Guns N' Roses
December 21, 2011
This isn't your older brother's Guns N' Roses, and hell, they aren't even MY Guns N' Roses, but they're not trying to be nor do they give a shit what you and I think. Last night at the Forum, Axl Rose and the latest incarnation of GN'R took the stage, playing a blistering three-hour set (which was also streaming online) that mixed classics with a number of songs off Chinese Democracy, which left many of Axl's remaining disciples elated.
I was a bit apprehensive heading down to the show at first; after all, the show was advertised on Groupon and Goldstar for tickets as low as $19, which wasn't a good sign to say the least. But then again, it's debatable (as Axl pointed out in a recent L.A. Times story) to how strongly the show was promoted.
Drama aside, the story of the night was Axl and his band. If you closed your eyes, you would have sworn that this was the GN'R of the band's formative era, albeit without the soul and charisma of the missing band members and what made them the biggest and most important bands to emerge from the Sunset Strip in the late '80s.
Per custom, or on Axl (who was rockin' a stylish handlebar moustache) time, the band took the stage at a time when most groups would be calling it a night (also known as 11 p.m.). The set mixed in the old standards (“Welcome To The Jungle,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “November Rain”) with the new (“Better,” “Madagascar”) and you know what, it was pretty impressive. The band needed two guitarists to duplicate Slash's signature sound, and DJ Ashba was way too heavy on the replication. Though it may be his style, Ashba was sporting a top hat similar to the iconic guitar player and it seemed like he tried too hard to emulate Slash rather than putting his own spin on some of the classics.
It's also hard to believe this but former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus (who are excellent in their own right) have been playing with the mercurial frontman (and it should be noted that he's taken on a much larger role as the band's maestro as well) longer than Izzy and Duff.
This familiarity has led to a comfort level between the singer and his bandmates, and it was evident by the comfort level that each of the bandmembers had with one another. Throughout the night, Axl was smiling and seemed like he was having a great time, and that energy radiated with the sold-out crowd.
However, during certain songs like “Sweet Child O' Mine,” “Civil War” and “Mr. Brownstone” the band was technically proficient, but was lacking the soul of the earlier versions. It was on these guitar-driven tracks that Slash's bluesy solos were sorely missed.
Naturally, it wouldn't be a Guns N' Roses show without the excess and extravagance of a large stage setup. From the opener “Chinese Democracy” to the closing chords of “Paradise City” the band went all out with their theatrics, especially with the pyrotechnics. It's rare to see an arena show with as many visuals and pyros, but then again, there isn't a band like GN'R anymore.
The $50 million question amongst fans, naturally, is not what was going to happen last night, but rather in April when the band gets inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Questions like “Will they all be there?” to “Do you think they'll play together?” to “What about the new fellas?” were all tossed around amongst fans on the way back to the parking lot. That remains to be seen and as with anything the singer does, there will be drama surrounding it one way or another. But last night was a drama-free, kickass rock concert. Even if some of the faces are different, as Led Zeppelin once sang, the song remains the same, and regardless of who was performing them, this was Axl Fucking Rose. And if you didn't like it, he could care less.
Critical Bias: Certainly not the band I grew up worshiping, but not bad either.
The Crowd: A bizarro cross between Jersey Shore and The Wrestler.
Random Notebook Dump: Gotta love Axl, he looks at curfews and scoffs at them. I wish I could do everything on Axl time.
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.