For GNR, the wait is worth it
- Jon Bream, Star Tribune
Band's full tilt performance runs 2 1/2 hours.
Axl Rose, despite all his foibles, worth it. At least he was Tuesday night at the Target Center. The lead singer of Guns N' Roses is the most exciting figure in rock at the moment. Onstage he was volatile, combustible, manic and crazed. His psychic energy was working overtime. He was mesmerizing and unpredictable; you had no idea what he would do next, and neither did he. Moreover, he was an effective singer, part heavy-metal banshee, part lowdown bluesman.
On Tuesday night, it was easy to forget what a pain in the butt Axl has been to his neighbors, his ex-wife, his band mates, the media, his record label, concert security workers, his home state, and the world at large. On Tuesday night he wasn't doing Blunders N' Poses. He came to rock with his heart and soul, though he did have one outburst at a fan waving an offensive message, and he did indulge in more costume changes than Cher. His dynamic, edgy performance combined with Slash's emotional and versatile guitar work made the 2 1/2 hour concert highly rewarding, although it was uneven.
Guns N' Roses may be America's biggest rock band, but it certainly isn't the best. Often times Tuesday the arrangements lacked focus and the band- Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy, Gilby and Matt- lacked road-tested tightness. (The drummer and rhythm guitarist have signed on within the last year; three horn players, two backup singers and a second keyboardist have been added for this tour.) GNR's material is inconsistent, embracing classics ("Welcome to the Jungle," "Sweet Child O' Mine") as well as clunkers, and their set was awkwardly paced.
Influenced by the Rolling Stones' music, style, image and excess, the Gunners showed a propensity for self-indulgence. They devoted a 15 minute segment to mindless solos by drummer Matt Sorum and Slash, and new rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke joined Slash for an ineffective instrumental rendition of the Stones' "Wild Horses." Throughout the concert, Axl had the disconcerting habit of leaving the stage every time Slash played a solo, usually to return wearing a different shirt, coat or hat.
Axl and Slash, GNR's chief songwriting team, make an odd couple. Onstage, Axl is a hyperkinetic exhibitionist with an endless array of outfits, Slash an introspective musician lost in his music and obscured by curls hanging in his face. At times Slash strutted around the stage striking rock-star poses, but compared to Axl- well the manic mouthpiece darted around the ramps and runways at full speed leaping over speakers, monitors and Sorum's drum kit. Even during tender ballads, Axl scurried around at full tilt boogie.
The exceptional work of the live video-camera operators provided wonderful closeups of Axl's crazed eyes and Slash's facile but not flashy fingers, as well as the playing of the other musicians. (All 16,000 people got to see closeups of Slash's tattoos.) The movements onstage were spontaneous, but the camera people stayed right on top of the action.
One of the most striking images the cameras captured was Axl sitting at the grand piano. He had sliced his right hand in an accident last week in Dayton, Ohio, after which GNR canceled two concerts. The hand was bandaged Tuesday, and he had extra padding around his thumb, which he removed when he sat at the piano. Here was this wild man, wearing a football jersey emblazoned with "Mean Machine," his sweaty long hair stuck to his stuble-covered face, playing a classical flourish on a grand piano that gave way to the tender ballad "November Rain."
Axl, 29, seemed a master of the outrageous juxtaposition. One moment he was doing a singing impression of TV's Mr. Rogers, and the next moment was impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegegger in "Terminator 2." One minute he was crooning his eerie version of Paul McCartney's "Live And Let Die" and the next he stopped, berating a concertgoer holding a sign and then ordering a security guard to remove the man; the next minute Axl announced, "Pick a place Slash man," and the song continued. Among the highlights in the first of GNR's two Target Center concerts (the second was last night) were the opening salvo of "Welcome to the Jungle," "Mr. Brownstone" and "Bad Obsession"; the multidimensional "Civil War"; the powerful "Sweet Child O' Mine"; the moody medium tempo "Estranged," and the closing pop-rock crunch of "Paradise City," after which, at 2:05 AM, Axl tossed roses to the crowd.