Say what you want about Axl Rose’s erratic touring schedule and late-night performances, but when the man shows up for a gig, he sticks around for a while. That was certainly the case at the Fillmore on Thursday night, where Guns N' Roses took the stage just after midnight, playing a three-hour set of more than 30 songs for what looked like an at-capacity crowd.
Openers Electric Sun handled the unenviable job of playing to a packed house of fans more engaged in prognostications about GnR’s enigmatic singer than in watching them.
For those wondering,
Axl’s hair: covered with a large hat, but at least not cornrowed
Axl’s weight: covered with layers. Paunchy but not his paunchiest.
Axl’s face: covered with sunglasses. Lifted.
As the Chinese Democracy Tour begins its second decade (the band has been
in support of the long-in-the-works album since 2001), Axl’s latest band includes an impressive stable of musicians.
Standouts include a guy named Bumblefoot, who looks like he may have wandered directly off a six-month hiking trek and into GnR, and former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, who has now been a replacement member of GnR longer than he was a Replacement. Drummer Frank Ferrer was turned way down in the club mix, but his precision and force is more Matt Sorum than Stephen Adler.
Ashba seems to have been brought in for his ability to wear a top hat and smoke cigarettes ala
The technical proficiency and sheer size of the band, now an eight-piece with two keyboardists and three guitarists, lends itself more naturally to big, busy songs like “Estranged,” which they brought out surprisingly early in the set.
After opening with “Chinese Democracy,” Axl got the crowd going with three consecutive Appetite-era songs - “Welcome to the Jungle,” “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” followed shortly thereafter by a funked-up version of “You’re Crazy.”
But oldies like “Rocket Queen” felt a bit hollow without Slash and Izzy’s loose blues rock or the swing original drummer Stephen Adler brought to the group.
The current group could have played to their strengths by venturing further into the back catalog of "Use Your Illusions" songs and digging out big, broad opuses like “Coma” and “Locomotive." But instead, it built the set around "Appetite for Destruction" and "Chinese Democracy" songs, with a few instrumentals thrown in for good measure.
Newer songs - and by newer I mean songs that Axl tinkered with for 17 years before releasing "Chinese Democracy" in 2008 - sounded great, but even in an intimate setting there was an inevitable lull each time a "Democracy"-era song came on.
One exception was “Better” an up-tempo encore inclusion with a full light show and harmonies that got the crowd buzzing. But Axl knows where his bread is buttered, and so "Appetite" classics “Patience” and “Paradise City” closed the show as the house lights went on not long before sunlight started peeking into the morning at 3 a.m.
If Axl Rose doesn’t want to cash in on a reunion tour with Slash, he’d do well to stick to venues like The Fillmore, where he can pack in a full house of die-hards. Still, it's clear that while he may not need his old bandmates to play a Guns N' Roses show, he certainly needs their old songs.
Welcome to the Jungle
It’s So Easy
Richard Fortus Guitar Solo
Live and Let Die
This I Love
Motivation – Stinson solo
Dizzy Reed piano solo – Baba O’Reilly
Street of Dreams
You Could Be Mine
DJ Ashba Guitar Solo
Sweet Child of Mine
Used to Love Her
Axl Rose piano solo/November Rain
Knockin on Heaven’s Door