Guns N' Roses House Of Blues Las Vegas, NV  

House of Blues
Las Vegas, NV
December 31, 2000

Just after a 3:30 AM on the first day of the 21st Century at Las Vegas' House of Blues in the Mandelay Bay Hotel and Casino, Guns n' Roses fans witnessed what many thought was about as likely as Chinese Democracy - the sight of W. Axl Rose taking the stage.

Guns N' Roses 1989 masterpiece, Appetite For Destruction, was the biggest-selling debut album of all time. But by 1993, after countless highly publicized battles with drugs, each other, spouses, the media, the law and pretty much anyone who came within 10 feet of the band, G n' R went from being the biggest band in the world to rock n' roll caricatures of excess and stupidity. Soon after, the group all but officially broke up and Rose disappeared from the national spotlight. Suddenly Axl gossip became a cottage industry: an alleged weight problem, mental break-downs, obsession with a guru named "Yoda," writer's block, supposed baldness - the once notorious singer became the Howard Hughes of rock n' roll. That is until this New Years, when it looked like W. Axl Rose decided he wanted to be a rock star again.

Amidst an assault of lasers, strobes and a video montage of apocalyptic images, the new regime of G n' R began much like the old by taking no prisoners. Launching immediately into a searing version of "Welcome to the Jungle," a buffer, thicker Rose emerged looking like a hulking mountain man with his face partially obscured by wrap-around, mirrored sunglasses and long, straight red hair.

Wearing a kimono/baseball jersey decorated with Chinese Dragons and loose-fitting athletic pants, Rose seemed momentarily startled when he stepped on stage. It was almost as if even the great Axl was daunted by his return to the public eye. But that would last only a few seconds. As soon as he nailed the first of his trademark earsplitting caterwauls, Axl was once again the proud lion and lord of the jungle.

It was readily apparent that Rose was out to prove that the "new" G n' R comprised of Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails, Tommy Stinson of the Replacements on bass, oddball guitarist/performance artist Buckethead on guitar, Paul Tobias (a.k.a. Paul Huge) on guitar, longtime Guns sideman Dizzy Reed and Replicants' Chris Pittman on keyboards and Primus' Brian "Brian" Mantia on drums were more than capable of playing every G n' R classic with an almost uncanny precision. "Welcome to the Jungle," "It's So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone" and "My Michelle" were exacting replicas of the album versions. Even Axl's vocals proved he could hit every note exactly the same - if not better than the old days.

Between songs, Axl spoke warmly to the crowd of only 1,700, joking that he had been "taking a nap for about 8 years," and confessing that he had attended rehearsal, sound check and was performing with an actual set list for the first time in his entire career. "I was afraid I would jinx things - like a baseball player changing his socks, " said Rose.

After Rose and friends blistered through spot-on renditions of G n' R's hits, they offered up some slightly varied song interpretations. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Patience" were bluesy and warm and both benefited from Stinson and Finck's solid harmonies and "Nightrain" was an ear-shattering rocker.

One of the show's most impressive moments was when Rose pushed back his sunglasses and delivered an almost painfully poignant rendition of "Sweet Child of Mine." As a giant video screen above the stage projected a close up of Rose's intense, somber expression, he sang the song he had written for his former wife Erin Everly (who later divorced Rose and filed domestic abuse charges against him). Suddenly the lyrics, "I'd hate to look into your eyes and see an ounce of pain," sounded genuinely apologetic and "where will we go now?" sounded like a tortured question instead of a vicious ultimatum.

There was no question the new line up sounded like Guns n' Roses, but they certainly didn't look like them. Rather, they resembled a collection of oddball superheroes. From Buckethead's trademark inverted Kentucky Fried Chicken Bucket hat and kabuki mask - to Stinson's dapper 50's-style suit and Finck's stormtrooper garb - it was a little like Bizzaro World Guns n' Roses.

The show also had its quirky moments including Buckethead's brief nunchaku/breakdance routine as well as a his snappy hoe down guitar interlude - which was greeted with boos and shouts of "Slash!" A brief tongue-in-cheek, animated short with a voice-over by Rose himself opened the show which depicting a geriatric "Uncle Axl" enjoying his daily high colonic (an obvious nod to recent rumors that Rose had become a bizarre recluse).

Sticking mostly to the hits throughout the two-hour set, the band did offer up four new tracks from their upcoming album, Chinese Democracy (scheduled for a June release). Many of the new singles approached the band's old material, but seemed a little odd. Every time a new song was played, you had to question whether it was new material you had never heard before - or old material you had just forgotten. However, the first song in the band's encore, a cyber punk rocker (possibly titled "Oklahoma") had the crowd raging.

Will the "new" Guns 'n' Roses fly with fans? The band certainly proved they can replicate the hits live, but a new album will be the real proof. Is Axl Rose actually a self-depreciating, humble man these days? Doubtful, but perhaps a smarter, humbled one.

--Elizabeth Chanley--

1.Welcome to the Jungle
2. It's So Easy
3. Mr. Brownstone
4. Live and Let Die
5. Oh, My God
6. My Michelle
7. Think About You
8. You Could Be Mine
9. Sweet Child O' Mine
10. Knockin' On Heaven's Door
11. November Rain
12. Out Ta Get Me
13. Rocket Queen
15. Chinese Democracy (NEW SONG)
** (Buckethead interlude)
16. Patience
17. The Blues (NEW SONG)
18. Nightrain

19. Oklahoma (NEW SONG)
20. Paradise City (Thanks to: Elizabeth)






Copyright © 2001 Jarmo Luukkonen