|GnR a good thing for rock-loving night owls
by Jen Sharpe
If you had a spelling test—or a hearing test—on your Tuesday morning agenda, chances are you missed Monday night’s concert at the MTS Centre. The eye-opening, ear-busting show was definitely not for those with school night curfews or sensitive hearing, but that’s a good thing. At a Guns ‘n Roses concert, a healthy dose of F-bombs and fireballs is expected. Encouraged, perhaps, if you proved your stamina with general admission floor seats.
From 8:00pm to just after 2:00am, risqué dancers, squealing guitars, and classic hard rock tunes kept 11,000 GnR fans rocking for six solid hours. After a skin-baring performance by the Suicide Girls, a heavy half-hour show from Helmet, and a 75-minute set from former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, headlining Guns ‘n Roses took to the stage just before midnight.
Fronted by the fiery Axl Rose, GnR opened up their set with “Welcome to the Jungle” from 1987’s Appetite for Destruction. With two keyboardists, three guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer in his GnR army, rock star Rose commanded the stage and the crowd with veteran know-how.
This isn’t surprising, because the band—in all of its permutations—has been delivering killer rock shows for over 20 years. Although Axl is the only remaining original member, the band was a cohesive unit onstage, covering classic GnR tunes like “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Mr. Brownstone” flawlessly.
Though his bandmates have changed, Axl has resisted the ravages of time: plenty of pecs and nary a wrinkle, the 44-year-old looks better than he did decades ago. Sporting Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, skin-tight jeans, and neatly braided hair, Mr. Rose let his bandmates cover the grungy, gritty aspect of rock-n-roll style.
Though he looks shiny and new, Axl’s voice is as nasal and squealy as it ever was. That’s also a good thing. Even through the softer tunes (and there were quite few), the famed frontman can hit the high notes and hold the long ones just like in his heyday.
The show was peppered with memorable moments, including a mid-set visit by Bubbles of The Trailer Park Boys, stories about border crossing troubles, and a handful of lighter-lit ballads.
For at least one concert reviewer, Guns n’ Roses also managed to clear up a long-held misconception: Turns out “November Rain,” “Patience,” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” aren’t best enjoyed while slow dancing in Junior High. The lighters, the crowd, and Axl’s on-stage antics top any butterflies you — okay . . . I — may have felt in an echoey gym. That’s a very good thing.
By David Schmeichel
And here we thought Axl Rose didn't have a sense of humour.
Well, the Guns N'Roses frontman laid that notion to rest about 90 minutes into last night's MTS Centre gig, when he was joined onstage by not only his new best buddy Sebastian Bach, but also myopic dimwit Bubbles (aka former Sandbox guitarist Mike Smith) of Canadian cult TV show Trailer Park Boys.
"This is a song I like to do back at the legion,"said Bubbles, after teasing the crowd with the opening riff from Rush's Closer to the Heart, then launching into his self-penned ditty Liquor and Whores. "Ah, f---, am I excited!"
The comic relief was a welcome break in what proved to be a nearly two-and-a-half hour set, one that didn't get underway until midnight on the dot, but which unfolded as smoothly as anyone could have hoped for (particularly the venue staffers who were ready to roll out an ominous-sounding 'Plan B' should the singer have decided not to go on).
There were no abrupt cancellations, no riots, and no unruly fans were tackled by a pissed-off Axl Rose. Most notably, of course, there was no pissed-off Axl Rose; in fact, except for a slight sense of anti-climax, last night's show pretty much went off without a hitch.
Sounding not at all temperamental (or hostile, or crazy, or any of the other things we worried he might be), Rose first took centre stage to the unmistakable opening riff of Welcome To the Jungle, looking every bit the rock star in a leather jacket, jeans and black shades. He took a few minutes to find his groove, rushing the lyrics at points and appearing a bit more concerned with executing his snake-shimmy dance moves than anything else.
But he soon hit his stride with It's So Easy, switching effortlessly between a spooky lower register and the ear-piercing howl that first earned him his place as one of rock's most distinctive frontmen.
"It's not that we're not into it," Rose assured the crowd of 11,000, after making reference to the repetitive nature of a touring show. "It's like dancing the tango or a bossa nova, only here we're dancing with guitars."
A pyro-heavy version of the Wings classic Live and Let Die was followed by the vaguely industrial-sounding Better (from the still unreleased Chinese Democracy album). Then Sweet Child O'Mine, on which Axl proved he can (mostly) still hit all the high notes, and an appropriately epic take on Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door, which had the MTS Centre blanketed in lighters and cell phones.
After a blistering crack at You Could Be Mine, keyboardist Dizzy Reed (a holdover from the Use Your Illusion years), brought the lighters back with a piano version of the Rolling Stones‚ Angie, before segueing neatly into the sweeping ballad The Blues, and a cover of the UK Subs' Down On the Farm.
The other musicians backing Axl last night couldn't quite erase the memory of Slash and Duff, but they more than held their own, (though we suppose it would be tough to screw up songs as genius as Out Ta Get Me, November Rain, Patience or Night Train, all of which were note-perfect last night).
Besides, Axl with a new band is better than no Axl at all, as the brains behind 'Plan B' will no doubt agree and seriously, how many rockers require contingency plans?
Early arrivals last night were greeted by quasi-strippers the Suicide Girls, along with last-minute additions Helmet (filling in for the Eagles of Death Metal, who were unceremoniously yanked from the bill two weeks ago). Like Axl, Helmet frontman Page Hamilton is touring with a brand new band these days, and while it was good to hear the group's staccato riffs again, we couldn't help but notice their high point was the stoner-rock throwback See You Dead, which sounded an awful lot like something Eagles of Death Metal axeman Josh Homme might have cranked out with that other band of his.
As for former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, well, despite coming off as a bit of an Axl-worshipping sycophant, he still did a decent job of keeping the crowd warmed up while they waited for the real show to start, even cutting the intro to Big Guns short when fans didn't go crazy enough.
"You know I'm a f---ing Canadian, right?" he shrieked repeatedly, during a vibrato-heavy set that also included Slave To the Grind, Monkey Business, 18 and Life, and American (okay, Canadian) Metalhead. "I wanna see the Winnipeg I f---ing remember!"
Moments later, Bach proved his memory wasn't quite as good where national anthems are concerned, goofing the words to an impromptu version of O Canada. Oh, and before he left, he had security guards eject a pint-sized fan from the front row, apparently just to prove that he could.
Now what was that we were saying about not having a sense of humour?
Guns N‚ Roses
Monday @ MTS Centre
4 stars out of 5