Guns n’ Roses current line up gets a lot of flack for not featuring the original musicians, basically being Axl Rose’s solo band. And I’m one of these people putting down “new GNR”. My wife being a huge fan, this was my third time seeing that incarnation of the band in concert (I’ve seen the original lineup in ’88 opening for Iron Maiden). The first time in 2006, I thought the music sounded like it was played by a bunch of robots. Axl’s new buddies are all very talented musicians, but it fell short on the attitude, soul and “danger”. In 2010, the band benefited from the addition of guitarist DJ Ashba who definitely comes from a more rock ‘n roll background and fits the GNR vibe better, but the show suffered from having way too many songs from Chinese Democracy in the setlist.
So when the band announced a club show in Montreal (the Metropolis holds about 2000 people), I was curious, and dubious about the results. Of course, not going would probably have been ground for divorce (or something like that since we’re not really married) so we bought (expensive) tickets to the show. Would Axl show up on time? I also didn’t take a chance and didn’t bring my camera. I remember St-Louis and Montreal has had enough of one GNR related riot. So please excuse the iPhone pictures. Yes, I was a wannabe hipster. Although no hipster would be caught dead at a Guns N’ Roses show, of course.
We showed up early but a sizeable lineup was already snaking around the venue. We still managed to get a good spot on the floor, center stage about 9 rows away from the stage. The opener, Head of the Herd, showed up right on time, but surprised a lot of people. As far as I can tell they were announced on the day of the show so many people didn’t know there would be an opening act. The Vancouver act, which describes itself as “modern blues with a hell of an edge” on their website went over well with the crowd, which surprised me a little since they weren’t exactly a great fit for the Guns N’ Roses crowd. But their musicianship and enthusiasm quickly won over the crowd over their 30 minute set. Check out their Soundcloud player at the end of this article. I thought they were good, but need an opening and closing song to make their set more cohesive.
Then came the wait. Head of the Herd left the stage at 10PM, and the promoter had announced a set time of 10:15PM for GNR. How long would Axl make us wait? (Axl Rose and Montreal have a lot of history together, mostly the 1992 riot at the Olympic Stadium when Axl decided that 45 minutes was enough for a headlining set). Scattered chants of ” GUNS.. AND… ROSES!” went off here and there, and to everyone’s surprise, the lights went down at 10:20PM and the band hit the stage. I mean, 5 minutes is not even worth mentioning for Axl Rose; I’m tempted to think he had to use a time machine to be that on time!
The band hit the stage to the chords of Chinese Democracy and the place went nuts. Right after, DJ Ashba went into the classic delay intro to Welcome to the Jungle and the whole floor started jumping. As if that wasn’t enough, bassist Tommy Stinson then started the classic bass riff to It’s So Easy. That song talks about how easy it was for them to pick up girls when they ruled the Sunset Strip before getting signed, but at that instant, it could have been about how easy it is for Axl to get the crowd on his side with a catalog that contains so many classics.
The band was firing on all cylinders, and can honestly say that they blew away the other two performances I saw from them. NOW they sound like a down and dirty rock n’roll band. After plowing through Mr Brownstone, the band offered a majestic version of Estranged, followed by Better, one the, well, better tracks from Chinese Democracy. All the musicians got solo spots which were usually tastefully done, with covers worked in or songs from their solo careers. While these brought down the energy level, there were some good moments in the lot, and these spots had the merit of showcasing the musicians in their own element instead of covering the old band’s music. My favourite was DJ Ashba’s spot, which led into Sweet Child o’ Mine. Axl’s voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, but during this one and all the classic hits it didn’t matter: the crowd sang every word, every note with him. He may have written that song about a girlfriend of his, but it now belongs to a generation that grew up with it, and found its way through life with these songs as their soundtrack.
One thing that struck me is how appropriate the small stage is to Guns N’ Roses. Could it be that they blew up too fast? Did playing in stadiums around the world fuel their (or Axl’s) delusions of grandeur? The band seemed more grounded on the small stage. Live and Let Die kicked ass even without the fireworks. November Rain got the crowd worked up just as well (but I still maintain that while the guitar players play every note perfectly, the solos in this song lack Slash pouring his soul out on every note). I’m not sure why the band did so many covers though. The Neil Young cover in particular seemed quite superfluous. On the other hand, their version of The Seeker was really good, and I hope they record it at some point.
The show ended, as usual with Paradise City, under a seemingly endless stream of confetti. After 160 minutes of music, the fans left tired, and satiated. I’m sure there were quite a few unproductive people at work today! (I took the day off) I was pleasantly surprised at how good this show was. No, it’s not the original GNR. But the band has improved tremendously and gives a hell of a show. Would I rather see the original guys? Hell yes! I’d even prefer Slash with Miles Kennedy to be honest, but Axl and his guys gave a great show, and played a ton of hits that we grew up with. The 51 year old singer looked in shape (although he hid his expanding belly under extra large t-shirts. I know that trick!) and he was all smile (but not very talkative). Singing the high notes isn’t as easy at it used to be (and to be honest, the sound on the floor at the Metropolis always sucks so I may not have noticed most of the problems), but there was still enough of the larger than life rock star left for us to enjoy. Guns n’ Roses seems quite suited to these small venues; I hope they keep playing in them! I’m also curious as to what they could come up with for a new album. DJ Ashba co-wrote most of Mötley Crüe’s last album, Saints of Los Angeles, and it sounds like classic Crüe. Could he work the same magic with Axl? Hopefully they won’t take 10 years to come up with a follow up to Chinese Democracy…
- Chinese Democracy
- Welcome to the Jungle
- It’s So Easy
- Mr. Brownstone
- Rocket Queen
- Richard Fortus Guitar Solo (The Blacklight Jesus of Transylvania)
- Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
- This I Love
- Used to Love Her
- (Tommy Stinson song) (Tommy Stinson on lead vocals, with band introductions)
- Dizzy Reed Piano Solo (“No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin)
- Catcher in the Rye
- You Could Be Mine
- DJ Ashba Guitar Solo
- Sweet Child O’ Mine
- Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd cover) (with Axl on piano)
- November Rain
- Objectify (Bumblefoot cover) (Bumblefoot on lead vocals)
- Don’t Cry
- Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young cover)
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
- Jam (“Angie” by The Rolling Stones)
- The Seeker (The Who cover)
- Paradise City
Better pictures than mine (and a review in french that didn’t like the show as much as I did): http://www.sorstu.ca/critique-guns-n-roses-au-metropolis-de-montreal/
Head of the Herd
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