Guns N' Roses

Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses performs during Tuesday’s show at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Rose was at his best during portions of the show, but at times slipped into a weak falsetto that made him sound like he was doing an Axl Rose impression.

That was the Guns N’ Roses fans have been waiting to see for about 20 years.

The thunderous riffs. The howling vocals. The rock ’n’ roll songs played so many times during so many parts of our lives that they’re firmly embedded in our skulls.

That was the GNR we wanted. At times. When the whole band showed up.

And at other times? Things were, well, a little off. But hey, at least it was GNR’s classic lineup doing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City,” right? That was fun.

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For two decades, only Axl Rose remained from the band’s “Appetite For Destruction” era, but fans were finally sated when Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan took the stage together a couple years ago alongside longtime multi-instrumentalist Dizzy Reed as well as guitarist Richard Fortus, drummer Frank Ferrer and keyboardist Melissa Reese.

That was the version of GNR that finally arrived at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln on Tuesday night.

And it was cool. Endlessly cool to see Slash riffing while Axl leaned over him. Amazing to see Duff and Slash having guitar/bass battles. Though I enjoyed Axl & Co.’s 2011 concert, it was better seeing him this time with the guys who helped make the band famous.

(Though I imagine those who saw GNR on the 1993 “Use Your Illusion” tour stop in Omaha have some fantastic memories that wouldn’t be so easily beat.)

When the band hit its marks, it was a glorious display of hard rock: the hammering, melodic, ferocious fire that made GNR famous and earned it a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. When the band’s members weren’t on the same page, it was a wreck.

Normally, when a band can’t get it right, it’s a team effort. They haven’t rehearsed enough. They’re having monitor or sound problems and just can’t quite pull it together. Perhaps they’re simply having an off night.

But not on Tuesday. I hate to say it, but the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of the frontman. Axl Rose wasn’t quite there, and it showed.

Before you jump all over me — “He’s not 22 any more!” or “Why are you picking on him?” or “Are you sure you weren’t hearing things?” — realize that sometimes in Lincoln, Rose was the ferocious frontman he’s always been.

Growling. Howling. Hitting those impossible high notes.

In boots, chains, a tight T-shirt, flannel tied around his waist and a red bandanna on his head, Rose was the singer we always remember when he really went for it on songs such as “Civil War” and “November Rain.” His full-throated delivery made the songs sound blessed by the rock gods.

But when he stood on the lip of the stage during songs such as “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Better” and “You Could Be Mine,” Rose sounded flat. Sometimes pitchy. Often, he defaulted to a weak falsetto, sounding more like he was doing his best Axl Rose impression than actually singing in the band he founded.

Rose has the range. At 57, his voice is deeper, but he sounds fantastic, at least when he really went for it like on “Nightrain” and “Patience.” Too bad he wasn’t able to do it all night.

For their parts, Slash, McKagan and Fortus were fantastic to see.

Deservingly regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time, Slash did some seriously amazing shredding. While Fortus held down the rhythm, Slash played riff after epic riff. Even when it was time for something expected, such as the opening line to “Welcome to the Jungle,” he did something new, messing with the chugging, wild guitar run, coming at it from all angles until the melodies coalesced into the song we all know.

Also fun? Seeing the band, which famously fractured more than two decades ago, be affable and chummy with each other throughout the three-hour concert.

Slash happily played parts on “Chinese Democracy,” the album he wasn’t a part of. Rose sang admirably on “Slither,” the song from the McKagan/Slash band Velvet Revolver. McKagan sang lead on a cover of the Misfits’ “Attitude.”

During “Live and Let Die,” McKagan, Fortus and Slash traded reggae runs, sunny 12-string solos and blues rock riffage for nearly 10 minutes.

And Rose was the ringmaster of it all, performing his trademark dance moves and tossing his microphone stand all over the stage.

Even though Guns N’ Roses was uneven, it was fun all the way through to the end when the band tore through an explosion-riddled, high-energy version of “Paradise City.”

The nearly 12,000 fans in the almost sold-out arena were on their feet, singing every word with Rose and the rest. It was certainly memorable.