Friday Night: Guns N' Roses At Toyota Center
Let's get it all out in the open.
Photos by Marco Torres
Axl Rose, we've been told, is a head case who ran off Slash and Izzy and the rest of his former bandmates with his increasingly erratic and dictatorial behavior. The delays behind "Guns N' Roses" latest album, Chinese Democracy, became the music industry's longest running joke before it was finally released in 2008, some 14 years after initial work on the album began.
Oh, and he's fat.
Not to dredge up old, tired material, but it's impossible to review GnR's first Houston show since 1992 without viewing it in the context of the past 20 years. It may not matter if Axl is a whack job, or if his retinue of support players are mostly hired guns (heh) brought on board to staff this latest incarnation of the band. What matters is if Rose and company can still deliver the goods. After a 3+ hour set on Friday night at the Toyota Center, Rocks Off thinks the answer would have to be: pretty much, yeah.
Our first (and last) experience seeing GnR live was in 1991 at the Starplex in Dallas, the first post-St. Louis riot show, when it seemed eminently plausible there might be a repeat of the previous date's mayhem. There was a two-hour gap between openers Skid Row and the band's appearance, leading to much consternation (a situation not helped by the fact we were in Dallas, outdoors, in July).
By comparison, the Gunners took the stage Friday at 10:30, a modest 90 minutes after the end of opener Buckcherry's set. Worse, to some, they opened with the title cut off Chinese Democracy, which doesn't seem like the best way to win the crowd back, but then public relations have never been Axl's specialty.
"Democracy" was followed by "Welcome to the Jungle," and they were off. Axl and crew didn't disappoint those anticipating a trip down memory lane, offering up "Mr. Brownstone," "Rocket Queen," and of course, "Sweet Child O' Mine" from Appetite. There were also a few choice cuts from the Use Your Illusion albums, including one of our person favorites, "Estranged."
We admit, we were expecting a train wreck, and ended up pleasantly surprised. The band, consisting of *three* guitarists, ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, drummer Frank Ferrer, and longtime Guns keyboardist Dizzy Reed, were on the money most of the night. And if Axl's voice is no longer the keeing wail we remember from the Appetite for Destruction/Use Your Illusion days, it was still powerful enough to hit most of the notes.
As far as we could tell, that is. The vocals at Toyota Center were terribly muddy from where Rocks Off was sitting, with large sections dropping out entirely.
The set relied heavily on Appetite -- much to the delight of those attending -- and Democracy -- much to the delight of those needing a bathroom break. We kid, mostly. The new stuff sounded fine, it was just apparent few in the audience were familiar with songs like "Better" and even their quote-unquote singles like "Shackler's Revenge."
For all you read about the man, we were expecting some drama Friday night, but Axl seemed loose and at ease on stage. The only odd thing we noticed was how he kept ducking into an tent near the back of the stage to change hats and/or jackets every couple songs. Frankly, we'll take Axl going all Stevie Nicks over him storming off after three songs.
Though it was perhaps telling that he and Dizzy Reed, the only other holdover from the Use Your Illusion days, never got closer than 50 feet to each other all night.