tue 10/12/2019

Duff McKagan, Islington Assembly Hall review – Guns N' Roses bassist revels in the spotlight | reviews, news & interviews

Duff McKagan, Islington Assembly Hall review – Guns N' Roses bassist revels in the spotlight

Duff McKagan, Islington Assembly Hall review – Guns N' Roses bassist revels in the spotlight

There's a lot of love for the rock 'n' roll survivor at this intimate London gig

Try a little Tenderness: Duff McKagan and Shooter Jennings hit the road

Guns N’ Roses members do love a side project, from Slash’s Snakepit and Conspirators to Axl’s stint as AC/DC frontman. Bass player Duff McKagan has had plenty of them, including hardcore punks 10 Minute Warning, rock 'n' roll supergroup Velvet Revolver and a few months in Stone Temple Pilots – and now he's touring his well-received, country-drenched solo album Tenderness.

Tenderness is produced by the very excellent Shooter Jennings (whose country pedigree is impeccable – he’s the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter), who’s joining McKagan on the road. A black-clad, shades-sporting Jennings, looking uncannily like his dad these days, opens tonight’s proceedings with a support set full of country groove, boogie woogie and soulful balladry. A prolific performer and producer, Jennings plays “White Trash Song”, from his 2013 album The Other Life, in memory of his friend and former collaborator Neal Casal, whose death was announced just a couple of days before this gig, and follows it up with a powerful, haunting cover of Bowie’s “Rock 'n' Roll Suicide”.

It’s a busy (and hot) night for Jennings and his fine band, who soon return to play with McKagan, Jennings on keyboards. Front and centre, a lithe, tanned McKagan – looking in impressively, miraculously rude health given what he’s been through over the years (his excellent autobiography It's So Easy (And Other Lies) lays it out in harrowing detail) – is having a great time. He frequently mentions how much he loves London, at one point whacking out a little ditty in its honour (“I’ve been in love with you ever since I played the fuckin’ Marquee”), and chuckling when someone incongruously yells “let’s get fuckin’ wasted!” just before the mournful “Cold Outside”.

Much of the set list is from Tenderness (no complaints here), with highlights including the heartfelt title track, whose chorus “A little tenderness is what we need these days” feels entirely appropriate given the seemingly never-ending grimness of the news cycle. The state of the world is addressed in songs like the eerie “Parkland”, a lament comprising a ghastly list of mass shootings, and “Last September”, which focuses on sexual assault. The mood is sombre, too, when McKagan reels off a list of deaths in the music world, including Waylon, Lemmy, Prince, Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, and urges the audience to hold close those they love.

But there’s a lot of joy tonight, too, including a sweet moment with McKagan’s wife Susan Holmes McKagan, who looks slightly embarrassed when he pulls her up on stage for a cheesy but lovely slow dance. A red-lit, stomping “Dust N' Bones” - from G N’R’s Use Your Illusion I – is thrilling, one of the best moments of the night, and when McKagan explains that they don’t do encores – “we just play all the songs we know, then that's the end” – he’s tickled to hear someone shout out for Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” (sadly, it doesn’t come to pass).

It’s pretty surreal to see Duff McKagan here in Islington – the last time I clapped eyes on him, he was with G N'R in front of 100,000 people at Download – but it’s great. He’s beaming constantly, like he can’t believe his luck – he’s in one of the biggest bands in the world, but he also gets to come face to face with his sweaty, happy fans in a tiny little London dance hall and love it just as much.

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