The most anticipated set of Download 2006 was certainly among the most memorable as Guns N' Roses returned to Donington for the first time in 18 years to close the event.
With The Prodigy (dripping with sweat, having just finished their incendiary performance in the Snickers Tent) on stand-by to take the main stage, should Guns N' Roses fail to appear on time (or at all), festival organisers were as stunned as the crowd when Axl Rose suddenly burst on-stage to the opening riff of 'Welcome to the Jungle', no less than seven minutes earlier than billed. 'It's So Easy', 'Mr. Brownstone' and 'Live and Let Die' were then performed with such unrelenting power and energy - Axl hurling himself all over the expansive stage - that you could almost close your eyes and believe it was the original band playing them.
Axl's voice was particularly stunning and he appeared to be enjoying himself as much as the crowd, grinning like a loon when chants of "GUNS... N'... ROSES" swept across Donington between songs. Even when 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' spiralled into a musical mess, Axl laughed as he mock scolded his band, "Are you gonna stop or shall I?". As it happened, he stopped it, throwing an impromptu vocal solo out of his sleeve before the band kicked back in, and the song was elegantly recovered.
The 'incident' struck during 'Sweet Child Of Mine', when Axl slipped head-over-heels mid-sprint on a stage that had been well oiled after three days of bottle love. "We're having some technical difficulties", he announced sternly, and was gone. Stage personnel and festival managers were seen scuttling anxiously about on the back of the stage. After a few minutes, new guitarist Bumblefoot came out and performed a solo instrumental version of 'Don't Cry', which went on and on, lasting far longer than the original song. While this was happening, stagehands were busily laying rolls of carpet across the length of the stage to prevent a repeat of the mishap.
Rose eventually stomped back on for 'You Could Be Mine', bee still in bandana. He stopped singing half way through, pacing up and down the stage in silence, mic in hand, whilst the band stepped up to cover his vocals. The three guitarists took turns to play drawn out solos whilst Rose stormed off-stage several more times.
Matters were not helped when bassist Tommy Stinson was struck in the head by a plastic bottle soon afterwards. "Any more piss bottles and I'm outta here!", he whined with Axl stood proudly beside him, before hurling his bass on the floor and (reportedly) injuring an innocent video camera operator in the process.
The set took an upturn when Rose introduced former best friend and estranged bandmate Izzy Stradlin (himself the object of many a colourful on-stage Axl rant over the years) for three songs - 'Patience', 'Nightrain' and 'I Used to Love Her'. Former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach also came out to duet on 'My Michelle', as he had done at the Hammersmith Apollo warm-up show. Both guests had also appeared at Guns N' Roses' recent New York gigs, so fans at Donington were not altogether surprised to see them, however it was a thrill nonetheless.
As the band prepared to end the set with 'Paradise City', Axl stopped them in their tracks, announcing with a smile: "I'm actually having quite a good time now! I couldn't have said that an hour ago!" The crowd roared approvingly and the frosty atmosphere between audience and band suddenly dissipated. Axl celebrated this new accord by spontaneously extending the show with four unscheduled songs, including 'Rocket Queen', before concluding with an explosive 'Paradise City'.
It was a show peppered with moments of untouchable brilliance, but many fans were left confused as to exactly what they had just witnessed. Neither Axl nor the band had given much indication that they had any more solid an idea of what it was they were trying to present. For the most part it was received as a good tribute show - afterall, no-one sings GNR songs better than Axl Rose - but the new musicians offered no credible substitute for their classic predecessors and, aside from the novelty and cabaret value in the hissy fits, in terms of pure substance and vitality, the performance fell short of the mark set by both Metallica and Tool on the preceeding nights of Download.
Guns N' Roses aired five new songs - 'Better', 'The Blues', 'Madagascar', 'Chinese Democracy' and 'IRS'.
The setlist ran:
- 'Welcome To The Jungle'
- 'It's So Easy'
- 'Mr Brownstone'
- 'Live and Let Die'
- 'Knockin'On Heaven's Door'
- 'Sweet Child O' Mine'
- 'Don't Cry' (Bumblefoot solo)
- 'You Could Be Mine'
- 'Beautiful' (Richard Fortis olo)
- 'Out To Get Me'
- 'The Blues'
- 'November Rain'
- 'My Michelle' (with Sebastian Bach)
- 'Patience' (with Izzy Stradlin)
- 'Night Train' (with Izzy Stradlin)
- 'Rocket Queen'
- 'Chinese Democracy'
- 'I Used To Love Her' (with Izzy Stradlin)
- 'Paradise City'
Check out our Reviews section for the full review of Download 2006