Guns N’ Roses w/Asking Alexandria
Thurdsay, November 18
Better than: Getting to sleep at a decent hour.
“It’s nice to be here,” Axl Rose said from the Izod Center’s stage at approximately midnight last night, an hour into Guns N’ Roses set. “I had my doubts, too, if I’d make it.” The hours preceding his band’s first note had been filled with speculation about 2 a.m. closing times and a disastrously received opening act, the new-wave-of-British-screamo act Asking Alexandria, that took the stage about an hour and 15 minutes after the show’s scheduled beginning.
Tension is seen as something of a given with Guns N’ Roses, the band Rose has fronted for a good 26 years now; their 1987 debut Appetite For Destruction was a chronicle of life in the seediest part of Los Angeles’ underbelly, with lyrical depictions of drugs and sex and nihilism and dirty, minor-key rock and roll that was lacerated with piercing guitar solos and the occasional bit of sweetness. From there the band—and its attendant legend—mushroomed, with ever-more-grandiose videos, departures, arrivals, reality-TV shows, and the long, drawn-out saga of Chinese Democracy, the most recent album to come out under the GN’R imprimatur. The release of the album, so apocryphal for so long, was a bit of an anticlimax, a Best Buy exclusive overshadowed by the store also selling new video games where you could mime other chestnuts in the band’s catalog. Although after 17 years of buildup and scuttlebutt, would even a snarling statement on the level of Appetite have quieted the peanut gallery?
The version of Guns N’ Roses touring now—Rose, guitarists Richard Fortus, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, and DJ Ashba, “the replacement from the Replacements” Tommy Stinson on bass, Frank Ferrer on drums, Chris Pittman on various duties, and de facto senior member Dizzy Reed (he joined the band in 1990) on keys—has been more or less in place for a couple of years now. (Ashba, the newest member, joined in 2009.) Last night’s set, which the band motored through in just under three hours, was heavy on the material from Appetite and Chinese Democracy (no 20th-anniversary celebration of Use Your Illusion here) and dotted with covers—AC/DC, the Who, Pink Floyd. Lineup-purist types might scoff that the whole night was full of covers, what with lead guitarist Slash long departed and the “Where’s Izzy” sign from the “Don’t Cry” video being put on permanent display in certain diehards’ hearts. That the three guitarists played the solos Slash laid down 20-plus years ago faithfully, for the most part, might bear out that idea. But the band’s ability to recreate the utterly thrilling nastiness of the earliest GN’R work—and, on the more nu-metal-nodding Chinese Democracy tracks, fill the arena with unease-producing noise—for three mostly solid hours was eaten up by the audience, despite the late hour and everyone’s slightly creakier bones. (“Nightrain” even inspired one intrepid fan to try out his crowdsurfing technique.)
And then there was Rose, whirling around the stage, leading recreations of his snake-dance, ducking out from time to time to his backstage respite. Perhaps even more important to the night’s thrill and bombast than the personnel switches was the fact that he seemed if not happy at least more content than the character sketched out in the lyrics of ballads like “Estranged” and “Patience”; he still wailed the nihilistic rhymes of “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” convincingly while the band ripped on behind him, but there was an easiness that bubbled to the surface periodically, whether in his brief snippets of stage banter or the impromptu kickline he formed with Ashba near the show’s end. (The vibe often reminded me of that from his duet with Tom Petty at the 1989 Video Music Awards, just in terms of camraderie levels.) This was not the Axl Rose who would rant about his enemies from his pulpit; instead, at the end of last night’s show, he came out to take a bow with the band, and he was almost jovial as he addressed the audience, saying that he hoped to be back soon, and telling those people who remained to get home safely. It was 2 a.m., after all.
Critical bias: I flipped out when the menacing bassline of “It’s So Easy” rose up after the last vestiges of “Welcome To The Jungle” faded out—mimicking one of the best one-two opening salvos offered by a rock album. From there everything was pretty much gravy—especially “Don’t Cry,” which started off as just Rose singing over the guitar, just like this demo of the song that I owned on a cassette bootleg purchased back when I thought the wait between Appetite and Illusion was interminable.
Overheard: “I can’t tell if those people are serious about wanting to hear ‘Oh My God.'”
Random notebook dump: Pound for pound, GN’R songs have the best codas in the biz, from “Rocket Queen” to “Patience” to “Estranged.”
Random notebook dump II: Props to Thal for the Fucked Up shirt.
Welcome To The Jungle
It’s So Easy
Richard Fortus solo (James Bond theme) / Live And Let Die
This I Love
My Generation (Tommy Stinson on lead)
Dizzy Reed solo (“Baba O’ Riley”) / Street Of Dreams
You Could Be Mine
DJ Ashba solo (“The Ballad Of Death”) / Sweet Child O’ Mine
Jam (“Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2”)
Axl Rose piano solo / November Rain
Bumblefoot solo (“Theme From The Pink Panther“)
Whole Lotta Rosie
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Interlude / Madagascar