths, forests filled with dinosaurs – a cacophony of nonsensical visuals all culminating in a nuclear explosion as the band runs on stage and soars into It’s So Easy. It’s the euphoric entry one might expect, and be disappointed to miss.
All the long-standing members are all there – Axel Rose with a bandana by his waist, Slash with his hat and blue aviators, and Duff McKagan donning his patched leather vest. Alongside them are Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer and Melissa Reese, all of which are more than capable of keeping pace – a pace so fast Axel himself fell over during the second song – “I don’t wanna jinx it, but hopefully I got all that slipping and sliding out of the way”, he joked.
There’s a surprise performance of Slither (a song by Velvet Revolver, a band born out of the GNR ashes), before a non-stop journey through Mr. Brownstone, Welcome To The Jungle and Pretty Tied Up. Civil War became an ode to Ukraine, TV Eye (with Duff on vocals) a tribute to The Stooges. And then there’s Live And Let Die (possibly their best cover) performed on its 50th anniversary.
Axel’s energy is as inspiring as it is exhausting – his signature sways giving us a renewed taste of the 80s. And there’s a moment for Slash, too, his solos are long and masterful, his facial expressions traditionally unreadable. And all of this is just two hours in. There’s a whole hour to go.
While it feels impossible that the show could dial up further, it effortlessly does. Sweet Child O’ Mine and November Rain both gleeful performances, fans singing in tandem and (somewhat annoyingly) recording the moment on their phones. Patience, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Nightrain proved that there were still many bangers to come.
So as the stage went black and a voice proclaimed they’d be ditching the traditional “we’re not coming back… or are we?” encore it was a strong queue that this gargantuan 25-song, three-hour show was nearing an end. And what an end it was. Don’t Cry and Paradise City closed off the evening in emphatic style as Axel, wearing a union jack top hat, exercised some British politeness to thank the 60,000 people before him and asking them to “please get home safely”. Rock and roll can be sensitive, too!
Review of Guns N’ Roses at BST Hyde Park on 30th June 2023 by Lilen Pautasso. Photography of Guns N’ Roses by Guilherme Nunes Cunha Neto. Other BST photography by Kalpesh Patel