Axl Rose and his hired guns -- still parading around under the name Guns N' Roses, even though the creative core of that band dissolved two decades ago -- are now more famous for their delays than their music. Not only did it take 17 years to produce the band's so-so latest album, 2008's "Chinese Democracy," Rose and his crew are notoriously late arriving on stage for concerts. Tuesday night's start time at the Allstate Arena was 9 p.m., but the Guns didn't fire until 11:10 p.m. By 2 a.m., the final confetti was just starting to fall.
"You want 8 o'clock shows, go find F-R-I-E-N-D-S or hit a cinema somewhere," read a recent Axl-ish post from Guns N' Roses on the band's Facebook page. "This is Rock N' Roll! ... This is Guns N' Roses and when the time is right the stage will ignite."
Given the unnerving professionalism and tightly regimented scheduling that now rules most pop concerts, at least give Rose credit for thumbing his nose at your day job and shaking us nearly all night long. I'd almost forgotten the anticipation, anger and at least some momentary sense of long-forgotten mystery (each a vital ingredient for rock and roll) generated by a simple late start.
The trick is, when you finally show up, to give the crowd something worth waiting for.
This reconstituted GNR, touring for the first time since the release of "Chinese Democracy," hit the stage and largely acquitted themselves as perhaps something just barely more than a wicked GNR cover band. Last month, Billy Corgan and the latest roster of Smashing Pumpkins blew through town and pounded the Riviera Theatre; likewise, Axl & Friends were happy to have a mostly full arena of fans who came for his klaxon wail and kicking shimmy rather than to grouse about absent top hats and buckets.
This GNR doesn't just cover GNR, either -- they covered everybody. Each of the three, count 'em three, guitarists enjoyed a showcase solo, with the nimble Richard Fortus torturing the James Bond theme (as an entry point for the pyro-filled "Live and Let Die," of course), newest member D.J. Ashba knitting "Mi Amor" and top-knotted Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal tiptoeing through the Pink Panther theme. After former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson (read our interview here) sang the Who's "My Generation," pianist Dizzy Reed followed with a Yanni-worthy instrumental of "Baba O'Riley."
The band was most alive during the two, count 'em two, AC/DC covers -- first "Riff Raff," with Fortus beating the holy hell out of his guitar, and "Whole Lotta Rosie," a blast of musical pyro that Rose sang with a perfectly blissful, slightly evil grin. Most of Tuesday night, we saw a happy, boyish Rose, now 49 and paunchy, joshing with bandmates and tossing mike stands around the stage with joyful abandon. By 1 a.m., this infectious energy did more to keep the crowd awake and engaged than the occasional cannon blasts.
The set was heavy on new songs -- yet another defiant Rose gesture -- though the hits were sprinkled throughout the night, from "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child o' Mine" to encores of "Patience" and "Paradise City," as well as some fiery album cuts, including slashing takes on "Better" and "Rocket Queen." Axl sat at the piano for "November Rain," after noodling a bit with Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight"; there were several such ballady moments, but they served more as breathers than padding. Guns N' Roses are best when they kick hard and keep moving, and amazingly that's what they did for three long hours Tuesday night. And Wednesday morning.
Guns N' Roses Tuesday night set list:
"Welcome to the Jungle"
"It's So Easy"
"Riff Raff" (AC/DC)
Solo, Richard Fortus: "James Bond Theme"
"Live and Let Die" (Wings)
"This I Love"
"My Generation" (The Who)
Solo, Dizzy Reed: "Baba O'Riley"
"Street of Dreams"
"You Could Be Mine"
Solo, D.J. Ashba: "Mi Amor"
"Sweet Child o' Mine"
"Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2" (Pink Floyd)
Solo, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal: "Pink Panther Theme"
"Whole Lotta Rosie" (AC/DC)
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (Bob Dylan)