While most New Year’s celebrants were busy heralding 2001, a group of revelers at Las Vegas’ House of Blues were experiencing a scene straight out of 1987: rock & roll wild man Axl Rose leading Guns N’ Roses through a two hour live set to an audience decked out in their finest faded GNR T shirts. The high profile, high cost gig (tickets were $100 and up) — the first GNR show since 1993 — comes after years of industry and online gossip portraying Rose as either a reclusive genius or a misfit nutjob. And while Sunday’s show — which featured Rose fronting a new lineup that played four songs from the upcoming ”Chinese Democracy” album — didn’t answer all the questions, it did clear up a few longstanding GNR lies.
MYTH NO. 1 GNR have been reduced to Axl Rose and a bunch of interchangeable backing musicians.
Granted, the monomonikered members of the past — Slash, Izzy, and Duff — have left, but the new band is hardly a bunch of hired guns. In addition to keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who joined the group for its ”Use Your Illusion” double album, GNR include former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, Primus drummer Bryan ”Brain” Mantia, experimental guitarist Buckethead, and bassist Tommy Stinson of the Replacements, whom Rose introduced as ”the man who comes from the band with the perfect name for this organization.”
MYTH NO. 2 Thanks to Rose’s increased interest in groups like Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM, GNR have developed a techno/ industrial/ whatever sound.
If the four new songs previewed on New Year’s are any indication, Rose has indeed expanded his listening interests — though don’t expect to see him dressed all in black and covering avant garde German dance acts anytime soon. While one untitled number did showcase a far more aggressive sound — combining a throbbing bass line with ferocious industrial age guitar riffs — the real crowd pleaser was a melodic piano and power chord anthem called ”The Blues,” which could have been a ”Use Your Illusion” outtake.
MYTH NO. 3 The new GNR want to avoid playing the old songs.
No f!@#in’ way! Though Rose half jokingly described having ”a little bit of an emotional problem working through the old stuff,” the House of Blues show was practically a greatest hits medley, opening with ”Welcome to the Jungle” and moving through most of 1987’s ”Appetite for Destruction.” (A few familiar covers — ”Live and Let Die” and ”Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” — and a handful of other cuts from ”Use Your Illusion” were added for good measure.) Most versions remained faithful to the originals, though a beefed up arrangement of the sparse acoustic ballad ”Patience” felt bloated.
MYTH NO. 4 In the past few years, Rose has become a bona fide rock & roll eccentric.
We may need a little patience answering this one — if we ever find out at all. But Rose addressed the talk of Howard Hughes like lunacy by opening the show with a crude cartoon depicting an animated Axl storing his urine in a jar and hanging out with a crew of spiritual advisers. As for his appearance, the trademark bandanna and aviator shades may have been missing, but Rose has kept the long hair and serpent like dance moves intact. It would be hard for him to cruise the Sunset Strip — or a Van Halen reunion party — unnoticed.