The Guns N' Roses Show Was ... An Experience

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 22, 2012 9:40PM

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Guns N' Roses photo by Jim Kopeny

Sometimes it's hard to remember that Guns N' Roses were once a dangerous band, deflating overly pompous pop-metal with their snarling, bluesy, crusty take steeped in '70s hard rock. They may have had big hair like many of their contemporaries, but it seemed to be held up more by the grease of countless sleepless nights with no time to shower, rather than endless cans of hairspray. On Appetite For Destruction they spat out six-plus minute epics that always felt lean and raw, and the shorter, snarling numbers bit hard and drew blood.

Who could've foreseen this crew of misfits would become the biggest band in the world shortly thereafter? Who would've thought the follow-up would be a double album opus—Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II—that the band not only had the balls to sell separately but would go on to claim the two top spots on the Billboard charts upon their release? Those albums were uneven, displaying lead singer Axl Rose's already splintered and difficult worldview, become even more withdrawn as the frontman grappled with the mantle of fame. While those two albums lacked the immediacy of Appetite they doubled down on the soaring and more intricate ballads and expansive, surging mini-rock operas. The band became huger than huge. And then imploded, eventually blasting every member from its core leaving only Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed.

Rose rebuilt the band, over and over again, and slowly worked on the follow-up to Illusion, Chinese Democracy. Seventeen years later Guns N' Roses delivered that album. In the interim Rose had gone from rock god to a recluse of legendary proportions. You would be hard pressed to find a man so private, and whose extreme control over his image would launch so many stories ranging from informed conjecture to outright lunacy.

In recent years though, Rose cemented the band in the relatively stable configuration of himself, Reed, bassist Tommy Stinson, drummer Frank Ferrer, keyboardist Chris Pitman and the three-pronged guitar attack of DJ Ashba, Richard Fortus and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. Which brings us to last Sunday when that iteration of Guns N' Roses took the stage at House of Blues at the relatively early hour (for Rose at least) of midnight to deliver a nearly three hour set.

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Guns N' Roses photo by Jim Kopeny
Opening with "Chinese Democracy," Rose took the stage in the first of a jillion combinations of hats, sunglasses, t-shirts, jackets and jeans. At first he resembled a metal Tony Clifton and, as we peered and craned our neck for a clear view, we were struck that—for all we knew—Rose was taking his cues from Andy Kaufmann when it came to live shows. Was he pulling an MF Doom on us?

And then came the briefest of smiles between songs. And the shimmy snake through hips that, while thicker than when last we saw him, was unmistakenly a move Rose wholly owns and the band launched into "Welcome To The Jungle," "It's So Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone." At this point the crowd, who had paid $125 and up for their tickets, went from polite adults with the money to spend on something like this to beer-crazed kids partying in a streetlamp lit corner of a parking lot. Girls lifted their tops to flash the band. Boys jumped up and down and hugged each other. There was a girl with Skrillex hair. People that discovered the band either two decades ago or just the past few years united in their excitement of hearing their favorite tunes—some of them truly ageless—performed just feet away. And even we had to admit to feeling a certain electric energy coming from Rose and his band. This wasn't dangerous, but it was classic. And the band was a solid piece of machine work.

And this is where the problem came in. Instead of keeping on a thunderous pace, Rose kept leaving the stage at every opportunity (sometimes because there was 30 seconds between verses) and his band was given more than ample time to display their chops as solos not only went on forever during songs, but stretched to a spotlight piece between songs for each player as the evening went on. And on. A middle section plugged with new material and all these solo outings caused the show to lose almost all of its initial momentum. Even favorites like "You're Crazy" and this correspondent's all time favorite "Rocket Queen" seemed stuck in second gear. The main set only really regained its footing with a sing-along to "Sweet Child O' Mine" and the unrelenting power of the sweeping "Civil War."

Through it all, Rose remained inscrutable. All the old moves were there, but much of the sexy was gone. And the reason for this is not Rose's thickening frame; we assure you that while he is no longer the lithe snake he once was, the man appears to be fit and not fat. Instead it was something less tangible. We don't believe Rose feels a disdain for his crowd but he doesn't seem to draw a charge off of them like the best performers do. Instead, he presents himself as a gift they can appreciate but never touch, and this distance creates something that's sightly creepy.

The encore started off slow and we admit it took all of our effort to stay as the three o'clock hour drew nearer but eventually it closed with "Patience" and the ultimate crowd pleaser, "Paradise City," and we were glad we stayed. As the crowd streamed out, the band returned to the stage for a final bow. We made our way closer and finally got a good look at Rose. Smiling. This was no Tony Clifton. This was a man who fears letting people in and uses his music as a shield. But for one second, in that smile, we saw the enigma drop away and reveal a kid from Indiana enjoying a really good moment.