Some bands wait until the end of the set or an encore to pull out its most beloved material. Not Guns N' Roses. Two songs into the set, the instantly familiar guitar riff was teased two, maybe three times before Axl Rose cried out, "Do you know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby! You're gonna die!" Yes, GNR had the stones to play the song that broke the band to the world that early in the set. And it was clear there was no lip-synching for it, as some people assumed for other songs in the set, as evidenced by Axl switching up the inflection in lyrics here and there. When he sang the "Feel my, my, my, my serpentine" line, he did his signature dance. As for the rest of the band? Not a bum note, and if anyone had any concern for the show being good or seeing any prima donna antics from stage, those worries proved to be unfounded.
Before Guns took the stage, the lights went out on the venue and an instrumental version of "I'm Your Man," by Leonard Cohen, played through the P.A. Then Dj Ashba was lit up like an icon in front of projection of what had been a red vortex that evolved into the Guns N' Roses logo. The show started off with the title track from Chinese Democracy, and immediately it was a spectacle of colorful projections and fireworks and flame jets and explosions that punctuated the appropriate parts of every song.
After "Welcome to the Jungle" came, the band somewhat unexpectedly went directly into "It's So Easy" with Tommy Stinson supplying backing vocals every bit as expertly as Duff McKagan used to and Dj Ashba's leads, no matter what song he played, were perfectly executed every time even as he put a bit of his own touch on the playing as well. "Mr. Brownstone" came next as a welcome reminder of the strength of the material that happened to be on the act's debut full-length. Before "Sorry," the words "Guns N Roses" appeared on the projection screens and the crowd chanted along to a cadence in the sequencing. Clearly Sebastian Bach wasn't really on this tour but "Sorry" ended up being a surprisingly strong performance especially with Ashba's melodic yet moody delivery on the leads. Before going into "Shackler's Revenge," Axl asked us how we were doing, and the crowd, to its credit, raised quite a ruckus. Then he said, "You sound good. You sound really fuckin' good!" And somehow it didn't come off as pandering. Throughout the show, it seemed as though Axl was appreciative of the people showing up, and he was gracious with his bandmates as well as the set went on.
"Estranged" from Use Your Illusion II never sounded better. "Rocket Queen" with the disjointed visuals of various women focusing on various parts of their bodies seemed appropriate given the subject matter of the song with the end taking an oddly sentimental turn. After the song ended, Axl pointed to the band's bassist and introduced Tommy Stinson, who most people probably know played for The Replacements. But tonight, he sang a cover of "Sonic Reducer" by the Dead Boys, with its reference, of course, to Pere Ubu's "Final Solution." And Tommy made sure to let us know who did the original, seeing as how, unfortunately, the Dead Boys are not a household name. "Better" sounded like some classic older song, but it was another of the solid Chinese Democracy tracks of the whole show. Often ballads seem like a hackneyed songwriting style, but Rose and his band made it sound like something deep felt from an innocent place in the heart that Rose has somehow maintained after all these years. Of course since there's bad blood between the original members of the classic line-up, Axl's surrounded himself with a handpicked cast of musicians. And yet, this line-up didn't feel like just a bunch of hired guns going through the music note by rote. That wouldn't have worked for a show like this. Axl introduced Richard Fortus and the guitarist did a short solo and went into a cover of the James Bond theme music with some other members of the band. What followed? What else, but the group's excellent cover of "To Live and Let Die." The quickly shifting black and white imagery as the backdrop of the band just emphasized GNR's take on the Wings classic. "This I Love" came after and drove home how Rose, as a songwriter, can take familiar elements of lyrical themes and breathe new life into it all especially in making essentially stripped down rock music into something with just a bit more grandeur and imagination minus some outlandish flight of fancy to go along with it.
At one point, Axl introduced us to "one of our own," as he put it, Dizzy Reed from Denver. Reed sat down at a piano and... ...started with a simple melody that built into something incredibly familiar that could only be a surprisingly effective piano rendition of "Baba O'Riley" by The Who. Probably shouldn't have worked, but like every solo turn by the musicians in GNR, it just seemed to reflect a bit of what each person brought to the band. It was then appropriate for the band to play "Street of Dreams" seeing as Reed collaborated in the songwriting. Maybe "You Could Be Mine" wasn't one of the band's biggest hits, but it is one of its best and most popular songs. No Schwarzenegger or Robert Patrick cameo, more's the pity. Before the "haze" got to be too much to tolerate, the band did a cover of "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" and an hour and a half into the show, it seemed like the perfect ending point on a cold night out seeing a band most people probably wrote off for one reason or another a long time. But one that put on a visually arresting and sonically and emotionally resonant performance that will hopefully continue when GNR puts out its next album much sooner than seventeen years hence.
Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society, which played directly before GNR, didn't come off as much different from when the band came through with Judas Priest. Wylde wore the Indian chief headdress for the beginning part of the show, before taking it off ten or fifteen minutes in or so. When Wylde sings "Oh yeah" it sounds like Layne Staley without the sense of emotional heaviness, desperation and despair. But Wylde is a fantastically skilled and talented guitarist, and even when he'd pull the weird open harmonic guitar sound he interjected here and there across a lot of his materially, it still sounded like something one else could pull off and still play complex leads. Toward the end of the BLS set, the band members all left stage and let Wylde get a little wanky on the guitar again to the tune of ten minutes, but at least it was less self-indulgent last time he came through town. Near the end of the hour-or-so-long set, Wylde took off his jacket, held the back patch up in front of him so the audience could see, then he put it back on and went back to the show. This gesture got some applause from people, but mostly it just looked like some weird gesture. And yet, this band played like it really meant it and Wylde didn't skimp on the energy. Judging by the number of BLS shirts in the audience, outnumbering the backward baseball caps by a wide margin, somebody truly appreciates this band because the shirts weren't cheap.
Personal Bias: I first heard GNR when the "stoner" kids at school were raving about the band not following a set structure of songwriting. They were wrong, but GNR was sure better than a lot of the L.A. rock at the time. Random Detail: Ran into Johnny Wohlfahrt of nervesandgel at the show. By the Way: Whatever formula was being used for the fog machine or whatever it was had an adverse effect on many people at the show. To the point where most of those people affected got a scratchy throat. I had a severe allergic reaction that involved not being able to swallow and at some point having difficulty breathing. So I had to leave before the show was over in the interest of, you know, making it home intact instead of passing out at the show like some misguided idiot with something to prove.
Guns N' Roses 1STBANK Center - 12/11/11 Broomfield, CO
Chinese Democracy Welcome To The Jungle It's So Easy Mr. Brownstone Sorry Shackler's Revenge Estranged Sonic Reducer (Unknown) Live and Let Die This I Love Street Of Dreams You Could Be Mine Sweet Child O' Mine November Rain Don't Cry Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover with Zakk Wylde) Civil War Knockin' On Heaven's Door Nightrain
(Unknown) Patience Paradise City
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