By STEVE MASCORD
WHICH is a bigger surprise? Guns N’Roses doing a Las Vegas residency or Axl Rose conducting interviews to promote it? Glass-half-full: the years have loosened up both Axl and his audience. Glass half empty: desperation.
Tonight was the opening evening of a 12-date residency for the reconstituted Gunners at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Joint, a venue of such financial pulling power that the The Who will be there soon. In dubbing the show “Appetite For Democracy”, we were promised a “unique” setlist which brought the best of these two disparate albums (Appetite For Destruction and Chinese Democracy) together.
In honour of the two records, posters promoting the show combined the cover art from each. And although the panties were airbrushed out of Appetite’s famous ‘robot rapist’ painting, the picture caused controversy with the local council right on cue for the first show.
Despite the promise of special cocktails and an unprecedented setlist, this three-hour marathon set was actually more like ‘Use Your Appetite For Democracy’. The highlights were, undoubtedly, all from the 1991 simultaneous release of Use Your Illusion I and I.
“Chinese Democracy”, “Welcome To The Jungle”, “It’s So Easy” and “Mr Brownstone” shoot by, centrifugal force pulling fans who had chosen seats towards the GA floor area – where they are stopped smartly by security.
But the highlight of the entire show is fifth, the lilting piano refrain of “Estranged” leaving fans staring into the distance and pondering some epic but doomed love affair Axl Rose had two decades ago.
The best song on Democracy, “Better”, follows soon afterwards and is almost a tortured sequel, speaking as it does of a “troubled heart” and “the melody inside of me”.
This reviewer saw Guns on New Years at the same venue and there are precious few differences in either the set list or the staging – although the catwalks suspended from the ceiling are an eye-catching addition and DJ Ashba plus Bumblefoot wear ghoulish Halloween makeup.
But here is where Axl Rose can’t win. If he plays a short show, punters feel gyped. If he plays a long show, reviewers lampoon the flat spots.
Guitarist Richard Fortus plays “Blacklight Jesus Of Transylvania” in the first solo spot of the night. Bassist Tommy Stinson will later perform “Motivation”, guitarist Bumblefoot offers “Glad To Be Here”, keyboardist Dizzy Reed offers “No Quarter” and Axl will later warble part of “Another Brick In The Wall pt II”.
Rose, who has completely recovered from the previous week’s bout of strep throat, is a powerhouse. But his determination to be more than a heritage act performing by rote and love of spontaneity mean the momentum of Guns shows now ebb and flow – in sharp contrast to most of his contemporaries.
GN’R grab you by the throat – but release their grip long before you are gasping for breath. Axl gets a costume change into the bargain.
In shows since Halloween, I have read, Axl forgot the words to “Sweet Child O’Mine” and a lady in a mezanine area who repeatedly mimicked cutting his throat was thrown out. “It’s So Easy” to take the piss out of what Guns N’Roses have become, I guess.
After a three-song encore, Rose throws an expensive microphone into the audience as he has for 15 years. It makes a horrible, wet thud as it hits something – I’m not sure what.
But if the most important question at the end of any rock concert is whether you had a good time, then I’d like to think the object in question was a glass that was way over half full.