Only at a Guns N' Roses concert circa 2011 does an 11:15 p.m. start time qualify as early. Only at a GNR concert does the singer get kudos for acting like he's happy to be there. And only the modern GNR can fatten up a show with three long solos by guitarists that most fans don't even know by name. Hey, at least none of the dudes was wearing a bucket on his head.
After years of standards-lowering shows, GNR's engagement Sunday at Target Center -- which wrapped at 2 a.m. Monday -- turned out to be the highest-caliber of the band's three concerts there of the past decade. About 8,000 fans showed on Sunday, vs. 9,000 in 2006 and 6,000 in 2002. Not bad, considering the current economy and the fact that many of the working-class fans whom frontman Axl Rose supposedly represents had to get up a few hours later to go to work. Or try to.
Sunday's show maybe got a smidgen of a boost from the fact that "Chinese Democracy" -- Rose's notoriously long-delayed magnum pompous opus of an album -- finally came out. Granted, it's now three years old and didn't sell that well, but fans didn't automatically take their potty breaks Sunday night when one of the "new" songs started up.
The 2¾-hour set was a little too bloated with "Democracy" material, but it kept it from being strictly a nostalgia performance -- which is hard to pull off anyway when only two of the eight current members (Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed) were around for the band's heyday. "Street of Dreams" became a dramatic centerpiece midway through the show, while "Better" and "You Could Be Mine" were two of the set's hardest-thrashing highlights.
Of course, the crowd's appetite still centered on the old stuff. At the opening, the title track of "Chinese Democracy" finally gave way to the opening lick of "Welcome to the Jungle" like a lit fuse fizzing toward the bomb. That level of craze kept up through two of the band's grimiest oldies, "It's So Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone."
This lineup of the band had no trouble tearing up the classic GNR tunes. It even pulled off two unruly AC/DC covers ("Riff Raff" and "Whole Lotta Rosie") and a mighty "Rocket Queen," the climactic closer to GNR's landmark 1987 debut, "Appetite for Destruction."
The real test came deep into the set, when Rose had to hit the higher notes of "Sweet Child O' Mine," "November Rain" and the standard call-and-response cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" -- which should be knock-knock-knocking on retirement's door.
Lo and behold, Rose delivered the goods Sunday. His fire-alarm voice was still piercing and powerful, and he worked the stage like a young Axl -- although he looked more like a product of South Central Los Angeles circa 1987 than the Sunset Strip, donning a black fedora and hip-hoppy jacket with a bandana and wallet chain dangling off his rear. He broke out the famous Axl Rose shimmy-shammy dance early on in "Brownstone," and he rocketed from one side to the other as "Patience" and "Paradise City" reached their climaxes in the encore.
Rose's only comment to the crowd was remembering that "it was pretty rowdy our last time here." That's one of several areas where the standards will be higher next time GNR hits town.
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