|Auburn Hills / Detroit Concert Review #4|
Last Thursday at The Palace blew me away. I wasn't sure what to expect, whether Axl's voice would hold or if he would keep getting gassed like at the MTV Awards, can these guys pull off an entire show without Slash, etc.
Well, holy fuck, it's like Axl knew he had something to prove in Detroit that night. His trademark wail is alive and well thank you, and he tore through the set with a reckless aplomb that brought back the memories of the snake-hipped, sneering punk that fronted GNR in their heyday, rather that the weird recluse figure he's become over the past few years.
I missed openers Camp Kill Yourself from Jackass, I was attending to larger matters, making sure I had just the right kind of eyes to witness the spectacle that awaited me. I arrived in time to catch Mix Master Mike, the DJ of Beastie Boys fame and he was wild. He was clearly battling a crowd that had a lot of biker types in it and weren't used to a man at a turntable being the center of the show, but he mixed in a lot of rock and did a good job of catering to the audience. His technique is surreal and I found myself dancing more than I do at most clubs. I was in the minority, though. Most seemed content to stand curiously still, clearly unaware of how exactly to handle the situation.
After Mixmaster's set, we were saddled with the requisite long wait from Mr. Rose and company. This one clocked in at a mere 35 minutes, far short of the 3+ hour waits of the Illusion tours and perhaps a sign that the Axl Rose of 2002 goes to bed a little earlier than the Axl Rose of 1992. The wait was helped along by a thoughtful young lady sitting on the lower bowl, who upon some encouragement from the crowd, unleashed a pair of big fake boobs on the crowd and was shown on the big screen for her efforts. She later repeated her efforts to get noticed by Axl during 'Sweet Child O' Mine", hanging them out there for an entire verse, but Axl's only response was to sprint in the other direction. I guess you can't please everybody.
The band exploded on stage with the fitting "Welcome to the Jungle", and it was clear these guys came to make a point. The rhythm section sounded perhaps even tighter than the original, with Primus' Brain beating out thunderous rolls on drums, Tommy Stinson (ex-Replacements) laying down a thick bass line and the electrifying guitar work of rhythm guitar Richard Fortus, and dual leads Robin Finck (NIN) and the enigmatic Buckethead. Finck and Buckethead traded solos throughout the night, sometimes switching off right in the middle.
As the band roared through "Live and Let Die" it seemed the crowd knew we were in for something special. Axl wailed throughout the song, producing a version that sounded superior to his work on the actual album version.
Axl's stage presence has changed little, which is to say he is still very commanding. He still paces frantically and makes random sprints from one side of the stage to the other, giving songs like "Out Ta Get Me" even more of a restless, almost paranoid edge.
The show slowed down as Axl took the piano for "November Rain" which saw the lighters in the crowd produced, with Finck taking the solos during the song and Buckethead taking over for the song's climax.
Axl then introduced the band, who in addition to Finck, Stinson, Fortus, Buckethead and Brain, consist of keyboardists Dizzy Reed (the only remaining member from the Illusion albums and received a very warm reception from the crowd) and Chris Pitman. Pitman played a sort of mini keyboard which was mounted on some sort of spring, allowing him to really whip that thing around. Axl saved a special introduction for Buckethead, telling the crowd he was "abducted by aliens and raised in a chicken coop".
The rest of the band cleared the stage for Buckethead's solo act. This really has to be seen to be properly appreciated. It starts with a techno-funk beat playing in the background, as Buckethead comes to the front of the stage and does a complicated routine with nunchuks. He then puts them down and goes into a robot dance, which maybe had the crowd puzzled, but definitely captivated.
He then brought out the white Flying V guitar adorned in red KFC stripes, and proceeded to do an outrageous solo that went from pure post-metal mega-shred, deftly into offerings such as the Star Wars theme and "When You Wish Upon A Star". Buckethead responded to the adulation of the people by passing out toys. Lucky concert-goers early Xmas presents included what looked to be horror movie action figures, and a Col. Sanders baublehead.
Re-invigorated. Axl tore through a couple more old hits like "Knocking On Heaven's Door" and "You Could Be Mine" before breaking out the new stuff. Madagascar is nothing less than a thing of beauty, although they had changed the guitar solo since the last time I heard it, and truth be told I prefer the first one I heard. 'Rhiad and the Bedouins" is a sonically-driven rush, and the ballad The Blues had the metal chicks in the audience swooning. Chinese Democracy was a visual triumph, as the stage became engulfed with flames for the duration of the driving rocker. The flames looked a lot better than the confetti they went with for the MTV Awards, that's for sure.
Of course, it couldn't be a GNR show without a little bit of Axl-induced drama. During "Patience", Axl messed up the words, which was met with a bit of a grin from Tommy Stinson. Axl didn't share his humor however, he pointed at the teleprompter/monitor and then offstage with a less than enthused look about him. He then proceeded to storm off the stage and hurl his mike at something or somebody. The rest of the band continued on without missing a beat, and actually played really well, considering I'm sure none of them knew if or when Axl would return.
Axl did get a new mike and return to finish the song, which sounded good, and then said "Thank you...Goodnight". The house lights came up about 30 seconds later, leaving the crowd confused and disappointed. I don't really feel ripped off though, if he had pulled that stunt during the third song, I might have a different view, but we got a near 2 hour show and the only song I know we missed was "Nightrain" and "Paradise City". Plus, it gave us all our own Axl story to tell.
Overall, a rock spectacle on the level of The Rolling Stones, and if they ever get this "Chinese Democracy" album out (I'm hearing February now...sigh), the new GNR are mere footsteps away to returning to the heights the original band saw in the late 80's and early 90's.
Or maybe I just smoke too much weed.
-Auburn Hills concert page
June 17, 2006 10:12:15 AM