Monday, February 1, 2010

Montreal: The Classic Rock Review

Photo: Jeff Lizotte
Text: Clay Marshall (Classic Rock)
“All I’ve got is precious time,” Axl Rose tellingly proclaims in tonight’s opening track, the title song of Chinese Democracy. After all, why else would he seem to revel in keeping fans waiting, whether for his infamously late on stage arrivals, an album of mythical proportions that was nearly two decades in the making, or – perhaps most curiously – the overdue kickoff of the subsequent world tour?

Although the timing is perplexing, coming more than a year after the record’s release, there is one upside – it calls for a fresh reconsideration of the album’s merits: the driving chorus of "Shackler’s Revenge;" the unmistakable vocal cadence of the verses in "Better;" and the heart-wrenching ride-out of "There Was A Time," among others.

It also, however, serves as a reminder of Chinese Democracy’s flaws – namely, the lack of timeless, memorable hooks that people will still pay to hear performed live in 23 years. That’s how long it’s now been since the release of Appetite For Destruction, the recording that rightfully made Guns N’ Roses an overnight sensation. Its material provides the brightest moments tonight, GN’R’s first performance in Montreal since a disastrous 1992 concert halfway through the marathon Use Your Illusion tour during which Axl left the stage after singing only nine songs, prompting a massive riot.

In contrast, tonight’s show – part of a winter tour of Canadian hockey barns, the group’s first performances in their home continent since the release of Chinese Democracy – goes off without incident. Openers Danko Jones, perhaps rock’s best-kept secret, deliver a libido-fuelled 30-minute set that drips with swaggering confidence, while ex-Skid Row front man Sebastian Bach – who seems content continuing to play a Robin- or Dr. Watson-like foil for Rose – gamely energizes the crowd with a 10-song performance culled primarily from his former band’s self-titled debut.

As for the headliner, it’s instantly clear that GN’R is now little different than any number of classic hard rock acts with only one remaining original member. Having surrounded himself in recent years with a revolving door of competent yet ultimately faceless replacements, Rose has, perhaps unwittingly, turned the spotlight even more on himself, no matter how many solos he lets his band members enjoy tonight. (His frequent wardrobe changes don’t help.)

Still, Rose – sporting a Fu Manchu, and flanked by video screens and LED back drops – admirably avoids the easy path of nostalgia taken regularly by so many of his peers, as tonight’s workmanlike, nearly three-hour set is split almost evenly between older and recent material. One only wishes he’d take to heart the most basic tenet of democracy: give the people what they want. All too often, the Chinese Democracy material falls flat next to classics such as "Welcome to the Jungle" and "You Could Be Mine," but the magnetic presence of the slithering, itinerant front man holds your interest nonetheless.

His only overt references to the riot come during "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door" – “You fuckers just like to tear shit up,” he playfully prods the crowd before thanking them genuinely for their support – and after the show-closing "Paradise City," when he gives a tantalizingly cryptic tease before exiting: “You deserve the truth, but tonight’s not the time.” More proof that the King of the Jungle sets his own hours.

Classic Rock

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