Axl Rose is not a great musician.
Let's get this out of the way right now. Because it's true, A and its B non-relevant to the Guns N' Roses conversation.
Especially now, at 50, it's clear that Axl's voice has seen better days, evidenced by the fact that at a couple points during his Saturday Night show at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas his voice backing track kept going when he pointed his mic into the crowd.
It's hard to say if Axl was ever a great vocalist.
Interesting, yes. Great? I'm not so sure. Plus, over the past 10 years or so, as he's branched out into his own entity while maintaining the GnR moniker, he's produced very little art that's penetrated the mainstream consciousness.
However, Axl Rose is also the most interesting person I've seen on the stage.
It's impossible to attend a GnR show and not watch him 100% of the time. He's the quintessential rockstar. And when Axl is in the room, he owns the room. He does not give a shit who you are or what you're doing. This is his room now. He's the honeybadger.
This was my first time seeing Guns N' Roses and now that I've been through the fire, here are the 5 things you need to know about the show:
1) Axl leaves the stage.
All. The Time. If I had to guess, he averages at least 3 exits stage left… PER SONG. It's easy to be all "he must be doing coke or something", but that's wrong. He may be doing coke, but he can't be every 2 minutes.
It's a bizarre tick. But one that everyone seems to accept. Including the guy who's sole job it is to open the curtain when Axl comes off the stage and then comes back on.
Sometimes he goes out for long guitar solos and changes his outfits. Sometimes he leaves for like 5 seconds (literally). But this is the "rockstar" thing I'm talking about… I couldn't take my eyes off of what he was doing.
2) You better like guitar solos.
Because every single song has a loooooooong one. Comically long. He has 4 axemen on stage and each one of them gets their solos. At one point, I thought that these might be openly baiting us into leaving.
Which reminds me…
3) This show does not cheat you.
3+ hours. No breaks. Just song after song after song. By the time he closed the show with 'Paradise City' around 3 am, there were 3 people left in my row of 20. And those bitching solos are a bit more cumbersome when you're just ready to go do something else.
You kind of wish you were cheated.
This probably stems from Axl's control issues and the fact that the Hard Rock probably signed him with the understanding he'd do whatever the hell he wanted.
But if a producer was able to cut the show by an hour. Take out some of the new crap. And tighten up the solos, you've got an A+++ show.
GnR playing all the hits AND some Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin covers too?
4) He got rid of the cornrows.
This is a good thing. He needed to and he did.
However, Axl has now gone full Affliction and cowboy hats. I guess if you're a rockstar you can't go to Bonobo's and get some reasonably priced (and well-fitting) chinos and call it a day.
Still, it's kind of embarrassing how many outfits everyone in the band with though.
It was weird.
5) And that's exactly the word I'm looking for.
The crowd was weird. Everything from die-hards to 20 year-olds wanting to go retro. Yuppies and drunks and housewives all in this stew of humanity, listening to rock.
I don't know if Mr. Rose has political aspirations, but if he did, I think he might finally be able to bring this country back together. It's hard to imagine any band or act anywhere that can cross over so many ages, demos and archetypes.
He might be the perfect President.
Get everyone together, then leave stage left before he wore out his welcome.