Live: Guns n’ Roses, Houston
Wow, if there was ever a case of a rock band being much better than expected/advertised, Guns n’ Roses on Friday night in Houston fits the bill. After hearing endless warnings that leader Axl Rose would take the stage with a “tribute” band of half-ass nobodies, the Guns n’ Roses franchise I witnessed is worthy and rockin’.
Oh sure, Slash is sorely missed but the guitar work of flashy stand-in DJ Ashba goes deeper than the beat-up top hat. Time and again, Ashba stood atop a speaker or other onstage prop and squeezed mighty riffs out of his Les Paul that I’m not sure even the Slashster could conjure. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who’s been with GNR at least since the Use Your Illusion days, wasn’t as visible a link to the past as he could have been but it was nice to have him around as well. Likewise with bassist Tommy Stinson, who was a founding member of Minneapolis punksters the Replacements – he got a spotlight too, and he rocked the Who’s “My Generation.”
And Axl – oh boy, Rose is still the consummate showman. I was thrilled to see him do that trademark Indian war-dance hop-step twirl thing with the mic stand, and he wailed convincingly throughout the show, even though the Toyota Center mix buried his vocals a little.
But there were moments when his banshee howl cracked through the rock thunder of the band, and those were the best of the night: “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Rocket Queen,” even “Chinese Democracy,” which opened the set.
The band honored its influences with two covers of AC/DC (“Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Riff Raff”) as well as classics GNR have turned into standards: “Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Spotlights on the three guitarists (Ashba, Richard Fortus and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal) continued the trip down memory lane: Fortus rocked the “James Bond Theme,” Thal offered a screaming “Pink Panther Theme.” Ashba got esoteric with his original instrumental “Mi Amor” which led into a rousing “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Not to be outshone instrumentally, Axl played some piano and plunked out some Elton John in the form of an instrumental “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” While he was seated at the keys, Rose then wailed a smashing “November Rain.”
Notorious for long delays before coming onstage, GNR emerged at a decent hour (about 10:30 p.m.) and played a nearly three-hour set of 26 songs before coming back for a lengthy five-song encore. The usher for our section reminded us at one point, “The bar’s open till 1:30.” And when we were leaving the venue, an employee sent us off with a cheery “Good morning!”
With Guns n’ Roses still ringing in our ears, it certainly was.
Sorry my photos are so crummy, but they were sort of an afterthought at this show.
YouTube: “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at Toyota Center (I shot one too, and although my video is better the audio really sucks.)