[...] IT’S MONDAY, January 15 and W AxI Rose is sitting by the pool at the Intercontinental Hotel at Sao Conrado, five minutes west of the glistening Ipenema and Cococabana beach strips. Like Rio, the hotel has a plush exterior but is showing signs of wear and is way overdue for a refit.
The day after Guns N’Roses’ second show in seven years, AxI is
addressing a group of people which — of course — does not include any
journalists. Instead, some fans who are staying in the hotel or have
outwitted external security have also managed to bluff their way past
the doorman and rope at the entrance of the pool and sit transfixed by
the hazel-headed one-time recluse.
One of them later tells a reporter that Axi claimed former GN’R member
Steven Adler had to record some drum parts 80 times, that guitarists
Slash and Izzy Stradlin battled for leadership of the band, that bassist
Duff McKagan’s drug use made his position untenable. There are reports a
negative review was read to Rose by one fan and that he responded by
returning to his S1000-a-night Presidential Suite — with a giant jacuzzi
which he ordered to be filled with roses — and trashing it.
Before he takes the stage, Axl Rose insists that the photographer’s pit
is cleared, and his performance is peppered with tantrums directed at
stage hands and security guards (“Get him out of here, are you listening
my security man?”; “This is going to cost a fortune and I ain’t paying
for it”). Finally appearing 40 minutes later than planned (rumours
suggest that AxI refuses to go on unless the flowers backstage are
changed), they hit the stage with “Welcome To The Jungle”, following a
bizarre animated intro on the big screens either side of the stage,
which feature an apparently bedridden Axi taking a crap.
Guns’ set is dominated with material from Appetite For Destruction, but
Rose’s repertoire of rants is all new material. Introducing ‘Live And
Let Die’ via a Brazilian translator, the singer says:
“I know many of you are disappointed that people who you have grown to
know and love could not be here with us tonight. I am as hurt and
disappointed as you that unlike (support) Oasis, we could not find a way
to all just get along. People worked very hard — meaning my former friends — to do everything they could so I could not be here today. I say f**k that.”
When they do pause to play music. Guns are frequently good and
occasionally astonishing. They play for a marathon two hours and 20
minutes, which are alternately rewarding and frustrating. It’s odd
seeing such a disparate set of faces collected together under the GN’R
name. Ex-Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck is a stalking goth with a
face painted like a skull and cadaverous haircut, bassist Tommy Stinson
is a rockabilly punk, with a singlet and a kilt, and guitarist Paul
Tobias is a surfie, in jeans and a T-shirt. And then there’s
the legendary Buckethead, a man who makes Slash look like a bank
manager. He wears a KFC bucket on his head and a white mime mask with
flashing green eyes for special occasions.
Their show is spectacular to look at, musically sound, and the old songs
do not come across as cabaret numbers. But toward the end, things start
to get sluggish. Axl’s rants become more frequent, there are long
breaks while grand pianos and such are wheeled on and off. The use of
Samba dancers before finale “Paradise City” is badly miscalculated;
people have already started leaving.
They tease us with a smattering of new songs. “Madagascar” is a
high-vaulting epic in the vein of “November Rain”, the blistering
“Chinese Democracy” is as raw and energetic as anything they’ve recorded
in the past, the piano-heavy “The Blues” owes as much to Elton John as
it does Aerosmith, and the throbbing techno complexity of “Silkworms”
finally shows off Axi’s much-vaunted industrial fascination.
Pyro, flame-throwers, Axl sprinting along catwalks from side-to-side —
good energetic stuff, but at this stage little more than an exercise in
nostalgia. Still, Guns N’Roses are playing again and that’s enough for
Rio’s rockers, who dawdle off to the buses with broad grins at 3:30am,
the temperature still balmy. For the rest of us, we’ll have to wait
until June, when Chinese Democracy finally emerges, to discover if they
have actually made a comeback.