Guns N' Roses' Las Vegas Show Plagued By Bad Sound; Axl Rose Goes Off Onstage  

Has the bloom come off the Rose? That question lingered during Axl Rose & Co.'s two-night stint at the Joint at the Hard Rock Café Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas this New Year's weekend.

Rose's problems started even before the band took the stage Saturday (Dec. 29) for the first of two shows. After selling out last year's New Year's Eve's Vegas show in minutes, tickets remained on sale until the day before each show.

About an hour after the listed start time of 10 p.m., Rose walked out onstage in a Rich Gannon Oakland Raiders jersey, flanked by guitarists Buckethead (dressed in highway-marking yellow pants and smock, Michael Myers mask, and trademark KFC bucket on his head) and Paul Tobias on stage left; bassist Tommy Stinson -- who's put on a few pounds -- and Nine Inch Nails' guitarist Robin Finck on stage right; Brian "Brain" Mantia on a raised drumset behind Rose; and keyboardists Chris Pittman and Dizzy Reed in the upper left and right corners, respectively. Behind the band, 40 TV monitors and two giant TV screens flashed apocalyptic fireballs, psychedelic color bursts, images of war and car-crash carnage, as well as images of the band.

Guns opened the two-hour set with promise as the band ripped through "Welcome to the Jungle," and Rose showed he's still fond of the snaky dance moves and incessant stage-wandering of his earlier GN'R days. Without a word from the singer between songs, Guns blew through "It's So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone," and "Live and Let Die" with an energy that augured well for the evening. The band played extremely tight and Rose's voice was in perfect form. An overlong acoustic number by Buckethead that segued from Willy Wonka-esque riffs into the hackneyed "Eruption" served two purposes: Stopping the momentum of the set in its tracks and reminding everyone in the audience that, in Rock God status, Buckethead is no Slash. (Slash, meanwhile, was spotted walking around the casino with his guitar in hand, though an onstage appearance never transpired.)

But on "Oh My God," no sound came through Rose's mike, and while he went looking for a replacement, Finck inexplicably threw his guitar across stage. After the song, the band left and a tech announced, "We'll be right back." When they returned, Rose had ditched the Gannon jersey to go shirtless under a blue-velvet British soldier-style trench coat. But the vocal problems remained throughout the night, as Rose's lyrics disappeared in the harder-rocking moments of new Guns tracks like "Silkworms" and classics "You Could Be Mine" and "Sweet Child O' Mine." The mix problems meant no one could hear much of Rose, at which point most of the audience had to wonder -- "Did I just pay $200 to hear Stinson's backup vocals?" Perhaps the low moment came when the entire band sounded completely out of sync on "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."

After a quick two hours, the band closed with an inspired take on "Paradise City," and left without an encore. Most who attended the New Year's Eve show, however, opined that it was not just better than the Saturday night show, but it was even better than last year's impressive New Year's Eve gig.

It was hard not to feel robbed by the events of the evening, even if the main problem was mostly beyond the band's control. People (including this reviewer) who sat in dreadful $250 balcony seats -- stuck behind two rows of VIP seating that obstructed the view of the stage -- were particularly vocal in their displeasure at the venue for advertising the seats (on Ticketmaster) as "best available," when $100 floor seats offered much better sight lines. The box office made the hollow offer to refund the tickets, at the price of not seeing the sold-out show (i.e., you just pay for airfare and hotel to NOT see GN'R).

During a 10-minute mid-concert apologia, Rose rambled semi-coherently on how the record company, the studio, the producers, and everyone in the band "dropped the ball" in the last year until "we didn't know what the ball was." He explained that ticket prices were so high because of the expense to do one-off shows. He said the band was working "every fucking day," and that their new material "will knock the fucking ball out of the park." He told an anecdote about being moved when a man in an elevator thanked him for playing a show. He claimed to have learned about Guns' cancelled European tour via the Internet, to which someone in the audience screamed: "Aw, bullshit! Get a manager!"

In his rant, Rose also said that the show last year was a farewell to the old, while this year's show was a "taste of something new." But it was hard to believe him because Guns did not play any new songs that they hadn't already played live previously, leaving one to wonder where Rose plans to go with his new band mates. The feeling after the show was that Rose and his band are still in search of an identity: Right now, this incarnation is no more Guns N' Roses than the Stones would be the Stones if only Mick Jagger remained in the band.

-- Sam Jemielity