- Gary Cee, Circus Magazine
Sure there was some grumbling among the fans as the clock struck 10:30 p.m. and still no sign of Guns N' Roses. But a minute later, Axl Rose and his Hollywood hellraisers hit the stage of Madison Square Garden. They didn't come up for air until 1:20 a.m. Twenty-two songs - just about all their hits , many of them longer versions of their recorded counterparts - and nobody asked for a second encore. The audience was drained.
"Welcome To The Jungle,." The lead-off track from Guns first album, Appetite For Destruction, was the perfect opener. Guns N' Roses wrote this anthem about the mean streets of America's biggest cities, but tonight the song carries a different meaning. It's a ferocious introduction to an evening where anything could happen.
Axl Rose, unshaven and clad in red jacket and bike shorts, flies across the bandstand with outstretched arms, reaching every point of the expansive stage. When he sings, he spits venom into his wireless mic. Slash, his trademark top hat nestled atop black mop-top locks, milks his Gibson Les Paul guitar for soulful licks Les himself would be jealous of. Bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum hammer down a bottom end more powerful than thunderclaps. Replacement guitarist Gilby Clarke capably fills Izzy Stradlin's shoes, and darts helter-skelter across the stage like an arena-rock veteran. (It's hard not to wonder what's going through Clarke's head. A month ago, he was just another anonymous Hollywood guitarist. Tonight, he's on one of the world's most famous stages with thousands cheering him on.)
The first few numbers move briskly, though "Mr. Brownstone" and "My Michelle." On Paul McCartney's "Live And Let Die," Rose delivers one of the evening's most powerful vocals. When he lunges over a small riser positioned at center stage to deliver the song's title line, his yearning to connect with every soul in the Garden is obvious. Real rebels might not wear jackets that say REBEL on them, like Rose does, but when Roses gets down to business, he's rock's greatest frontman.
"Civil War," "You Could Be Mine," and "Patience" keep the program on a steady pace, but unfortunately, the second hour becomes a bit plodding. The band's choice to work spontaneously without a set list, a welcome proposition, creates a second half bogged down with stretches of slower songs and extended guitar and drum solos that meander along. The sluggishness lessens a band of such supreme stature.
Slash resurrects the Morris Albert song "Feelings" during his solo, and shows why superstars from Bob Dylan to Michael Jackson want Slash's licks on their records. He takes what once was an overexposed maudlin melody and makes it hauntingly beautiful and original.
The program proper closes with an extended audience sing-along, "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." The Gunners return for one encore, and say good-night with "Paradise City." Just about every Gunner has his shirt off now, pouring their heart and soul into the song and rocking with a wild abandon rarely seen on arena stages these days. The nearly three-hour show could've used more of these moments, but that's a minor point. Guns N' Roses are arena rock at its best.