Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: Guns n' Roses' marathon Halloween in Greenville

Driving my son to preschool Tuesday morning I heard a disc jockey joking about Guns n’ Roses' concert in Greenville Monday – how the audience was probably still waiting on the band to arrive and how Axl Rose brought donuts on stage. I thought, “Um, you obviously have no idea.” The assumption (and my daddy always warned me about assumptions) that the show was terrible was pretty far off considering its sheer length and quality.

Expectations were admittedly low for our group traveling to see what I call Axl’s Guns n’ Roses Halloween night at the Bi-Lo Center. Recent reviews criticized everything from Rose’s appearance to his voice. Given my own experience with his tardiness at a show in Greensboro a few years ago I was skeptical but optimistic. Imagine my surprise when Rose and his hired Guns performed a nearly tireless, three hour set that included just about everything you’d want to hear – and did it well. Though the sound was iffy at times, Rose’s voice was fairly impeccable. He got a little screechy, but he sustained high notes, dug for low ones, and didn’t swipe at them the way Vince Neil does while omitting lyrics to Motley songs.

Rose appeared to play it smart. Flat screen monitors (aka teleprompters) were placed strategically on stage, although I didn’t notice him cheating. He ducked into what appeared to be an onstage dressing room during practically every musical break. I suspect he was puffing oxygen to sustain his voice and, if so, it worked like a charm. Who cares if a 49-year-old man has to grab some gas to put on a good show? Thank you for thinking ahead.

Following sets by Buck Cherry and a local opener called Kelen Heller on a minimal, haphazard looking set, Guns n’ Roses went on close to 11 p.m. (not a bad wait at all). I appreciated that they sprung for Halloween decorations. The stage was adorned with hanging corpses, spiderwebs, and a doll baby with a spinning head. With plenty of screens, lights, and pyro, the stage was now what I considered elaborate enough for a Guns n’ Roses’ show. It began with “Chinese Democracy.” Rose sounded pretty spot-on. He wasn’t 1987 skinny, but he wasn’t bloated with cornrows either. He looked fairly normal – jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket, hat, dark sunglasses. Much like at the Greensboro show the band launched into the 1-2-3 “Appetite” punch of “Welcome to the Jungle,” “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone.” By the time they got to “Rocket Queen” I was pretty much sold, but still waiting for his vocals to give out.

That never really happened. His voice recovered during solos from most of the band members. Gn’R fans’ biggest complaint of course is that Guns isn’t really Guns without the original line-up (or at least the “Illusion” one) and I agree. I wasn’t awed by the sight of guitarists DJ Ashba or Richard Fortus the same way I would be by the mere presence of Slash or Duff. But I didn’t grow up with their posters on my walls (although I am wowed by the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson’s lanky frame bounding recklessly across the stage like Jack Skellington). The players do fine jobs of recreating Guns’ catalog. There are moments where I can tell something isn’t quite the same without Slash’s guitar tone, but that's being pretty picky.

The setlist touched on most of “Appetite” (minus “Think About You,” “Anything Goes,” “You’re Crazy” and sadly “My Michelle”), some of the “Illusion” records (“You Could Be Mine” was a treat; "Estranged" made the cut, "Civil War" did not) and “Chinese Democracy.” Rose looked reinvigorated and genuinely happy during the uncharacteristically dancey “Better.” The group did several covers. My favorites were Stinson's punky “My Generation” and Dizzy Reed’s piano version of “Baba O’Riley” back-to-back.

I was confident enough that things were winding to a close during “Sweet Child O’ Mine." Enough to vacate my stage side seat after an altercation with an extremely drunk older man in our row, but Rose and company still had plenty more juice left in their batteries.

It was actually quite cozy watching “November Rain,” Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal’s version of the “Pink Panther Theme,” and “Don’t Cry” from the balcony where you could appreciate the pyro without questioning your hearing after every pop. My husband noted that from afar Rose looked like Alan Jackson in his Stetson crooning “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” This was roughly 26 songs in (not including some of the jams) and his voice was still in good condition. “Night Train” closed a truly electric set, but the encore went on for another half hour. It included “Patience” (where Rose noted that he and Stinson were being particularly accommodating), "Nice Boys," and the confetti-laden grand finale of “Paradise City.”

It was now after 2 a.m. and Rose had outlasted much of the crowd. He was certainly accommodating and even warm. For anyone willing to hang, he definitely gave Greenville its money’s worth although from our balcony view it was painfully apparent that the floor of the 11,000 capacity arena was maybe half full at its peak. Rose and his former bandmates could undoubtedly perform for stadiums full of fans if it reunited, but I wonder if that grin would still be plastered across his face?


  1. Last night in Atl was so bad, the upper 2 sections of Phillips Arena were closed off and like Greenville, the rest was less than 50% full – 6,000 people max. I cannot decide which is worse, being out $70 or losing 5 hours of my life. If you like Chinese Democracy, and judging from album sales, not many do, this is the concert for you.

  2. It still amazes me that Chinese Democracy went platinum (quite a feat despite today's illegal downloading) and people still say things like "If you like Chinese Democracy, and judging from album sales, not many do". Are you serious? Sounds like it sold pretty well to me.

  3. Are you serious? The only reason it went platinum is because Best Buy bought 1.6 million copies for a reported $14 million. Even after putting the CD in the "bargin bin" (where it can be yours too for $1.99) Best Buy has only managed to unload 614,000 copies according to Nielsen SoundScan.