ROCK HEROES GIVE A MORONIC SHOW
- Harry Sumrall, Mercury News Music, 7.22.91
FIRST, the good news: There was no riot at the Guns N' Roses show Friday at Shoreline Amphitheater.
Now for the bad news: There was a Guns N' Roses show Friday at Shoreline Amphitheatre.
Guns N' Roses' performance, Friday -- the first of a two- night stand in the Bay Area -- proved just how far rock 'n' roll has sunk as an expressive form. It's bad enough when crummy rockers inflict themselves and their music on us but there is something infinitely more depressing when good rockers do the same.
And Guns N' Roses are good.
There were a few moments in group's two-and-a-quarter-hour set bristled with energy and intensity. Vocalist and all-around big mouth Axl Rose strutted and posed and shrieked his way through old songs and new with a feeling that was equaled by the drive and purpose of his mates.
On "Civil War," "Paradise City," and some other songs, the band members performed like true rock heroes -- which they are -- creating a grandiose sound that stirred the soul. And when they covered others' songs, they were just as accomplished. Their versions of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" were remarkable: They handily outdistanced the live versions of those songs by their creators (Dylan could take a cue from these guys on how to perform this masterpiece).
All of which was fine, as far as it went. But that wasn't good enough for Guns N' Roses. They had to go too far, which they did as often as possible at this idiotic, sophomoric, stupid, moronic show.
Rose was the chief culprit. Not content to perform the songs, he destroyed most of them with hysterical, screaming vocals that defaced melodies and shredded harmonies. On a perfectly decent ballad like "Fourteen Years" he pushed his way into guitarist Izzy Stradlin's performance and ruined it. And on his own GN'R warhorses like "Welcome To The Jungle," his vocals were a constant annoyance, his tuneless rantings making a mockery of the songs.
And when he wasn't singing, he was baiting the ravenous capacity crowd with antics that were hilariously dumb. He seemed to confuse expressing himself with throwing his mike stand, which he must have done a hundred times. Was that supposed to be exciting, Axl?
But Rose had his accomplices. Lead guitarist Slash proved at several points that he could, indeed, play his instrument (especially his bluesy, delicate reduction of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" that served as the intro to "Civil War"). But most of the time, like Rose, he preferred to make a splash, dispensing dithering flurries of notes that had little to do with the songs in any musical sense. At one point, he stood on a ramp at the back of the immense stage and spewed notes out by the thousand -- hasn't anyone told him that he could go blind doing, ah, that sort of thing?
New drummer Matt Sorum (formerly of the Cult) was just as flashy on his solo. While his rolls were often impressive, he subverted them to the lighting scheme that went with them and at the end he was joined by bassist Duff McKagan, who slammed out extra beats on a drum while Sorum did his stuff. It was simplistic; it was silly. And the crowd loved it.
That seemed to be the point of the whole exercise: Not to play music as well as they knew how; but to play to the crowd.
And did they know how!
But that isn't what rock 'n' roll is about, is it? Rock is -- or should be -- about rockers who have a feeling in their soul (and their solar plexus) that they have to express with music. And rock is about them doing that: making the rest of us feel that feeling through the music. It isn't -- or shouldn't be -- about mindless and cynical exploiters acting like a bunch of lunatics to placate the lowest common denominator in each of us.
Guns N' Roses could have made mighty rock 'n' roll, Friday. Instead, they spent most of their time making fools of themselves and all who saw them.