Published Jan 29, 2010Like a Parisian waiter's aloofness, Axl Rose's perpetual tardiness has a certain charm to it. When he finally arrived onstage at the Air Canada Centre – in a Kurt Cobain-evoking wheelchair, no less – two hours after the posted set time, the black-T-shirted crowd predictably lost its mind.
Notwithstanding some added paunch and an admitted hangover, Axl is still relatively lithe. After popping out of the chair to the opening notes of "Chinese Democracy," he spent the ensuing two and a half hours running about like a sweaty madman, changing ripped button-ups and bandanas at a diva-like pace.
At the show's outset, a flat mix blended guitars, ignored the under-matched rhythm section and sullied Axl's unmistakable croon. "Chinese Democracy" and "Welcome to the Jungle" played muddily, becoming false starts despite the crowd's earnestness. However, by a keyboard-led take on "Live and Let Die," the sound had cleared, highlighting the band's bread and butter: melody.
All bluster aside, a Guns N' Roses gig relies on a simple formula: sharp melodies take centre stage, accompanied by big back beats, moments of candour and, occasionally, fire bursts. And that's why the combo is tailor-made for arena gigs.
The familiar piano strains of "November Rain," the sauntering guitar line on "Sweet Child O' Mine" and the bravado of "Paradise City" drew swoons and fist pumps. Thankfully, Chinese Democracy selections eschewed on-disc industrial leanings, upping the prominence of keyboard parts and relying on Axl's high-register wail to blend them into the set
For a tour with "democracy" in its title, Guns N' Roses' current show is rife with communist touches. Nearly every member of the band got a spotlight solo. Of course, Axl could resurrect Robert Johnson or enlist Eric Clapton, but the spectre of a certain mop-topped guitarist would still hang over every slide and bend. Nevertheless, the current incarnation is more than proficient and nondescript enough to keep the limelight on the lead singer.
The gig wasn't without some weirdness, particularly the nod to Cobain and an apropos tribute to the late J.D. Salinger (from one former recluse to another). Ultimately, though, the epic evening was a hugely satisfying affair.