Was I naive to think a show in 2011 billed as “Guns ‘n Roses” would NOT be regrettable? Would my taking an opportunity to capture even a small sliver of the MTV-defined glory of my pre-teen years be a foolish decision? Did I inadvertently put myself in one of those positions where adult curiosity polishes gauzy nostalgia clean to the bone? The question I ask myself is why God, why did I suppress that little voice inside my head telling me not to go to this show? Why did I overestimate those heralded performances of a different version of an Axl-led “Guns ‘N Roses” in which I heard people speak highly about? I clearly remember something about a great MSG show. Why the hell did I think such a thing would be relived in sleepy suburban Colorado on a Sunday night?
Optimism instead, clouded me from coming to terms with the more likely scenario involving any performance with this specifically mercurial rock star. This is a guy whose person history is defined as much by the massive success leading one of the biggest bands in the world as he is by the scorched earth approach he takes to maintaining relationships. Standards of a successful tour usually are measured by ticket sales and/or quality of shows. Not for Axl Rose. For Rose it is all about risk mitigation. Simply avoiding riots, no shows, abrupt walkoffs and other cancellation excuses is step 1. Borrowing from Woody Allen, here the showing up is a big win. The problem with that maxim is how terribly low the expectations are set to. Nothing warns of disregard for audiences like Axl’s past. I called bullshit on lowering the bar to such pitiful levels, but I would pay dearly for it.
The drama and constant dysfunction surrounding Axl and his original Guns ‘n Roses band mates is as acrid a story about busted relationships in music as any. Mutual dislike, loads of personal failing and a state of constant paranoia feeding the vengeful beast of distrust. With the power gained from fame, fortune and unchecked ego, this is a bull taking glee rampaging the China shop. Before I digress further, these proclamations of Guns ‘N Roses ethos are things I should have reminded myself before I interrupted and bailed out on an otherwise quiet Sunday night and became bystander to a horror-filled, train wreck of an evening. I was witness to tragedy.
The stage looked tired, sad, phoned-in, everything poorly conceived and over-the-top. Outdated in it’s uninspiring design, like a purposefully absurd rock ‘n roll spectacle. A show, it definitely was, a spectacle as well, taken in context via the word’s more unflattering definition: ‘To draw attention to oneself by behaving ridiculous.’ Where to start.
Instead of taking the good from the bad and crossing off what I hoped to be an unobjectable bucket list band, I was left with a sad, depressing reality. An arresting luminance of clarity and sight where I was suppressing from existing. Instead of lurking in the intoxicating darkness of nostalgic revisionism, which hide the scars of bad decisions that show truth only through the luxury of time. A sickening feeling of being insulted as a consumer of music invaded my thoughts.
Seemingly after each Guns’ song – whether they were classics or the heavily tapped, and heavily terrible <em>Chinese Democracy</em>, Axl would disappear. His band, stocked with fantastic guitar mercenaries would jam on, exploiting every bro’d up metal god pose they didn’t do immediately before. No shortage of technical proficiency, Axl’s band nails every single note like the professionals they are. Lest I get accused of being unfair, Axl too, sounded good. The bad rap he gets – whether about his looks, his voice, or the shininess of his forehead were not evident in Broomfield. I’ll give Rose credit, for as much as I ended up hating being at this show, it had nothing to do with his singing. His famous range did not sound the dented futility mess you may have heard about. Sure some sore, less than smooth moments did happen, but the signatures of powerful upper register wail and a low-end demonic inflection was intact.
If any consolation, the real reason to not see Guns ‘N Roses version 2011 is mostly not because of a skeletal version of Axl, it has everything to do with the bloated mess of the show. Not the bloated mess that Axl has been unfairly criticized for looking like. There are so many other arguably unfair things to shit about this tour. So so many.
My problem with this show was the pointlessness of, being charitable, about one-third of the show; including seven covers. Even though two of them were staple GNR covers (“Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”), the filler was obscene. Add all the jamming randomness and it distills to aimless pointlessness (key word). I wanted to take a poll of the audience to see who was psyched to take in extended sections of not-Guns ‘N Roses’ members running around on stage.
Stage digressions continued, becoming increasingly difficult to tolerate as the show creeped towards 2am. At some point for me everything went toxic (I think this is the exact moment). Anger set in, I found my internal dialogue getting progressively crankier. The increased nonsense around me dragged on into the wee hours of Monday night. Some of these covers were clear indulgences by Axl’s team of tattooed commandos and nothing more, again pointless. Was playing “Sonic Reducer” some sort of punk rock statement sticking it to Pearl Jam because they also cover the Dead Boys? So very hardcore. And a piano-led rendition of “Baba O’Riley,” just because? Did I miss the part when the ostensible recreation of an iconic, 80s heavy rock band turned into a Pearl Jam covers cover band in an overpowered VFW hall? (For the record: Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” was also teased a bit. Classic Rock radio fans, who unflinchingly subscribe to the same, unchanged playlist for last 20 years ate it up.)
Nothing about any of this was “hardcore”. This was not cool or awesome or whatever the fuck. It was certainly not Rock and Roll – and if that is your idea of what Rock and Roll is, it pains to be the one informing you, but you and Rock and Roll have an abusive relationship. It does not have to be this way. Starting a show on a Sunday night at 11pm when you know it will go 3 hours is the height of bullshit. At least a third, if not half the audience had left by now. Most headed out just around the midnight hour, with a steady exodus of quitters following. Probably regretting staying at all. As <em>Chinese Democracy</em> and more pointless (there’s really no better word) fluff extended what had the potential to be a promising evening into a depressing slog of misguided, momentum-sucking extravagance.
Down to the pyrotechnics and exagerated antics of the Criss-Angel inspired musicians on stage. I could only wonder who signs off on Axl Rose’s tours. Who approves pointless expenses like these? I’m no expert on prudent financial decisions or producing rock concerts, but I have to believe the entire stage budget eats away enough profit margin that an otherwise normal tour manager would be fired for such neglect.
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I’d pay to be a fly on the wall during the production meetings. I imagine it goes as follows:
Axl: I’m not going on before 11pm. Also, we’re playing for 3 fucking hours! But don’t think I’ll be onstage the whole time, fuck that.
Tour manager: Axl, is that a great idea though, people may not stick around until 2am?
Axl: <<gives evil eye>>
Tour manager: Sigh. Should I even bother here?
Axl: Fuck you if you do. I also need pyrotechnics. My fans demand pyro.
Tour manager: This will all increase costs. Maybe consider cutting out extraneous expenses. I’ll remind you the shows haven’t been selling out.
Axl: <<annoyed finger tapping joins evil eye giving>> It sounds like you want to rot in a cesspool of irrelevance with all the other assholes in the world who thought they knew better. Do you remember a demon-fucker thief named Slash?!?!
Tour manager: Fine, whatever you want. Just be sure to pay me upfront
Axl: IT WILL RAIN PUSSY AND GOLD ON ALL OF US! THIS IS IT!!! GUNS IS BACK!!!
Welcome to the Jungle
It’s So Easy
Sonic Reducer (Dead Boys cover)
Guitar solo – James Bond Theme
Live and Let Die
This I Love
Piano solo – Baba O’Riley
Street of Dreams
You Could Be Mine
Guitar solo – Mi Amor
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Instrumental – Another Brick in the Wall Pt II
Guitar solo – Pink Panther Theme
Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover)
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Instrumental > Madagascar
Riff Raff (AC/DC cover)
Acoustic guitar instrumental > Patience