Guns N' Roses Live In Birmingham: Axl Is Still The King

Last Saturday saw the LG Arena in Birmingham play host to Guns N' Roses, and despite endless years of messing around with the original line up, the ever aging Axl Rose can still put on a performance.
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Last Saturday saw the LG Arena in Birmingham play host to Guns N' Roses, and despite endless years of messing around with the original line up, the ever aging Axl Rose can still put on a performance.

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No review of a Guns N’ Roses live show would be complete without a story of how Axl kept everyone waiting while he took a nap, consulted a medium, awaited the delivery of a square melon or some other level of uber-diva behaviour.

Except this one…

Probably no longer than half an hour after Thin Lizzy (these days fronted by ex-Almighty frontman Ricky Warwick, apparently) bring to an end probably the longest support slot I’ve ever witnessed, Axl is taking to the stage, punctual as you like.

He’s also got a shit eating grin slapped on his face that only disappears occasionally and seemingly with the utmost reluctance. Looks like we’ve caught him on a good night…

Despite the endless years of fucking about, the jettisoning of the iconic original line-up and the history of royally pissing off his fans, the prospect of Axl Rose prowling the stage can still generate genuine excitement.

As the Nu-GN’R logo rotates towards us on the screens, and we await the presence of the most dubiously dressed man in rock, a crescendo of anticipation builds that’s almost palpable.

That initial thrill wave is about as lively as the crowd gets during opener ‘Chinese Democracy’, with the first outbreak of moshing not arriving until they follow up with ‘Welcome to the Jungle’.

Proof, were it needed, that Axl’s long gestated opus is still some way off replacing ‘the old stuff’ in the hearts and minds of his long suffering fans.

The song already has one of the most pant wettingly exciting intros in rock and can’t be improved on. Pack it in man!

And there’s also the fact that the title track sounds not unlike The Darkness’ ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ as covered by Marilyn Manson.

Of course ‘Jungle’s still guaranteed to get the crowd bouncing, even after all these years.

But someone should really tell DJ Ashba (he replaced Buckethead, or was it Robin Finck? Anyway…) to stop trying to milk the intro with his cheesy ‘I can’t hear you’ schtick.

The song already has one of the most pant wettingly exciting intros in rock and can’t be improved on. Pack it in man!

Next up is ‘It’s So Easy’. Er, hang on, isn’t this…exactly the same set-list as their widely derided Carling Festival headline slots of a couple of years back?!

Hmmm. As proficiently as ‘New Guns’ are able to replicate both the ‘Chi-Dem’ songs and the old classics, it’s difficult to shake the feeling you’re at a tightly scripted ‘production’ rather than an ‘anything could happen’ rock ‘n’ roll show.

On the plus side though, Axl, as well as being in a good mood sounds fantastic.

At those aforementioned festival shows of a couple of years back his voice at times sounded thin and strained.

But tonight on tracks like ‘Chinese Democracy’ stand-out ‘Better’ and Illusion II opener ‘Civil War’ he sounds superb. As, to be fair, do his band.

Even ‘This I Love’ ,Chi-Dem’s most off-puttingly melodramatic moment, acts as a vehicle to showcase what fine fettle Rose’s voice is in these days.

On the plus side though, Axl, as well as being in a good mood sounds fantastic

Frustratingly, though, nearly every time the gig really takes off, it’s immediately grounded by a solo spot or ‘instrumental jam’.

The ‘Appetite’-heavy opening run of songs apart, this has the inevitable consequence of robbing the set of vital momentum.

Bassist Tommy Stinson’s ‘Motivation’ is a punky rattler which recalls Duff’s cover of the Misfits ‘Attitude’ on the ‘Illusion’ tour.

But even allowing for Axl needing to take the odd breather nowadays, is it really necessary for all three guitarists to have their own solo spots, plus lengthy jams?

Christ, even keyboard player Dizzy Reed gets his own slot. Reward perhaps for standing there tapping, shaking and molesting all manner of inaudible percussive devices during the rockier numbers.

Mid-set Axl becomes an intermittent presence on stage, at one point leaving us in the less than capable hands of guitarist  Bumblefoot (who looks like a Jedi Jimmy Page) and his dire bizzaro-rock number ‘Glad to Be Here’.

At moments like this the show begins to feel dispiritingly like ‘Axl’s Hard Rock Revue’.

There are further highlights, though, a pared down ‘Don’t Cry’ works well, ‘Madagascar’ is a welcome Chi-Dem track and a cover of AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ is the one real surprise of the night – a track which first appeared as a B-side to ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ 25 years ago!

When Rose actually is on stage, he commendably still strives to give the same physical performance we remember from 20 years ago – climbing speaker stacks and cutting a variety of amusingly bad-ass poses.

At one point he’s shaking hands with the fans down the front, and noticeably struggles to wipe the smile off his face long enough to deliver his lines during the outro of a juggernaut ‘You Could Be Mine’.

But even allowing for Axl needing to take the odd breather nowadays, is it really necessary for all three guitarists to have their own solo spots, plus lengthy jams?

Occasionally his shimmies to the lip of the stage come off more Stannah Stair Lift than snake-hips. But it would be churlish to castigate him for having the temerity to age like the rest of us mortals.

And vocally everything’s still there from the low, menacing growls to the banshee shrieks – even if the latter are rationed a bit more tightly than back in the day.

The show ends with the inevitable ‘Paradise City’, among a blizzard of ticker tape and explosive pyros.

Last time Guns visited these shores they deserved the criticism for being the only act over a 3 day festival unable to take to the stage on time.

But on tonight’s showing, surely no one can feel short changed this time round.

Over nearly 3 hours, GN’R play upwards of 20 songs, including all the classics from the Appetite and Illusion albums, and a – mostly – judicious pick of the Chinese Democracy tracks.

If you’re after a highly polished arena rock show, replete with scorching pyros, a storm of ticker tape and have a high tolerance for guitar and piano faffing, this tour’s for you.

If you’re still pining for the ‘most dangerous band in the world’, then you’re probably better off following Axl’s advice and waiting for next lifetime.

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