Brian Chilson

Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017: “Guns ‘N’ Roses Day” in Little Rock. I started the day off completely biased and fully ready to rock for the concert. I’ve been to hundreds of big rock shows in Arkansas and all over, but I’d never been to War Memorial and never seen GnR. Just a few numbers shy of 24,000, most of the available seats were filled up. Parking was pricey, but easy to get in and out of. There was some complaining from smokers who weren’t allowed to smoke, and as far as I know there was no smoking area. There was some confusion going on, too; the printed ticket read 7:30 p.m. as the concert’s start time when, in fact, it started an hour earlier, with long lines on the left and right of the stadium. (Because of the parking setup, these lines weren’t able to see the six other lines set up in the middle, all of which were moving much faster.) Luckily, we noticed them and waited in a line for less than five minutes. Unfortunately, the other two lines took about an hour and, as a result, lots of people missed opener Sturgill Simpson.

That said, the weather was perfect, and it was incredibly beautiful seeing so many Arkansans out in numbers for a rock concert. Sitting in the top rungs of the stadium with friends was the perfect atmosphere for this show; space enough between seats to move around freely. (My 11-year-old daughter and I had good “reviewer” seats on the floor, but kept finding ourselves back in the stands with our friends.)


Sturgill Simpson’s sound harkens back to the outlaw country of the 1970s with some country soul in the mix. I’m honestly not a fan, but only because I haven’t found the time to get into his music yet. He started with a humble dedication to Maxine’s in Hot Springs, and played to a crowd of around 12,000-15,000 folks. By the time he was done, the stands were full and the sun was comfortably hidden behind the press box.

We ran to the restroom during the set change, and you could feel it in the air — a series of GnR-inspired animations on the jumbotron acting as a sort of countdown to the show, folks rushing to get back to their places before the announcer yelled (surreally): “Hello, Little Rock, from Hollywood, Guns N’ Roses.” Axl Rose walked slowly to the front of the stage. Duff McKagan ripped into “It’s So Easy,” and everyone sang along for the entire song. This was real, and we couldn’t believe it was actually happening to us in our own hometown.


The entire show was completely gold. The crowd never let up as the band relentlessly tore through the opening numbers. I remember looking at my daughter when Axl screamed “That’s right, Arkansas, you’re in the jungle, baby!” Her face was completely startled, and she yelled right back to him. For some context: She is exactly one year younger than I was the first time I heard this song on MTV’s “Headbangers Ball” in 1987. There’s no real way to explain what I was going through.

The set was filled with hits and many deep album cuts. Slash did his traditional “Godfather” theme guitar solo and the band was in tip-top shape. Axl barely talked between songs except to introduce the band. He just smiled and kept in great spirits all night.


Some highlights: “Double Talkin’ Jive,” because the band really seemed to lock in on this song. Like a well-oiled rock train. Like they were back in the day, one of the best bands out there and ready to prove it. The extended jam at the beginning of “November Rain” was a take on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” mashed up with the piano ending of “Layla;” completely epic and perfectly connected. Paying tribute to Chris Cornell by covering “Black Hole Sun” was special, and the AC/DC cover was insanely fun.

Strangely enough, my other favorites were a few from “Chinese Democracy.” “Better,” “This I Love” and especially “Sorry”; all freakishly heavy. In fact, “Sorry,” which I was barely familiar with, was the re-entry song after the encore and ended up being one of my favorites that night.

I was sent a copy of the set list for purposes of this review, and noticed the band added a few songs. I think they knew that 23,973 was a big crowd for the Little Rock market, and that mostly everyone there likely worked very hard to buy tickets. After three hours without a break, the band looked like they were still having a great time, like they could’ve easily played more for their Arkansas fans. It didn’t hurt closing the show out with “Paradise City” and having a massive fireworks display in GnR colors: green, red and orange.


All in all, my dreams were fulfilled. I saw a band I’ve always dreamed of seeing with an opener of the same caliber of talent, and I had a moment that I will never forget, all at the War Memorial Stadium.