I was at Guns N Roses cynical comeback tour last weekend in Dublin. The concert, held in the 25,000 capacity RDS, had two stages. The second stage was headlined by the brilliant Therapy? ("Nowhere", "Die Laughing") with somewhat-able support from Lauren Harris, Voodoo Six and a couple of earlier acts I didn't see. The main stage was home for Bullet for my Valentine and Funeral for a Friend as warm up for the Botox Machine that is Axl. Didn't watch either.
Therapy? (apparently the question mark is obligatory), due to finish at 8pm, were a little late coming on but, let's face it, there's no way Axl is getting on the main stage at 8pm, right? Well sadly he did and as Therapy? tore through their rabid punk-metal set, Axl's new-look GNR were blasting out "Welcome to the Jungle", "It's So Easy" and "Mr Brownstone". It should be noted that very few people left the Therapy? set to see Axl.
Axl in the late 80s
My interest in GNR was fairly passive. I was a big fan in 1988 when I was 14 when friends recommended the band just before they hit it big in Europe. Their debut album "Appetite for Destruction" still remains a rock benchmark and their peculiar follow-up EP "Lies" - half-acoustic, half-live - had some good moments on it. I recall being given a bootleg in 1989 that contained two songs called "November Rain" I and II. They was to appear on one of their future albums but I remember thinking at the time that they were utterly brilliant.
GNR really began to lose traction with the double-album release of "Use Your Illusion" I and II. Two cover versions ("Live and Let Die" and "Knocking on Heavens Door") became massive hit singles at the expense of classic dirty blues-rock like "Dust N Bones", "Back off Bitch", "The Garden" and "Pretty Tied Up". The two albums swung from brilliantly gritty to horrendously misguided and seemed to project the band too far down the Queen/Elton John road for my liking.
At the same time Nirvana were kicking off a cultural revolution and Axl Rose started to look like a twit in cycling shorts who was completely antipodal to Kurt Cobain. Axl just wasn't cool anymore and funnily enough he remains uncool in 2006 as well.
Axl in 2006
In between thheir 1993 punk covers album release, "The Spaghetti Incident?", and their 2006 tour, Axl has replaced everyone in the band with the exception of keyboardist Dizzy Reed (who was not an original member). He's been working on-and-off on new album "Chinese Democracy" since the 90s and it is rumoured that it will finally be released later this year.
The show itself was quite good but was full of the usual Axl cliches. During the first half he spent more time off-stage than on-stage. Apparently the man with the impressive set of lungs needs to refresh himself in an oxygen tank while changing costumes. This left 25,000 of us standing there listening to incredibly boring guitar-solos on at least three occassions. Punctuated between many of the songs was unintelligible dribble from Axl, a man who just doesn't seem to have any wit at all.
However the second half of the show really picked up and it was actually quite fun. Rose, now 44, is heavier than he used to be but by no means overweight. His hair is corn-rowed (I believe that's the aesthetic term) and the years of drug abuse seem to have left him somewhat wrinkle-free (see Botox comment above).
He played three songs from their forthcoming album, two of which I thought were very good ("Better" and "Madagascar") with "The Blues" being ok. I think there are a couple of radio hits on this record for sure.
Should you go and see Guns N Roses if they come to your town? Well it just isn't the GNR as you remember it. There's no Slash, no Duff, no Izzy or Gilby. Rose is a bit of a conundrum as while he has always been the main man, he just doesn't possess the charisma that Slash did. The big man is badly missed. The replacement players (names of which escape me and don't interest me) all did a good job but GNR 2006 is to the original GNR as "Joey" is to "Friends".