By Mark Guarino
He showed up. On time.
Regarding Axl Rose, that’s news. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when he fronted the hugely popular pop metal band Guns N’ Roses, Rose had a reputation for causing rampages after leaving a concert stage early, slugging someone in the front row, or sometimes not showing up at all. He kicked off his current nostalgia tour in appropriate form: In Vancouver two weeks ago, his opening night concert was cancelled after he failed to arrive on time, igniting a riot that caused $100,000 worth of damages to the arena.
In other markets, Rose wound up onstage around 11 p.m. But at the Allstate Arena Monday, Rose plus his seven-member band of hired hands opened the show with his signature anthem “Welcome To the Jungle” at 10 p.m. What followed was a two-hour set of mainly old hits sprinkled with a few new songs.
The band onstage was Guns N’ Roses in name only. After the original GNR disbanded in 1993, Rose spent until now strategically retooling its line-up and working on new songs for “Chinese Democracy,” a comeback album rumored to finally see the light of day early next year. Featuring refugees from bands as divergent as the Replacements, nine inch nails, Love Spit Love and Primus, Rose’s new band looked more like an army. At their best, they locked into Rose’s old catalog and offered it with power. At their worst, they overwhelmed the singer to a point he couldn’t be heard and appeared incidental.
Rose offered an explanation why he chose to keep the band name: “Psychologically, you could consider this a reunion of sorts. I’ve managed to salvage pieces of my mind to be able to get here tonight.”
He took the crowd back to the ‘80s where, adorned in long red braids and a football jersey and sweatpants, he struck his trademark dance moves and piercing high notes in his feline falsetto. Despite disappearing backstage during the guitar solos (there were many), Rose was actively engaged in the music. Although some GNR songs like “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” survived their age, most of Rose’s past catalog sounded frozen in time. “Nightrain” sounded best relegated to the sports bar jukebox while the power ballad “Patience” was
To obviously fill time, he gave all three of his guitarists solo spots — performed as the band took a breather backstage. This was high boredom, although Buckethead — a guitarist whose gimmick is wearing a facemask, wig and KFC bucket on his head — was mildly entertaining. Playing guitar, he goofed off, playing “Star Wars” theme to swinging numbchucks.
The entire night seemed to be an elaborately orchestrated project to regain credibility. True, GNR’s songs offer less gloom and more melodic hooks than most hard rock contemporaries. But Rose’s new songs were all high energy and shrill, posing the question: nostalgia always sells, but for how long?