Watching Slash play the opening riff of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” on the same stage as Axl Rose is a bucket-list item for music fans of a certain age. If you grew up in the 1980s and Appetite for Destruction was the formative album of your youth, it doesn’t get much better than that.
But for me and tens of thousands of other GNR fans on Wednesday night in Cincinnati, it did. About an hour into their set—and hitting their groove—Guns N’ Roses finished “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” then played “Better”—one of the few songs off Chinese Democracy that anyone even remembers, and then Axl told the crowd he had a surprise.
“On the drums, you might know this guy,” Axl said. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Steven Adler!”
The band played “Out ta Get Me” and “My Michelle”—a song that hadn’t been a regular on their set list for the reunion tour—with Adler, and then he tossed his sticks into the crowd and made way for current drummer Frank Ferrer to return.
Adler hadn’t played with GNR since 1990, after a disastrous appearance at Farm Aid. While at one point it was funny to jokingly ask how much drugs one had to do to get kicked out of Guns N’ Roses anyhow, his long and public struggle to overcome heroin—he canceled a tour as recently as 2013—has long endeared him to fans.
When Rose announced that Guns N’ Roses would tour after reuniting for Coachella, hopeful speculation that Adler would return on drums was quashed by reports that he needed back surgery.
Adler’s return was a surprise, so it’s too early to say if he’ll play regularly for the rest of the tour, which runs through August. But watching his million-gigawatt smile light up the whole stadium, his long blonde hair unapologetically unchanged since the ’80s, you have to hope.