When it was booked, this show posed a few variables and raised a question or two, most of them having to do with its center of attention, Axl Rose.
The lead singer for Guns N’ Roses has a past littered with bad stories about live shows, from delays in starting times to sudden and unexpected, sometimes riotous, endings.
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Plus, a lot of time has passed since Rose’s band hit its commercial prime. Things are way different now, starting with the composition of the band, which now includes only two longtime members: Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed.
All of that might explain why the crowd that came to see GNR at the Sprint Center on Saturday night was smallish by arena standards: about 7,000. The upper decks were closed, the floor looked like it was a little more than half full and the remaining seats were about 90 percent full. The starting time was also an issue. The tickets said showtime was 10 p.m., which seemed to mean the headliners wouldn’t go on till past 11 p.m., even if punctual.
Not so. The show started early — a sign that things aren’t what they used to be .
The tickets said the starting time was 10 p.m., but opener Adelitas Way came on about 9:30 p.m. Still, it was just a minute or two before 11 p.m. when the PA system played the theme to the TV show “Dexter,” signaling the start of the GNR show, one that would last more than two hours and 45 minutes.
Those who showed up and stayed till the very end — after 1:45 a.m. — however, got their money’s worth, especially if they bought their seats via one of the Groupon deals — a careening spectacle filled with flash pots, fireworks, streamers and confetti, with some incongruous instrumentals (including Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme), with several covers (including two AC/DC songs) plus a sound system at maximum volume. On top of all that, they got the high-voltage personality of Axl Rose, the last of the old-school rock stars.
So technically, he started early, putting to rest issues of punctuality. And even through the sometimes ear-splitting din of sound — this was the loudest arena show I’ve been to in a long, long time, maybe the loudest ever — his voice sounded agile and fit (when you could hear it), putting to rest the issues of rust and age.
He brought a seven-piece band, including three guitarists (because two isn’t enough) and two keyboard players, plus former Replacement Tommy Stinson on bass. Purists who dismiss this lineup as nongenuine or counterfeit have a point; however it seems hard to imagine the original lineup sounding any better than this one.
Each had his moment under the spotlight. Stinson performed a bit of the Who’s “My Generation,” Reed sat at the piano and played several measures of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal delivered the “Pink Panther” solo, and the whole band joined in on an instrumental flourish from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.”
About 90 minutes into the show, a friend texted: “I lost the plot.” I don’t think there was one, unless it was: “Axl loves Xsess.” The show was filled with visuals, some of them as incongruous as the setlist, most notably the video of the ballerina that accompanied “This I Love,” one of the three tracks they played from “Chinese Democracy.”
That album’s title track was the show’s opener, and it introduced the crowd emphatically to Rose’s inimitable voice, which has a skyscraping register. It also prompted lots of people to enlist their earplugs.
The setlist included all the big ones, like “Welcome to the Jungle,” which came early, and “Paradise City,” which ended the show.
Take away the covers and instrumentals and the setlist comprised 18 songs, seven from the “Appetite for Destruction” album, which has sales of more than 18 million in the U.S. alone. Those were the songs that ignited the biggest and loudest responses, from “Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” to “Rocket Queen” and “Paradise City.”
It would have been a better show if it had shed some fat and lost some bloat. Or if it had started earlier. About the 1:15 a.m. mark, I noticed people heading up the aisles and for the exits. And lots of yawning.
A night that started with the recorded theme to a show about a noble serial killer — a dark, twisted genius who does evil for a good cause — closed with the strains of “My Way.” After watching and hearing Axl Rose for nearly 180 minutes into the wee hours of a Sunday, I’ll submit to that premise and agree that, in some ways, both were appropriate.