Like most other people, I stopped taking GNR seriously a LONG time ago. Especially since the only time I've heard anything about them was Axl being hours late to a show, not being able to sing, firing managers, settling lawsuits with promoters, etc, etc, etc. But, when tickets are that cheap, you don't have to work in the morning, and you've got someone to go with (that is equally ambivalent about whether it is a trainwreck or not), it's a no-brainer.
Before I start describing the GNR show, which was beyond ridiculous, I want to put out there that it was actually REALLY good. Sure, the band isn't the Slash/Izzy/Duff/Adler lineup, but you've got dudes from Psychedelic Furs and the Replacements in there, which ain't too shabby. And obviously all of them were great musicians.
OPENERS: Duff McKagen's horribly named band, Loaded, opened up the show. Probably one of the best current bands I've seen that was fronted by the former bass player of a hair band. Pretty typical hard rock, but pleasant enough.
MUSIC: GNR hit the stage a mere 45 minutes after Loaded finished, which I understand is nothing compared to some other recent shows. They played most of the hits you wanted to hear (Jungle, Brownstone, Sweet Child, Don't Cry, It's So Easy), plenty of covers (James Bond theme?!!?!, Riff Raff (AC/DC), Knockin on Heavens Door, Live and Let Die), plenty of stuff I didn't care about (the entire Chinese Democracy album) but that was surprisingly un-annoying, and a bunch of extended solo pieces from all the members, including a Tommy Stinson solo-song (while Axl was off-stage). They DID bring Duff out to play bass on one tune, You Could Be Mine, from the Last Action Hero soundtrack. Why they didn't have him play Sweet Child O' Mine, since that has the best bass line in the history of bass lines (in my humble opinion), I don't know.
MEMBERS: All of the members looked like over-the-top caricatures of "Rock Stars", as if they'd just been pulled out of line from some NBC sitcom casting call for the new boyfriend who has to meet the parents of the teenage daughter. Guitar player with dreadlocks pulled up into a bun on top of his head and a bifurcated beard? Check. Guitar player with full sleeve tattoos and a green Ebenezer Scrooge tophat that looks like it has been run over? Check. Guitar player with the 19 year old Scream-O band frontman hair-do? Check. Bass player that looked and played like Sid Vicious with Paul Cook's haircut (I love Tommy Stinson, don't get me wrong... and when I say "play like Sid Vicious", I only mean that he moved like him, not that he actually PLAYED like him, since we all know, Sid sucked, and Tommy has been awesome since he was 12.), and then, for good measure, throw in a drummer that looks EXACTLY like Suge Knight (from the middle balcony, at least), and you've got yourself a band. Now, all you have to do is throw in Axl in his "Marty-McFly-trying-to-"fit in"-to-1955" leather jacket and fedora, and you've got GNR circa 2011.
PROFESSIONALISM: The most surprising aspect of this show was how professional the band was. When I went to pick up my buddy Carlos for the show, he said that a couple of the members had been kicked out of a local bar the night before and that Tommy Stinson had canceled an in-store appearance because he was "sick". This, obviously did not bode well for the evening, but I was really there more for the trainwreck than the rock show anyway, so I guess it DID bode well for the evening. However, once GNR hit stage, it ran like a well-oiled machine. It went so well, the whole thing had a kind of choreographed quality to it. The kind of show where, if you'd been to a few in a row, you'd be able to say "Ok, this is where the dude with the dreads-in-a-bun and bifurcated beard runs to the other side of the stage, up the ramp, stands up on the railing and takes a big long solo while sticking his tongue out!" I looked up the setlists, and with a few minor exceptions, they'd been playing pretty much the same setlist every night of the tour.
My favorite moment was in the middle of the second song (Welcome to the Jungle), when Axl is doing his thing on the front monitor, and somebody throws a ratty brown leather Members-Only jacket at him, and it nails him and sort of hangs on his head. "Here comes the meltdown!" I grinned and leaned forward, rubbing my hands together.... and you won't believe what happened next! Axl, very gently, removed it from his head and lightly dropped it off the stage next to the monitor, and continued the song. Didn't even phase him. Way to go Axl! I knew from then on, that I was just going to have to enjoy the show for what is was supposed to have been in the first place, a kick-ass nostalgia trip.
PROJECTIONS - Probably the stupidest aspect of the entire show (other than the appearance of the band members), were the Jumbotron projections. They spent a lot of money to project images THAT stupid, and for that, they should be commended, I suppose. We are talking about things like dolphins swimming in place, LONG, SLOW, pans around the face and body of a female model in underwear, (looking sultry, like she was auditioning for Red Shoe Diaries), stock flame footage, monochrome sunsets, etc. I couldn't have dreamed up more ridiculous visuals. I felt like I was watching a Mark Gormley video!
WRAP-UP - All in all, I walked out of that arena with a new appreciation of one W. Axl Rose. Sure, they had to sell 993 steeply discounted tickets on Groupon (the Groupon section was EMPTY mid-set), and still only filled about half the place, if that. But Axl is fighting really hard to maintain some sort of relevance. He knows his rep, and he's beating down the demons and trying to fix it. I'm not going to run out and buy Chinese Democracy (or even download it for free). I didn't buy a commemorative T-Shirt for the evening. But, I DID just spend the last 2 hours writing a review of the show for the 3 people that read my blog, and THAT is something I would only do for someone I respect. Axl, you got me, buddy. You worked hard, you played some songs I wanted to hear, and you sang and shimmied your heart out. You worked hard up there, pal. 34 songs! You weren't messing around (but really, what was up with the Michael J Fox outfit?) and the next time you come to town, I'll be there. In the Groupon section again (who pays $75 + $15 Ticketbastard fees for seats like that?), but I'll be there none the less.
Setlist from Setlist.com