ROCK / Young guns having fun and roses: Joseph Gallivan on the ever-touring Guns N' Roses, at Milton Keynes Bowl

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The Bowl looked like the site of a Klan meeting on Saturday afternoon, as the hordes stood round in their emergency plastic rain macs, hoods pointing to the sky, wafted by white smoke from feeble paper fires as the temperature plummeted. The outdoor festival season had begun in familiar style. The crowd raised their eyes at the sound of a helicopter, and cheered as it landed behind the stage, bringing Guns N' Roses back to Britain. The 'Use Your Illusion Tour' has lasted two years now, and is not going to end until they've played 190 shows. Understandable then that although they put on a fabulous show, bursting with energy and skill, it's always the same fabulous show. Slash, the boy from Stoke, made a crack about the 'typical British weather for a holiday weekend', to the masochistic pleasure of the crowd, but otherwise there wasn't much indication that they cared which country they had landed in.

By touring much the same material for two years, the band has managed to suspend itself in time, playing songs that are, technically speaking, recent but have the status of classics among the fans. In the UK they've expanded their fan base downward - not just socially, making them the C2s' band of choice - but in terms of age: the place was crawling with little girls.

It only took the first few bars of 'Night Train' to get the people skidding about the grassy bowl. Outdoor rock concerts usually provide an extra-large raised section for people in wheelchairs (on account of the link between fast motorcycles, heavy metal and reckless youth). In the same position on the other side of the field was an identical podium for journalists, though it might better have been a children's romper room. One of the extras there, a nine-year- old from Northampton called Joanne, launched herself into the repertoire, barely pausing from singing and playing air guitar. 'We've got all four albums,' she confided. 'They belong to all of us.' She pointed to her family - mum dancing, ciggy burning in the rain, dad in his combat jacket, headbanging but casting solicitous glances back at his daughter, and baseball-capped older brother, concentrating hard.

This is why Guns N' F'N Roses (as they sometimes refer to themselves) are still interesting. What other band can make family entertainment out of the angry cries of overgrown dysfunctional American teenagers? Singer Axl Rose, still racing across the stage, wearing his Charlie Manson T-shirt, only has two voices. The pained Elton voice for ballads such as 'November Rain' and even 'Imagine', and the incessant tonsil-frying screech of all the others. The latter he applied to good effect in 'Pretty Tied Up'. Joanne proudly showed off the pendant of the logo of the album track around her soaking neck: a topless girl, blindfolded, and with a pair of bony hands pulling her hair out.

A couple of changes since the tour was last here: Izzy Stradlin stood in coolly on rhythm guitar, Gilby Clarke having broken his wrist (in a motorcycle accident); they played a long six- song acoustic section in the current 'Unplugged' fashion; and Slash's dirty guitar solos have reached epic proportions, one in 'You Could Be Mine' lasting eight minutes. Although not a classic, this track received the biggest cheer of recognition, perhaps because it's the opening theme of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

After an encore of 'Paradise City', Rose threw his mike 30 metres into the crowd and distributed roses. Then the band lined up for a communal bow. Three minutes later their helicopter soared up and away and left the fans splashing through the mud to their coaches.