Archive for Axl Rose

Rock and Roll Identity Crisis

Posted in Rock Rant with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2011 by 30daysout

Axl Rose with guitarist DJ Ashba, ostensibly Slash's replacement - is it really GNR?

Walking into Houston’s Toyota Center for the big Guns N’ Roses show last week, we overheard people asking each other incredulously: “Slash is NOT with them???” Well, no. The guitarist left in 1996, on not-so-friendly terms with lead singer Axl Rose. As did pretty much all of the other original band members. So who was playing that Friday night in Houston?

Was it Axl and a bunch of no-name scabs? Hardly – this version of Guns N’ Roses can certainly deliver the goods and is totally worthy of the name. But what happens when other popular rock groups hit the road with just one or two original members in tow? Is it still the same group we know and love?

Lynyrd Skynyrd's current guitar lineup includes (from left) Rickey Medlocke, Sparky Matjeka, original member Gary Rossington and bassist Robert Kearns.

Just a week before GNR, we saw Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top in Austin. Skynyrd has had more attrition than any other rock band in memory, after a plane crash that killed original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister and backup singer Cassie Gaines. Other original members have also died or retired; the current Skynyrd lineup contains only one original member, guitarist Gary Rossington.

Skynyrd became stars in 1973 with their debut album, so the crash meant that the classic lineup was in the national limelight for only about four years. The new Skynyrd lineup has been together, with various members, since 1987. So is it Lynyrd Skynyrd? Probably it’s a really good tribute band – paying tribute to itself.

In some cases it’s clear cut: it can never be the Rolling Stones unless Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts are involved, but if John Fogerty hired a new rhythm section and toured as Creedence, why not? If Van Halen tours with David Lee Roth, the only person who may dispute the authenticity would be Sammy Hagar, sitting in his living room. Classic ’70s bands Foreigner and Journey hired new lead singers and have both re-recorded their old hits – Walmart shoppers picking up the new CDs probably don’t know, or don’t care.

It gets stickier with bands with well-known, or even beloved, members playing behind the lead singer. Can Bruce Springsteen tour without Clarence Clemons and still call it the E Street Band? Heartbreaking as that may be, that’s probably what he will do. If Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston hit the road next year, can they still call themselves the Beach Boys? Probably. The Kinks? Only if Ray and Dave Davies are both on board.

What's Bruce Springsteen gonna do without Clarence Clemons?

Some years ago David Gilmour fronted a Pink Floyd lineup that included original members Rick Wright and Nick Mason, but not Roger Waters. It worked for millions, if not for Roger. The Who have been diminished by half, but Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend still sell a lot of tickets under the Who banner. If Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones can talk Robert Plant into a tour, Led Zeppelin will most certainly pack ’em in.

And I suppose that’s what it all boils down to: will the audience accept a lineup that isn’t original? Ask Axl Rose, while he’s counting the gate receipts from the current Guns N’ Roses tour, and the answer is yes – in some cases.

– Denny Angelle

YouTube: Guns N’ Roses playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in Houston (the sound is horrible, but you can see it was a crowd favorite).

This one’s MUCH better – “Welcome To The Jungle” on 11/17 in New Jersey

Live: Guns n’ Roses, Houston

Posted in Review with tags , , on November 5, 2011 by 30daysout

Axl Rose brought his new-version Guns n' Roses to Houston Friday night.

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’.

Three guitarists! Including Richard Fortus, top, and flashy DJ Ashba, bottom. That's bassist Tommy Stinson (from the Replacements!) in the middle.

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.”

You callin' this a 'tribute band'???

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.

Axl with Bumblefoot playing to the crowd.

Axl Rose with a different hat this time.

Thank god for that little platform on stage right - without it I'd have no photos!

YouTube: “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at Toyota Center (I shot one too, and although my video is better the audio really sucks.)

Review: “Chinese Democracy,” Guns N’ Roses

Posted in Review with tags , , on November 19, 2008 by 30daysout

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Can this really be the most anticipated rock album of all time?  Chinese Democracy, fifteen years in the making and delayed many times, finally arrives (exclusively at Best Buy stores) this weekend.  And the $64,000 question: is it any good?  Well, it ain’t bad.  The title song kicks off the album and after a buildup of nearly a minute’s worth of people babbling in Chinese and siren sound effects, the guitars kick in.  Guns N’ Roses frontman/mastermind Axl Rose is back with his trademark yowl, and “Chinese Democracy” is a standout rock tune.  “Shackler’s Revenge” continues the rock ride with some nice distorted guitar soloing Tom Morello-style.  “Better” is the album’s second single (after the title song) and it wouldn’t be out of place on, say, Use Your Illusion I.   

The rest of the album is all over the place – there are choirs, string sections, wild solos from about 30,000 guitarists (I tried to count how many different guitar players are credited but I kept losing count – and yeah, that Buckethead guy is here).  Chinese Democracy has more than its share of WTF? moments: “Madagascar,” while not a bad song, has some clips from Martin Luther King Jr. speeches as well as sound bites from movies like Cool Hand Luke and Mississippi Burning.  Huh?  “Street Of Dreams” (also known as “The Blues” to you downloaders) is a rough ballad that begins with a piano solo straight out of the Elton John songbook.  

But there are also certainly some moments of rock grandeur: “There Was A Time” has an epic feel to it, as its guitars shred against a synth orchestra backing, while “IRS” and “Riad N’ The Bedouins” benefit from their lean, relatively stripped-down approaches.  Certainly this is an ambitious album – it could be Axl Rose’s Pet Sounds – but it ultimately can’t live up to the hype.  What could?  Nevertheless, Chinese Democracy is a listenable album, one that rock fans shouldn’t mind seeing under the tree this Christmas.   

Stream the entire album here (Guns N’ Roses MySpace page)

Guns N’ Roses official website