the fifty-years since Elvis laid down his first vocal
at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN rock n' roll has
become more than escapism and so-called "devil's
music", but also a driving life force. We have
been blessed with some truly magical artists who have
elevated our hearts, minds and bodies: Buddy Holly,
Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The
Beach Boys, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The
Doors, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Ramones, The Clash,
The Sex Pistols, AC/DC, Kiss, U2, REM, Nirvana, Pearl
Jam, Metallica and thousands upon thousand others. All
of these acts mastered their craft and in their own
way, changed the face of music. However, I'm not
sure if there has ever been a group of artists in the
annals of rock n' roll who were more mischievous,
moody, maniacal, magical and miraculous than Guns N'
Roses. With all that being said, they may also take
the title as the most maddening group as well.
While I'm saddened by group dissolution and preventable
deaths, I firmly believe that Moon, Hendrix, Joplin,
Bonham, Morrison, Presley and Cobain all chose a path
where there was no looking back. Whereas every member
who has ever performed with Guns 'N Roses is still
alive (and for the most part well). When they unleashed
their brand of rock upon the world it was met with universal
acceptance and I'm not sure if I've ever
seen a band be admired, loved and reach such a wide
and diverse group of people since the Beatles. Males,
females, metal heads, rockers, punks all heralded and
cherished GNR's brand of vicious rock and still
do nearly two-decades later. Sadly, the group has largely
existed in name only for the last thirteen years, but
2006 has proven to be a year in which the name Guns
'n Roses becomes more than a mere nostalgia trip.
Despite a brief interrupted tour in 2002, this is Axl
Rose's first full year of touring since 1993.
While I've heard reports of blazing nights and
some solid bootlegs, I wasn't convinced I needed
to see this incarnation of GNR. Here's my reason
why; There was a time in the mid 1980's where
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger did not see eye to eye.
As a result, Jagger went solo on a tour to Australia
and Japan, territories the Stones had never been to.
Not only did this infuriate Richards as these were territories
the Stones had never visited where large amounts of
money could be made, but more importantly, his partner
went there without him. These two men had built so much
together and yet one was standing on the sidelines watching
his partner claim all the glory. Richards fill in was
virtuoso guitarist Joe Satriani, who is a top flight
guitarist, but he doesn't have the same history
with Mick. Great musicians don't make great bands.
Since then Jagger and Richards reconciled and have only
played the classic Stones songs with each other enhancing
their legacy and legend. My generations version of the
Stones, Guns 'N Roses, has spent the better part
of the last thirteen-years out of the consciousness
of the public, but never far from our hearts and minds.
I received a last minute phone call to review the GNR
show and I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to go.
I wasn't sure if I could reconcile these new musicians
no matter how talented they may be. I overcame my reservations
and headed out to the Allstate Arena where Axl Rose
and seven supporting musicians, better knows as Guns
'N Roses hit the stage at 11:35pm. Before the
band hit the show, I wasn't sure what to expect.
They arrived on stage amidst an army of pyrotechnics
and strobe light madness with an appetite for destruction.
The crowd response was deafening which makes me wonder
what reaction a full fledged reunion could bring. A
reunion of this type could break all box office records.
When Axl Rose screeched his way on stage, it was with
an appetite that I would say is close to being unheralded
in my lifetime.
opening trio of songs were all from "Appetite
For Destruction" ("Welcome To The Jungle",
"It's So Easy", "Mr. Brownstone")
and the in succession performances put the crowd in
a maddening trance. It became very apparent it would
be far too easy to label these musicians as a glorious
cover band. This is far more than Axl and a bunch of
arbitrary musicians. Each member was handpicked by Axl
for not only being a masterful musician but also a spellbinding
performer as well. A lot of discussion has been had
on each of the band members and how they'll never
compare to the original line up. I was one of those
who had my doubts but can tell you that after seeing
this eight-piece band shred through a two-hour plus
show, these guys are no slouches. What you have here
is not even an All Star team of musicians, but better,
a group of guys who have chemistry and who are pulling
off the impossible every night by winning each crowd
over. Bassist Tommy Stinson roamed the stage like a
veteran; while guitarists Robin Finck and Richard Fortus
roamed the stage doing a damn good job on making most
of the audience, even if it was briefly, forget about
top hats and faceless guitarists.
Axl Rose is an artist whom I have followed since the
band's inception and in truth, I'm not sure
if I could ever put the artist's actions into
context, but I do know this, he will not go on stage
until he is ready to give 110% of himself to that crowd.
He plays by his rules and no others, not because of
ego, but because he's a perfectionist. I assisted
journalist Lonn Friend with his recent memoir, "Life
on Planet Rock" which allowed me into the inner
workings and mind of Axl Rose. Aside from long time
confidant Del James and former GNR manager Doug Goldstein,
I'm not sure if anyone else really understood
Axl as much. However, I must admit to proofing and assisting
with the book and being mystified by the stories and
thought process of the legendary front man, yet after
seeing the drive and determination with which he put
forth during these opening numbers, I can now say that
I get it. Axl is a true rock n' roll renegade
that will do things on his own time and his own way.
How else could he pull off two national tours without
a new record in stores? From a business perspective,
it makes no sense to tour without a new album and this
is the third time Guns 'N Roses has done this
('91, '02 and '06) in their career.
The long awaited "Chinese Democracy" is
still not on any release schedule, but it did not stop
him from performing five songs from the album. "Chinese
Democracy" and "IRS" are reminiscent
of how one could imagine GNR in the 21st Century. "The
Blues" and "Madagascar" were moody
ballads, the latter of which bore images of political
uprisings from the 60's on the screen behind Axl
when performed. However, there is one new song that
stood apart from the rest; "Better". A bootleg
of this track leaked earlier this year and I will say
that it is on par with anything Axl Rose has ever created.
This triumphant composition is a cinematic poem filled
with fuming guitars and perfectly textured harmonies.
When one hears a song like "Better", you
realize the potential that "Chinese Democracy"
holds. But until it is released, we'll have to
be content with the concert experience.
As Robin ended his solo and launched into "Sweet
Child O' Mine", the crowd responded with
a response so magnetic, one had to see it to believe
it. I'm not sure if there is an album from the
last twenty-five years that still continues to grow,
develop and resonate more than "Appetite For Destruction".
Not only do people know every word to the singles, but
they know every word to all twelve compositions. Most
shockingly, the new band performed these songs to perfection
as if they have been performing them for decades. The
seductive power with which they were delivered to the
audience was hypnotic. Something I didn't expect
to see, nor did I want to see, was a band who made this
material their own and this current incarnation did
just that. What the current band lacks in history they
more than make up for in their resolve and willpower.
While these performers took these songs to soaring
heights, Axl Rose covered every foot of the stage and
sprinted across it as if it were 1988 not showing his
age at all. There have been numerous articles over the
years that feel that Axl mistreats his fans with constant
delays, late start times, and cancellations...but
after assisting Lonn Friend with his memoir and now
witnessing this show, I don't believe that is
the case. The truth is that Axl Rose hits that stage
planning on giving the audience his all and draining
every last ounce of sanity from himself in the process
as well. He views the concert stage as his work desk
and when people distract him with fights up front, unnecessary
shoving and flashes going off, he sees these people
as interrupting his job and wants them removed so he
can continue to give the rest of the audience his complete
and total focus. Axl Rose is attempting to accomplish
the impossible and even though the task of rebuilding
GNR is maybe the most daunting task ever done in the
annals of rock, there is no mountain Axl will not climb
to bring his vision to reality, no matter how long it
the evening continued, there were intermittent solos
between suites of songs by assorted members of the band.
Keyboardist Dizzy Reed, the only member to continually
stand shoulder to shoulder with Axl over the last fifteen
years, had the evening's most sublime moment with
a piano led solo of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps'.
Reed's playing was so dead on and inspirational
that photographer Rob Grabowski commented to me that
it was the highlight of the show for him. Something
people tend to forget and overlook is that Dizzy Reed
joined the band during the recording of the "Use
Your Illusion" albums. He is the only member left
from that era who is still in the band and after seeing
his solo, I'm glad he stood by Axl's side
as he brings not only musical aptitude but history with
him as well. Guitarist Richard Fortis performed "A
Winter Shade of Pale" during his solo and the
unbelievably gifted guitarist Bumblefoot performed the
complete elegiac "Don't Cry" instrumental
to roars of approval. Many have criticized these solos
as being unnecessary and long, however, I see them as
giving these unknown musicians a chance to shine. Besides,
these are more than just instrumentals; they are extended
jams that are virtually songs within themselves and
are anything but meandering and without purpose. The
eighteen-song set had a total of eight songs performed
off "Appetite" (including a vicious "My
Michelle" with a guest appearance with Sebastian
Bach), one from "Lies" (a reliable "Patience),
four from the "Use Your Illusion" albums
(including a soaring "November Rain") and
five from the still unreleased "Chinese Democracy"
(with the aforementioned future classic "Better").
I'll be the first to admit it was eerie seeing
the non-classic line up of Guns 'N Roses perform
these songs, however, they were delivered to the Chicago
audience with romantic sincerity as if the evening was
an epic love poem delivered by an eight-piece band.
What impressed was not the sentimental essence of these
songs but the overall esoteric nature of the evening.
The context with which these songs were written and
recorded will never be erased. Yet, these songs still
speak volumes to the here and now and Axl is bringing
them to the crowd not because of nostalgia, but because
he has something to prove. When you want to see truly
incendiary performances, there is nothing greater than
seeing an artist who has something to prove. In the
same building, once known as the Rosemont Horizon, I
saw Jon Bon Jovi leave a pint of blood on this stage
in 1993 and again in 2000 wanting to prove the naysayers
wrong as he tore through two of the longest and wildest
shows of his career. I've never forgotten those
shows because he had something to prove. I'm not
sure if I've seen another artist of Bon Jovi's
stature fight as hard until now with Axl. The critics
can go ahead and flame him if they want, they just don't
get it. With few exceptions, I haven't seen a
club act give this much of their body, mind and sanity.
Will the new incarnation gauge the emotional weight
of their predecessors? Only time will tell, but in the
meantime, they out there rocking their hearts out with
a vigor and resilience I doubt you will even see from
the most driven club act. Getting used to this incarnation
will come with time...and a little patience.
Anthony Kuzminski can be found at: Anthony