Jan 2, 2002, 2:05 pm PT
Has the bloom come off the
Rose? That question lingered during Axl
Rose & Co.'s two-night stint at the Joint at the Hard Rock
Café Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas this New Year's weekend.
Rose's problems started even before the band took the stage
Saturday (Dec. 29) for the first of two shows. After selling out
last year's New Year's Eve's Vegas show in minutes, tickets remained
on sale until the day before each show.
About an hour after the listed start time of 10 p.m., Rose walked
out onstage in a Rich Gannon Oakland Raiders jersey, flanked by
(dressed in highway-marking yellow pants and smock, Michael Myers
mask, and trademark KFC bucket on his head) and Paul Tobias on stage
left; bassist Tommy Stinson -- who's put on a few pounds -- and Nine
Inch Nails' guitarist Robin Finck on stage right; Brian "Brain"
Mantia on a raised drumset behind Rose; and keyboardists Chris
Pitman and Dizzy Reed in the upper left and right corners,
respectively. Behind the band, 40 TV monitors and two giant TV
screens flashed apocalyptic fireballs, psychedelic color bursts,
images of war and car-crash carnage, as well as images of the band.
Guns opened the two-hour set with promise as the band ripped
through "Welcome to the Jungle," and Rose showed he's still fond of
the snaky dance moves and incessant stage-wandering of his earlier
GN'R days. Without a word from the singer between songs, Guns blew
through "It's So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone," and "Live and Let Die"
with an energy that augured well for the evening. The band played
extremely tight and Rose's voice was in perfect form. An overlong
acoustic number by Buckethead that segued from Willy
Wonka-esque riffs into the hackneyed "Eruption" served two
purposes: Stopping the momentum of the set in its tracks and
reminding everyone in the audience that, in Rock God status,
Buckethead is no Slash.
(Slash, meanwhile, was spotted walking around the casino with his
guitar in hand, though an onstage appearance never transpired.)
But on "Oh My God," no sound came through Rose's mike, and while
he went looking for a replacement, Finck inexplicably threw his
guitar across stage. After the song, the band left and a tech
announced, "We'll be right back." When they returned, Rose had
ditched the Gannon jersey to go shirtless under a blue-velvet
British soldier-style trench coat. But the vocal problems remained
throughout the night, as Rose's lyrics disappeared in the
harder-rocking moments of new Guns tracks like "Silkworms" and
classics "You Could Be Mine" and "Sweet Child O' Mine." The mix
problems meant no one could hear much of Rose, at which point most
of the audience had to wonder -- "Did I just pay $200 to hear
Stinson's backup vocals?" Perhaps the low moment came when the
entire band sounded completely out of sync on "Knockin' on Heaven's
After a quick two hours, the band closed with an inspired take on
"Paradise City," and left without an encore. Most who attended the
New Year's Eve show, however, opined that it was not just better
than the Saturday night show, but it was even better than last
year's impressive New Year's Eve gig.
It was hard not to feel robbed by the events of the evening, even
if the main problem was mostly beyond the band's control. People
(including this reviewer) who sat in dreadful $250 balcony seats --
stuck behind two rows of VIP seating that obstructed the view of the
stage -- were particularly vocal in their displeasure at the venue
for advertising the seats (on Ticketmaster) as "best available,"
when $100 floor seats offered much better sight lines. The box
office made the hollow offer to refund the tickets, at the price of
not seeing the sold-out show (i.e., you just pay for airfare and
hotel to NOT see GN'R).
During a 10-minute mid-concert apologia, Rose rambled
semi-coherently on how the record company, the studio, the
producers, and everyone in the band "dropped the ball" in the last
year until "we didn't know what the ball was." He explained that
ticket prices were so high because of the expense to do one-off
shows. He said the band was working "every fucking day" and that
their new material "will knock the fucking ball out of the park." He
told an anecdote about being moved when a man in an elevator thanked
him for playing a show. Rose claimed to have learned about Guns'
cancelled European tour via the Internet, to which someone in the
audience screamed: "Aw, bullshit! Get a manager!"
In his rant, Rose also said that the show last year was a
farewell to the old, while this year's show was a "taste of
something new." But it was hard to believe him because Guns did not
play any new songs that they hadn't already played live previously,
leaving one to wonder where Rose plans to go with his new band
mates. The feeling after the show was that Rose and his band are
still in search of an identity: Right now, this incarnation is no
more Guns N' Roses than the Stones
would be the Stones if only Mick Jagger remained in the band.
-- Sam Jemielity