By Michael Cerio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — During the days when Chinese Democracy was the supreme punchline for anything long-awaited and unfulfilled, it was impossible to imagine the scene of Slash churning through its title track – flanked by Axl Rose in front of a football field full of fans.

Yet here we are.

Twenty years after Slash and Duff McKagan left the crushing locomotive known as Guns N’ Roses in that album’s early stages, the three original members performed its songs alongside their iconic catalog that came before their collapse.

The group that was to never reunite “in this lifetime” thrilled Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly on Thursday night, with an on-time and tight performance for the sweaty soup bowl of devotees.

(Credit: Michael Cerio)

(Credit: Michael Cerio)

As the drums exploded on Appetite For Destruction’s “It’s So Easy”, Axl Rose emerged – galloping across the stage in ripped jeans, and his first of several soon-to-be sweated-through black graphic t-shirts. With theatrical smizing and sass, Rose stalked the stage with a little stiffness and the grace of a Dancing With The Stars contestant entering week three. The steps were all there and his joy was palpable, but you could tell he wasn’t all together comfortable yet in his new, old skin.

Then there was Slash. Near stoic and sleeveless – wearing his trademark sunglasses and top hat – Slash served as the most glowing reminder of everything that is awesome about Guns N’ Roses. As the sky-high video monitors that bookended the stage focused in on the guitarist’s fingers, he put on a master class. Song after song, dripping with sweat, Slash continued to raise the bar on what you can do with a guitar.

Extended intros and solos were placed throughout the set to allow Axl to swap shirts and catch a breather, but Slash remained in shimmering industrial excellence. He was a slick, sweaty statue of cool.

As the night wore on for Slash and the amazingly ageless Duff McKagan, Axl seemed to find his footing.

Rose’s voice soared during “Civil War” while Slash played a double-neck guitar, and he was at ease but electric while playing the piano during “November Rain”. Axl even found his snake dance during “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. With every new shirt came a stronger more powerful Axl Rose.

Guns N’ Roses was back for a good old fashion rock show, and with them they brought a reminder of some classic cohorts. Beyond their versions of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and Wings’ “Live And Let Die” – which are GnR standards – the group borrowed from Pink Floyd with a dueling guitar rendition of “Wish You Were Here”, and gave plenty of play to the outro from “Layla” before sliding into “November Rain”. Not to mention their take on The Who’s “The Seeker” during their encore.

In the early stages of Friday morning, after over two hours of memories and rock, Guns N’ Roses would take the South Philly for a trip to “Paradise City”. As a barrage of fireworks lit the sky, the show that was never suppose to happen “in this lifetime” came to a close and Philadelphia finally got another night with the Guns N’ Roses the world deserves.

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