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Welcome back to the jungle: Axl Rose finds his snake hips as Guns N’ Roses regains its edge at Dodger Stadium

Guns N’ Roses
Duff McKagan, left, Axl Rose and Slash of Guns N’ Roses perform Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.
(Katarina Benzova)

The sideways crab walk. The snake-hipped shimmy. The headlong dash from one end of the stage to the other.

Leading the partly reunited Guns N’ Roses he’s been on the road with since April, Axl Rose brought his full arsenal of moves to Dodger Stadium for the first of two hometown shows as part of the influential hard-rock band’s “Not in This Lifetime” tour.

And what a relief it was to see him up and at ’em.

When Guns N’ Roses played a warm-up gig at the Troubadour a few months ago — the first time in more than 20 years that the singer had performed in public with guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan — Rose fell and fractured a bone in his left foot. As a result, this deeply physical frontman performed the early portion of the tour, including an appearance at the closely watched Coachella festival, seated in an elaborate throne borrowed from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters (who’d had it built after he broke his leg last year).

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The effect was deflating: Though Slash’s presence restored the group’s trademark dynamics — its ability to shift between punky aggression and flowery lyricism — Rose’s injury prevented him from putting across much of the sex or danger that made him a taunting yet seductive pop icon in the late 1980s.

At Coachella and in another concert in Las Vegas, Guns N’ Roses felt more like Sticks N’ Daffodils.

Not anymore.

On Thursday, before a huge crowd in what he called “my neighborhood,” Rose, 54, moved with surprising energy and menace throughout a nearly three-hour production.

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He swiveled in his pointy cowboy boots during “Mr. Brownstone.” He charged toward the front of the stage in “Sweet Child o’ Mine” — all the better to see him lick his lips suggestively — then skidded to a halt at the very edge.

Midway through “Welcome to the Jungle” he hurled a microphone stand for no apparent reason, sending the thing crashing into a lighted staircase.

Just to ensure you were getting the message, one of the T-shirts Rose wore quoted his hero Elton John to proclaim “The bitch is back.”

The singer’s renewed intensity seemed to drive the other members of Guns N’ Roses to play harder and faster too.

Rounded out by musicians Rose employed in the years after Slash and McKagan left (as well as a fresh recruit in keyboardist Melissa Reese), the band pummeled its way through “Coma” and cranked “You Could Be Mine” to a breakneck tempo.

But they could also slow down and savor a groove or melody, as in a deliciously trashy “Live and Let Die” and the crisply tuneful “Yesterdays,” which Guns N’ Roses hasn’t often played since the mid ’90s.

“We just pulled that out of our…,” Rose said, trailing off into a chuckle that suggested he was enjoying himself. Then he added, “Our hat — yeah, that’s it.”

Axl Rose addresses the crowd at Dodger Stadium.
Axl Rose addresses the crowd at Dodger Stadium.
(Katarina Benzova )
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He charged toward the front of the stage in ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ — all the better to see him lick his lips suggestively — then skidded to a halt at the edge.

As convincing as he was in his old villain’s guise, the frontman’s display made you think about something typically overshadowed by his famous appetite for destruction, and that was his dedication to hard work.

Part of what made the earlier gigs so disappointing was that Rose didn’t give  off a caged-animal vibe while in the throne (as Grohl had); he seemed almost to relish the opportunity to take it easy.

Yet here you got a clear sense of how important it was for Rose — who’s pulling double duty this year filling in for Brian Johnson in AC/DC — to get back on his feet, an oddly endearing development for a bad attitude in human form.

You could tell too how proud Rose is of Guns N’ Roses’ notoriously labored-over “Chinese Democracy,” the 2008 album he made largely by himself and which he pulled from numerous times at Dodger Stadium, for “Better” and “Catcher in the Rye” and the shamelessly sentimental “This I Love.”

As at previous stops on the tour, Thursday’s concert featured no new music; “Not in This Lifetime” is a nostalgia trip, through and through, and to judge by the minimal onstage interaction between Rose and Slash, a return to joint songwriting appears unlikely.

But this strong, complicated performance made you wish that weren’t the case.

Now that he’s up, Rose should keep moving.

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Twitter: @mikaelwood

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