Hard rockers Guns N’ Roses (or what’s left of them) returned to Manhattan this week for a Fashion Week residency that downsized their typical arena show in favor of more intimate settings, including Roseland Ballroom and Webster Hall (temporarily rechristened the Ritz in honor of the band’s legendary 1988 performance there).
But as a fan standing near me Sunday night at Midtown venue Terminal 5 asked, with a week to kill in the Big Apple, what does Axl Rose do during the day? Judging from Rose’s numerous apparel changes, he goes shopping for hats and jackets.
“Downsized” in this case simply meant no pyrotechnics-the rest of the band’s behemoth road show was very much in place, from Rose’s expansive collection of hats and jackets to the 7-foot drum riser to the gigantic LED screen behind the eight-piece band.
And why wouldn’t it be? This is a band that practically defined excess in their turn-of-the-’90s heyday, and everything about Sunday’s show suggested there’s little chance of that changing, even if the band’s popularity has waned considerably over the years.
Taking the stage at 11:30 p.m.-almost according to schedule!-GNR delivered a three-hour show, beginning with the metallic title track from 2008’s “Chinese Democracy,” followed by a trio of tunes from their 28-million-copy-selling debut, “Appetite for Destruction.”
Yes, only Rose remains from the band’s classic “Appetite” lineup, but after a few of his iconic howls on “Welcome to the Jungle,” the question of legitimacy faded in favor of simply having a good time-which Rose seemed to be doing, despite his curmudgeonly reputation.
Despite being occasionally short-winded, his voice was in impressive form, even when the sound system rendered him nearly inaudible (Terminal 5 is a reliably awful-sounding venue). And at age 50, he’s still got the moves-the snake hips and kick-steps on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” seemed almost instinctive.
As for the band, they may have looked like a grab bag of styles from the band’s 25-year run-from bassist Tommy Stinson’s middle-aged rocker look (suit jacket and slim trousers) to Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal’s Phish-tour visage (long beard and baggy jeans) and DJ Ashba’s neo-rave patchwork pants-but the talent was top-level.
There are now three guitarists (Ashba, Thal, and Richard Fortus) filling the void of Slash and Izzy, and each is a virtuoso-that is to say if you closed your eyes, you might not have known the difference. (Ashba even lipped a cigarette for the opening notes of “Sweet Child” in homage to the riff’s author.)
The show certainly had its low points-a few too many of the overcooked “Chinese Democracy” songs (“Madagascar” was a trainwreck), and way too many instrumental breaks-but that’s the spirit of this band, post-“Appetite” at least.
But sometimes the excess equaled success, as typified by the epic “Use Your Illusion” ballads “Estranged” and “November Rain,” both of which were delivered Sunday night with all the bombast you could expect from a band whose second album was actually two albums-just without the fireworks.