Axl Rose: Whoever Said Appetite for Destruction?
January 2, 2001
By NEIL STRAUSS
LAS VEGAS, Jan. 1 One had to feel a little sorry for Axl Rose when he performed his first concert in more than seven years at the House of Blues here at 3:30 this morning. The problem wasn't his voice; he ran through Guns 'n' Roses warhorses like "Welcome to the Jungle," "Mr. Brownstone" and "Paradise City" with note-for- note perfection. And the problem wasn't the band; though Guns 'n' Roses has been converted to an odd-looking eight-person outfit with only Mr. Rose and the keyboardist Dizzy Reed remaining from former incarnations, it was an impressive, albeit different, live machine. The reason to pity Mr. Rose is that although he has spent most of the last seven years locked in a recording studio working on new songs, in a two-hour show he felt comfortable squeezing in only a few of them.
To watch the new Mr. Rose simultaneously serious, self-mocking and self-conscious perform was to watch a man trapped, perhaps more by himself than by his fans. "I have traversed a treacherous sea of horrors to be with you here tonight," he told the small audience, which had bought tickets ranging from $150 on up. For most of the last decade Mr. Rose has been putting himself in competition with the rock stars who replaced Guns 'n' Roses in the hard-rock limelight (from Nine Inch Nails to White Zombie), working with a revolving door of talented producers and musicians in an attempt to remake his sound and teach himself more about guitar, studio production and electronic instruments. He has done everything from re-recording the "Appetite for Destruction" album to coming up with modern electronic-industrial songs. But early on New Year's Day, when Mr. Rose and friends performed their new songs, it was with doubt and hesitancy, as if they were pleading for acceptance. "You can write home to everybody about how it just doesn't work," Mr. Rose said in one moment of insecurity (even though it was all working just fine).
The new members of the band included Tommy Stinson (formerly of the Replacements) on bass, Brian (Brain) Mantia (of Primus) on drums, Chris Pitman (of the Replicants) on keyboards and, on guitars, Paul Tobias, Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails) and Buckethead. The classic Guns 'n' Roses image of Mr. Rose and a top-hatted Slash on guitar was replaced by Mr. Rose and the masked, mysterious, fast-food-container- hatted Buckethead, a funk-metal enigma who break-danced, spun nunchaku and brought a more liquid, avant-garde upgrade of soloing to Guns 'n' Roses.
But only in the first song of their encore, a hard-driving electronic rave-up that sounded like a Chemical Brothers remix of Guns 'n' Roses, did the audience get a glimpse of the music that the band really seemed to want to play. And it was the glimpse of a completely different beast than Guns 'n' Roses (with a new frontline of a beefy Mr. Rose, a mimelike Buckethead and a stormtrooper-outfitted Mr. Finck), which isn't necessarily a bad thing.