POP MUSIC REVIEW : Guns N’ Roses: Hard-Rockin’ Baby That’s Growing Up Fast

Times Pop Music Critic

A rose is a rose is a rose--and a hard-rock band is a hard-rock band is a hard-rock band, right?

Not when the Rose is named Axl and the hard-rock band is named Guns N’ Roses, which began a sold-out two-night stand Wednesday opening for Aerosmith at the 18,000-seat Pacific Amphitheatre.

Few genres of pop music over the last decade--save disco--have been saddled with as much critical abuse as hard rock/heavy metal. And with good reason.

While sales have flourished for many of these high-decibel, low-imagination outfits, the bands themselves have been characterized chiefly by a slavish devotion to cliched images and recycled sounds.


For all the rebellious rhetoric and maverick posturing, the musicians in these bands--from such politely named groups as Cinderella to such tougher-titled ones as Poison and Ratt--deal in a corrupt and synthetic brand of rock ‘n’ roll that panders to--rather than challenges--its audiences.

Anyone at the Pacific on Wednesday seeing the Los Angeles-based Guns N’ Roses walk on stage for the first time may have felt that here was yet another band merely clinging to the symbolism of rock.

Axl Rose certainly dresses the part of the familiar rock rebel: dark glasses, long blond hair oozing out from beneath a backward Harley-Davidson cap, black leather chaps showing lots of flesh, a sleeveless jacket with the band’s logo in the style of a motorcycle gang’s graphic.

His mates--especially single-named guitarist Slash--also come from the gunfighter school of renegade cool that has been handed down from Keith Richards through Aerosmith’s Joe Perry to a generation of offspring. The look, in Guns’ case, is backed up by enough offstage notoriety to make them qualify as rock’s new bad boys.


Once the band started playing, however, an intriguing sense of individuality began to slowly emerge in both the songs and in Rose’s manner--traits that belied the notion that this was merely another link in the hard-rock chain of soulless, calculated merchants.

The band’s songs often rely on the sex ‘n’ drugs reference points so often found in hard rock, but the tunes are not merely hedonistic exhortations or paint-by-number slogans.

Instead, there is an exploration of the temptations and consequences associated with what, in its broadest sense, could be described as the “live hard and die young” rock ethos.

The songs--which also sometimes look beyond the rock subculture to reflect on hypocrisy on a personal and societal level--don’t always focus sharply on these issues in the way, say, the Eagles examined the fast-lane generation, but this is still a young and evolving band.


Where the siren-esque “Welcome to the Jungle” (which is spotlighted in Clint Eastwood’s film “The Dead Pool”) underscores the temptations, the more sensitive “Sweet Child O’ Mine"--the most fully realized and affecting song on the group’s “Appetite for Destruction” album--looks at the consequences.

The band’s rendition of “Sweet Child” would have been the high point of the group’s 45-minute set Wednesday, except for the introduction of a new, equally sensitive song, “Patience,” that reflected the melancholy sweetness of some of the Rolling Stones’ country blues.

The best thing about Rose, the performer, is his spontaneity as he moves about the stage in a slow, hypnotic resonance with the music, lifting his hips and shoulders slightly as he steps.

When speaking to the audience or pacing between numbers, Rose seems to be someone who is reflecting his emotions of the moment. That’s a rare quality in a field that has always prided itself on spontaneity, but rarely--at least at the arena level--delivered it.


The most revealing moment came when Rose, looking out at an audience in which hundreds of fans were wearing Guns N’ Roses T-shirts or homemade versions of the sleeveless jackets, stated that it’s the group’s music that’s important, not its look.

Returning to the stage after a guitar solo by Slash, Rose underscored the point by trading in the leather chaps for a pair of bright red, Mickey Mouse shorts.

The other members of Guns N’ Roses play their blues-accented rock in a free, impulsive--as opposed to carefully structured--manner that complements well Rose’s free and loose movements.

Though Guns N’ Roses was the opening act for Aerosmith at the Pacific, it clearly owned the night. It’s not that Aerosmith--which was reviewed at length earlier this year at the Forum--was anything less than its sassy and enticing self.


This tour date was booked before a phenomenal burst of popularity that has seen Guns N’ Roses’ album race to the top of the national charts, selling as many as 500,000 copies a week, according to a Geffen Records spokeswoman. Album sales now total 5 million in the United States alone, she added.

Because this was the band’s first local appearance since the album entered the Top 10, there was a strong sense of homecoming about the show.

Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler good-naturedly noted that spirit by telling the crowd, “The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll. . . . Los Angeles had a baby . . . Guns N’ Roses.”

Tyler would have been within his rights to say, “Aerosmith had a baby and they called it Guns N’ Roses,” because Rose’s band, like so many other contemporary hard-rock groups, owes a major debt to Aerosmith’s ‘70s recordings.


But Tyler suffered too long under endless Rolling Stones comparisons to want to point a finger at another band. Besides, rock history has proven Aerosmith to be worthy of its own attention--and Guns N’ Roses, too, appears to be a band that is carving out its own identity and destiny.