We all know the list: None of the other iconic band members, including Slash are still on board. Axl Rose is a weird guy who's a lousy bandmate and a worse boss. He's also got arguably the worst reputation in show business this side of George Jones or Kayne West.
Nonetheless, the group was prompt and started a few minutes after 11 p.m. Tuesday, as promised and proceeded to deliver a high-energy parade of rock music bluster and angst that thrilled the majority of the 4,500 or so who made it in. (And yes, I heard more than one story about tickets being given out willy-nilly earlier this week.)
During the band's three-hour concert at West Valley City's Maverik Center, I can honestly tell you neither of the PR or perception problems mattered one whit to the crowd, who for the most part feverishly lapped up the rock blast with gusto.
The band knows what the crowd wants: 20-year-old favorites and lots of Axl screaming along with seeing him do his strange Axl moves and lots of guitar work. They also like to fist pump, play air guitar and vigorously shake their heads. And while it's true that if telepathic desires were effective or efficient, it's doubtless that Slash would have been instantaneously beamed into WVC, signature tophat and hall, the audience was treated instead to the surprisingly fluid and over-the-top chops of the group's three-guitar lineup: Richard Fortus, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and DJ Ashba are all monster players. Sure, they're not Slash, but they played so many spot-on solos - some a la Slash, some not - that by the end of the show I felt the guitar slot in GnR is amply filled. Go ahead, hate me.
The band has benefitted from its recent slate of dates and is a tight, live act, save for one false start on "Better," which came during the encore. As with most of the "Chinese Democracy" tracks, the song brought with it a palpable loss of energy in the audience. But it was 1:45 a.m., so maybe that's forgivable. The only real trouble musically with the show was its muddy, bombastic sound mix, which improved steadily throughout the show. And the band lacks - for now - the silky funk that the classic GnR could deliver. This group's takes on "Rocket Queen" and "Patience" were prime examples. Sure, it was OK, but not smooooth. Although Thal and Ashba get bonus points for playing an acoustic, instrumental take on the Rolling Stones' "Waiting On A Friend," just before "Patience."
And speaking of the seminal 1987 LP "Appetite For Destruction," there is no doubt in my mind that if GnR had walked out, played the whole album from start to finish and went home, there would have been few complaints. That being said, "Estranged" from 1991's "Use Your Illusion" was well received as was that album's biggest single "November Rain."
However, neither of those tracks contained the sheer heat and energy of "Night Train," AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie," or even "Live and Let Die," which was aided by repeated blasts of fire. Also, Tommy Stinson, formerly of The Replacements, and with GnR since 1998 (!), gets credit for holding down the bass all night and providing adept backup vocals. And his solo turn on "Sonic Producers," a punk-rock cover.
But all of the earlier explosions were mild compared to the blast-off that awaited the audience just before 2 a.m., during the finale, "Paradise City." And confetti also helps drown out the band. Which is weird, but maybe smart in light of the fact that the guitar solo of that song is so well-known that if the band strays from those precise notes, who knows what the reaction would be? We'll never know.
And for the 1,500 or so who stayed for the group's eight-man stage bow at 2:06 a.m., it was tough not to feel kind of crazy for wanting just one more song. But understandable.