But, unlike what many expected -- maybe even secretly hoped for -- the source of the shock and amazement didn't come in the form of a bloated, overweight, washed-up rock star whose infamous bad attitude was the cause of many an aborted show. Rather, it came in the form of an unmistakably new W. Axl Rose. This was a physically fit, youthful-looking Rose who sounded exactly like he did 12 years ago, but who has seemed to shed the prima donna rock star persona that so many have loved to hate him for.
And the show? After hearing that the band wouldn't go on until 3 a.m. (doors opened at 1 a.m., and they actually took the stage at 3:38 a.m.) and were planning on playing every song they know, the preconceived perception was that this would be one self-indulgent show. Instead, the sold-out 1,800-person House of Blues club in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas was treated to a perfect two hours of classic GNR songs and just four new tracks.
After a funny, short animated video (see Miss Truth for details), the set, obviously mapped out with the fan in mind, kicked off with a rapid-fire assault of such GNR staples as "Welcome to the Jungle," "It's So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone," and "Live and Let Die" before even venturing into new material, which included the warmly-received "Oh My God." The debut of four other new songs -- "Blues," the title track to the upcoming album "Chinese Democracy," "Silk Worms," and "Oklahoma" -- were met with less excitement and upon first listen lacked the direction and hook-laden style of the old stuff.
Rose played it understandably safe -- the songs sounded exactly as they do on record and one could literally close their eyes and believe it was the original lineup playing the Troubadour in L.A. in 1989. The only risk Rose has taken was in choosing his band members -- each of which has his own distinctive style almost like the Village People. Instead of the cop, the cowboy, the Indian, and so on, the new GNR has the few lone rockers, the alien, the new waver, and the freak. So, without further ado, meet the new version of GNR:
1. W. Axl Rose: Looked great, sounded great, returned as a humbled man with a brand new attitude of self-deprecating humor (see Miss Truth for the story on that) and generosity to his fellow bandmates. Sporting a healthy glow, long lighter red (or even light brown) hair, Adidas pants, and a button-down Chinese dragon shirt, Rose was back and better than ever.
2. Robin Finck: The guitarist's alien look with his black and white space-age suit and hair and makeup straight from the planet Romulac might make sense for his former band, Nine Inch Nails, but it seems out of place for GNR. Finck and Buckethead were clearly in competition for who could freak GNR fans out the most.
3. Buckethead: The avant-garde Bay Area guitar prodigy wore his trademark Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on top of his long, wavy hair and a white mask with black eyes, while doing robotic moves and freaking the crowd out along the way. He's sort of the Wes Borland of the band.
4. Paul Tobias: (a.k.a. Paul Huge, PHT, Rose's old friend from Indiana) Rose gave his old friend the most generous introduction, calling him "the original guitar player" who "worked hard to get here." He certainly held his own up against the more experienced players in the band. Solos and lead guitar parts were spread-out fairly evenly amongst the three guitarists.
5. Tommy Stinson: Replacements bassist at age 13. More recently, he sang and played bass in the ill-fated L.A. band Perfect. While his usual duds of a retro plaid suit and new-wave suspenders looked way out of place onstage, he possessed eerily similar mannerisms (and same spiky blonde haircut) to original GNR bassist Duff McKagan. Regardless, Stinson, who sang the bulk of backing vocals, was a crowd fave and was one of the few band members Rose interacted with onstage, albeit briefly.
6. Brain: (real name: Brian Mantia) The former drummer of Primus was low-key in an outfit and cap straight out of Fred Durst's closet and held down the fort just as well as Steven Adler or Matt Sorum.
7. Dizzy Reed: Unchanged since joining GNR as the keyboardist in 1991, the only blast from the past played keyboard, bongos, piano, and sang some backing vocals.
8. Chris Pittman: He's played with Tool, Lusk, Replicants, and Blinker the Star. Dressed in a biker hat and jacket, the second keyboardist also played some percussion and sang backing vocals. He's just a touring member, and a seemingly unnecessary one at that in a band already consisting of seven players.
Regardless of the weirdness of it all, the audience -- which was comprised of a younger, hipper crowd (ranging from drag queens to club kids, with just the occasional mullet-head or old school rocker mixed in) -- welcomed back Rose and his new boys with unbridled joy. On songs such as "Live and Let Die," "You Could Be Mine," "Sweet Child O' Mine," and "Patience," the audience's vocals drowned out the visibly elated, smiling Rose. Chants of "Welcome Back" kept that smile on Rose's face throughout the evening.
The only real dip in this joyous occasion came toward the end of the set when Rose was gracious enough to allow Buckethead to entertain, er, confuse the crowed with a performance art piece in which he twirled what appeared to be a baton or Chinese nunchuckas to a percussive beat. He followed that with a bit of robot and an unwelcome guitar solo. Aside from a few muffled boos, and a lone shout-out for Slash, the audience was actually pretty tolerant of Buckethead's eccentricities. At the end of his shtick, he handed out what looked like chocolate roses out of a KFC bucket to those up front.
Given the fact that the Thursday prior to the show (Dec. 29) was the first time Rose performed a set with this band (he never really sang at rehearsals over these past several years), the show was amazingly perfect. Rose and his new gaggle of freaks delivered the goods beyond most people's expectations.
Diehard GNR fans should check out Miss Truth for more details on the show.
Guns N' Roses set list:
1. "Welcome to the Jungle"
2. "It's So Easy"
3. "Mr. Brownstone"
4. "Live and Let Die"
5. "Oh My God"
6. "My Michelle"
7. "Think About You"
8. "You Could Be Mine"
9. "Sweet Child O' Mine"
10. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
11. "November Rain"
12. "Out Ta Get Me"
13. "Rocket Queen"
14. new song
15. "Chinese Democracy"
(Buckethead performance art and guitar solo)
17. new song
19. new song
20. "Paradise City"
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