"I dont wanna be a puss," Axl Rose told the audience at Brooklyn Bowl last night, two-thirds of the way through a 20-song surprise show. But the only thing Axl could be mistaken for was late period Van Morrison after a particularly bad binge on the Sunset Strip circa-1984. He explained he was dealing with a bit of "truck stop revenge," which led to him ducking backstage frequently during the show: "I'm just trying not to throw up." The deep-pocketed super fans and industry insiders who donned their finest leather vests to see the world's most bloated cheshire cat screech his way through the guitar-heavy set would be lying if they said they could tell there had been any problem. Except perhaps the fact Axl was wearing a Madonna t-shirt.
Brooklyn was treated to what passes for an intimate performance by the world's greatest Guns N' Roses cover band, which just happens to feature original lead singer Axl Rose. Or at least, it features someone in a novelty-sized fedora who resembles Axl—Axl Rose is only as Axl Rosey as the bandana he's wearing, and since he refused to take off his fedora, the world may never know if it really was him.
What I do know is that reports of the unraveling of Axl's voice have been greatly exaggerated: the room was thick with noise and showy guitarists, but Axl's unmistakeable voice cut through the racket like a guillotine during "It's So Easy," "Welcome To The Jungle" and "Live And Let Die." True, there wasn't enough reggae, but his voice holds up well with this lineup.
The show didn't start till close to midnight—which is reasonable by Guns N' Roses' standards, although painfully late for normal human beings—and stretched on way past 1 a.m. By song two—"Welcome To The Jungle"—they had already busted out the double ax guitar, which tells you everything you need to know about what kind of show this was. I learned a lot about rock and roll last night:
There is no such thing as too many guitarists: There were eight people on stage most of the time, including THREE guitarists. Just because all three guitarists had clearly defined (and entertaining) personalities—there was Joe Perry Jr., Leather Top Hathead (filling in the hat-sized hole left by Slash/Buckethead), and Chin Beard Braid (or as his friends call him, Bumblefoot)—doesn't change the fact that there never seemed to be any reason they needed all three wailing at the same time for two hours on end.
There really, really is no such thing as too many guitar solos: This was probably the hardest lesson of the evening for someone as solo-averse as myself. The three guitarists took turns under the spotlight for oodles and oodles of noodley, cliched fret-burning. At any moment, a guitarist was liable to pop up on one of the amps and throw some major guitar face at you. Or as Eugene Mirman put it, "I'm @brooklynbowl watching Gn'R. It's pretty awesome, and each guitarist is playing his guitar like a penis he's super mad at."
Axl Rose knows Appetite For Destruction is his best album: Which is why we ended up getting eight songs from it. The best thing we can say about the more recent material from Chinese Democracy is that, at its best...it sounds like the same band who made that record.
Axl Rose has yet to meet a song he couldnt add an extended coda to: Exception to the rule: "Used To Love Her."
The band is probably still playing "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" as we type: You think it's about to end, but then it doesn't. You think it couldn't possibly have a fourth solo section, and then it does. Axl took Dylan's song, removed all subtly and beauty, bludgeoned it with crescendos, and then turned it into a performance art piece in repetition.
Axl Rose has a serious case of Wandering Singer Syndrome (WSS): Throughout the show, Axl stalked the stage like a buffalo, aimlessly skipping from one side to the other while alternatively admiring and staring down his band of show-offs. And what exactly was he doing backstage? Getting his fedora refittted? Practicing his vocal scales with an alley cat?
The preferred placement of an electric guitar is over the head: Lesson learned, Joe Perry Jr.
Piano ballads are still the cue for piss breaks: Sorry, "This I Love." Nobody wanted to miss "Live and Let Die," so you took the fall. At least one person held up his lighter in appreciation though!
Axl Rose has become very generous as an elder statesman: One of the hallmarks of recent Guns N' Roses tours is the solo spotlights for each of the players. Last night, guitarists Richard Fortus and DJ Ashba both got to play their solo songs, and bassist Tommy Stinson played original tune "Motivation." As much good will as we have toward Stinson, none of it was very good.
"Sweet Child O' Mine" is still their best song: However, they didn't play their second best song, "November Rain."
If you judge a band by Fist Pumps Per Minute (FPPM), Guns N' Roses are probably still one of the all-time greats: Fact.
Unless you're a hardcore Axl Rose fan, your enjoyment of a modern Guns N' Roses show is directly correlated with how much you enjoy generic hard rock solos played by middle aged men who graduated with advanced degrees in guitar face from the Bon Scott School Of Hammering: Fact.