Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guns N' Roses Blaze Long into the JLC Night

Photo: Snascarella
Text: London Free Press
Every seven years or so, the frontman for Guns N’ Roses takes his sweet time about getting to the stage at the John Labatt Centre.

When he finally gets there, he works his Axl off.

At 2010’s first big rock concert at the downtown London arena, Axl Rose and his Guns N’ Roses bandmates started with about an hour of Monday left and kept rocking for 80 minutes into Tuesday.

Recalling the band’s epic show in the arena’s early days, late in 2002, the U.S. rockers played a long show including their big hits Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City and Sweet Child O’Mine.

This time, they also found space for many songs from Chinese Democracy, the long-delayed album that finally emerged in 2008.

In terms of a review, a kaleidoscopic approach probably works best for a show like this one.

Sure, Guns N’ Roses were late to the stage and sure there was some filler as Monday blended into early Tuesday.

But any Rose that can keep running and shouting for that long and still remembers he’s in London, Ontario when it’s time to say good night is always welcome back for more.

Who knows? Maybe there will be democracy in China by the next time Guns N’ Roses plays here.

One-two punch: Chinese Democracy to open and then Welcome to the Jungle over a squeal from Axl Rose: “You know where you are? You in the jungle, baby.” A political rocker and a menacing rocker. The new. The old. Back-to-back and the band — three guitarists, two keyboards, bass and drums — is on fire. Yeah, there is a lot of pyro to punctuate the riffs early on. But this band is hot.

Paradise City: This had to be the finale destination and about 1:20 Tuesday morning, it was. Axl was running so fast, his little fedora flew off. He still had some scream in the tank to finish. The three guitarists found different monitors or other elevations at the front of the stage. The confetti flew. The mic flew, in a safe, friendly, arc from Axl Rose’s hand to lucky fans at the far reach of the standing room main floor. Big voice, big arm. The huge light system descended like an enormous spaceship. A great song. A signature song. The song to end on.

Actually, here is how it ended: The band returned casually to the stage, joined by women in skimpy cocktail dresses with trays of drinks. Axl Rose took some drinks out to fans, said get out of here safely and thanked everybody nicely. Bumblefoot, one of the guitarists, made a joke we can’t tell you here. Then, the lights went on and Frank Sinatra’s My Way serenaded the 6,000 fans as they exited. That’s a message song to end any evening.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Live and Let Die: Such covers in the Guns N’ Roses songbook. The Bob Dylan song is the night’s biggest singalong with a reggae feel. It arrives late in the main set. The McCartney-Bond item is a cool bruiser, but there’s a weird moment when the vocalist and the mic go their separate ways and the vocal doesn’t fade a bit.

This time vs. last time (Nov. 30, 2002): Band hit the stage at 11 p.m. then and opened with Welcome to the Jungle. This time, it was 10:50 p.m. and Chinese Democracy was the opener. Axl Rose looked sleeker than in 2002 and has lost the ridiculous hair style. He moved around a lot then and doesn’t seem to have lost a step when it comes to the spin moves, runs to the back of the stage, etc. His voice doesn’t seem as bone-crunchingly dominant in 2010 as it did in 2002 . . . but he has come up with powerful whine that carries a lot of freight over a long night. Last time, he was in hockey jerseys including Team Canada and London Knights looks. This time, there were enough changes in coats, jackets, shirts and bandannas to compete with Cher in the most outfits during one concert category. Both times, he played too much piano.

Three guitarists, three spotlights: Richard Fortus put some metal to James Bond-styled themes and gets extra points for windmilling a la Pete Townshend and punching away at the chords all night. Ron “Bumblefoot” Thai played The Pink Panther Theme in his spot, cute but only that. He had some of the sweetest unplugged sounds and Bumblefoot also amazed on a fretless guitar. The weak link was the newbie, DJ Ashba. His instrumental spot was just ho-hum and he applause begged no end. Good tattoos, though.

The stage: Spectacular. Multi-runways. Many screens for showing imagery and the on-stage action. Huge, illuminated stair cases. Countless lights. A big deal and there is mucho pyro, fireworks and other dazzling effects.

Who is Chris Pitman? Keyboard player Dizzy Reed gets a solo piano feature — clunky sounding Keith Jarrett or New Age ivories in a hockey rink — and joins the main stage action a lot. Muscular drummer Frank Ferrer gets plenty of face time on the big screens with his T-shirt saying GREED. Bass player Tommy Stinson gets a mention from Axl Rose for saying he’s getting “a contact high” up on stage. The three guitarists all have spots. So why does the keyboard player apparently called Chris Pitman receive none of the above . . . it’s a mystery all night.

Axlisms: Axl Rose’s pronouncements can be puzzling. In 2002, it was impossible to figure out what he was saying about Chinese Democracy, the album which was still six years from being released, or China’s political system. This time, he talked here and there, sounding friendly or edgy as the occasion inspired him. Here is a little of what he said: “That’s a question that can’t be answered” . . . “Are you having a pleasant evening . . . I’m glad we could help . . . the door only swings one way — give, give, give” . . . “You know, it’s all about responsibility. You can mix your drinks, if you choose to deal with the consequences . . . (then talks about “manageable” hangovers and various drinks) . . . I’m managing.”

Roses interruptus: There is a lot of noodling between songs in a show this long and complicated. At least twice, Axl Rose shut down his bandmates, once when they’d been fooling around with a Van Halen song and another time when they were thumping away at a riff suggesting “Guns N’ Roses, Guns N’ Roses.”

The last word: "Did I say thank you?" Axl Rose asks as he leaves for the last time. Yes, you did — and it was sweet.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The author got 1 right: what the hell is pitman doing there? He can contribute to songs and arrangements and not be on stage, just like West Arkeen once did (RIP).