The show started at 10:40 p.m. Sunday, which made it nearly a matinee by the standards of Axl Rose, who typically likes to start his shift as the leader of Guns N’ Roses after 11 p.m.
The show ended Monday morning, at 1:15 a.m., and by then most of the 1,800 people who had been inside the Midland theater for the opening song, “Chinese Democracy,” were still present for the closer, “Paradise City.”
Between those songs, Rose and his seven-piece band, which included Kansas City native Chris Pitman on keyboards, took a crowd that appeared as engaged as it did amused on a musical odyssey that spanned 26 years and each of the band’s five albums of original material.
Had the sound been cleaner in the Midland, this could have been an exceptional show. The setlist was prime-time and different from the previous Guns ‘N’ Roses show at the Sprint Center in November 2011, which drew about 8,000 people. And Rose seemed to be well in the mood for delivering a knockout performance.
He turned 51 in February, his physique isn’t what it used to be, and he can’t pitch his voice as far as he used to. Still, Rose can muster some rock-star charisma.
But throughout the show it was difficult to hear his voice distinctly above the din around him, which included three guitars and plenty of percussion. And it was likewise hard to pick out the individual instrumental parts, unless one of the three guitarists was out front unleashing a solo.
Despite the inconsistent sound, the band managed to keep the mood aloft, and much of the credit for that goes to Rose, who is still an alpha/diva rock-star. He left the stage numerous times between songs. Most of the time he returned wearing something different, either another wide-brimmed hat atop the shades he did not remove or a different shirt underneath his leather jacket.
As he did during the Sprint Center show, Rose spent much of his time on stage in motion and seemed to be having a good time, a mood that spread to his band and the crowd. There were some lax moments during the instrumentals, including a piano-only version of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” by Dizzy Reed.
And though it was a novel idea to hear bassist (and former Replacement) Tommy Stinson perform “Motivation” from one of his solo albums, those felt like moments designed for Rose to take a prolonged breather.
But when Rose was on stage, he kept the pot boiling, whether singing a ballad like “Catcher in the Rye,” or wailing a hard-rock anthem, like “Rocket Queen,” or sitting at the piano to deliver an instrumental tribute to Elton John (”Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”) before leading the band into Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.”
The highlights were the obvious moments: the big hits (”Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Paradise City”), the famous covers (”Live and Let Die,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”) and the pleasant surprises, like the cover of the Who’s “The Seeker.”
This version of GNR bears little resemblance to the original. Rose is the only remaining founding member.
But the crew he has assembled to support him muster a vibe that matched the enthusiasm of their boss. On this evening, to paraphrase one of his more famous covers, Rose seemed to believe that if you have a job to do, you might as well do it well, no matter how late it starts.