BY CHRIS MCCARRY In 1998, I was an awkward, oft-ridiculed thirteen-year-old lacking many of the things that lead to a successful adolescence: friends, girls, sports, dads. But Guns N’ Roses changed all that for me, as they did for so many in the last 30 years. The first time I watched Axl Rose get off that bus in the video for “Welcome To The Jungle,” I felt we were brothers, like the two of us were doing the same thing: stepping purposefully into the unknown after wandering unfulfilled for years.

There’s always been something that set GNR apart from everyone else. For me, it was the volatility. Go back and watch the Ritz show in 1988 – the way Axl is all over the place, Slash and Duff McKagan are drugged out of their minds – there was never any chance it could have lasted. That inherent frenzy tapped into a certain turmoil in my own life. As a kid, it wasn’t so easy to be social, or easy to be cool. I had no idea where to go, what to chase, or even how to chase it. Over the course of that “Jungle” video, Los Angeles eats up innocent William Bailey and spits back out Axl Rose. But it also lit a fire inside that awkward, confused prepubescent stooge hopelessly hoping for something to come along and show him which direction to walk.

That band turned me into a cigarette-smoking, guitar-playing badass (albeit of the law-abiding variety). I wore many backwards trucker hats over many, many bandanas, I bought a shitty Les Paul ripoff, and I started a band. In a handful of years, Guns N’ Roses had taken me from the back of the classroom at St. Dominic’s grade school to the stage of the legendary North Star Bar.

But while I strongly identified with that straw-haired hayseed fresh off the bus from Lafayette, Indiana, as a dorky 13-year-old, as we both got older we grew apart. For the majority of my adulthood I could not have felt more disconnected from W. Axl Rose. The last 20 years of the Guns N’ Roses tragicomedy is familiar to most. Egomaniacal front man terrorizes fans and bandmates with erratic and manipulative behavior. In less than ten years, after three brilliant albums, dozens of cancelled shows and more than a couple of riots (one of which occurred here in Philly), the biggest band in the world implodes and Axl Rose spends the next 15 years on some crazed Ahab-esque quest to complete his white whale: Chinese Democracy. Only to eventually release a legitimately great record with that title that fell soundlessly into a yawning chasm of public disinterest. By then, the GNR fanbase had grown up and moved on, as did the world at large.

However, when I listen to GNR, I’m reminded of myself, or more precisely the self I was before I heard “Welcome to the Jungle,” or “14 Years.” So when I stood in that football stadium on Thursday night with 60-or-so-thousand other people while Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, and Slash played together for the first time in 20 years, it felt like home. When Axl asked, “Do you know where the fuck you are?” I thought about all the places I’ve been because of his music and decided a decade of cancelled shows, riots, and otherwise selfish psychotic behavior will never change that.

I won’t waste your time or mine trying to convince you that Guns N’ Roses is the greatest band that’s ever walked the earth or that the Not in This Lifetime… Tour is the biggest, baddest show anyone’s ever seen but they are and it is. This is a band that fucking matters to people playing better than they ever have and that show last night has left me largely speechless. The setlist is pitch perfect. Selecting a GNR set is a brutal exercise in resource management. I would have stood there for four hours while the played their entire catalogue. But from “Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” through “You Could Be Mine” and “Coma,” The band hit every hallmark of their career including four cuts off Chinese Democracy. And it’s clear that wasn’t some begrudging compromise; Slash and McKagan committed to those songs like they wrote them and showed us all a little something of what GNR might have been if only…

The most poignant moment of the night, aside from the fanboy anxiety attack I had for three straight hours was their performance of “Civil War.” In the wake of Dallas, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile, those lyrics all of sudden took on a fresh importance for me. “Look at the hate we’re breeding/Look at the fear we’re feeding/look at the lives we’re leading/the way we’ve always done before.”

In the midst of an experience that seemed like the most important thing that’s ever happened to me, it was good to be taken out of that moment by those words and brought back to reality. After all, that’s what truly great rock and roll does. Offers you an escape from the chaos of the everyday and then arms you with some perspective on your way back in. It’s just one of the many things Guns N’ Roses has done for me over the past 18 years that I’ll probably never be able to thank them for.