If you took sides during the Guns n' Roses break-up and subsequent feud, chances are it was that of the curly haired guitarist and the lanky, blonde bassist, not the ginger genius who fronted the band.
Yes, Axl Rose remains a complicated figure. While Slash and Duff always had a punk rock-ish charm and unfettered likeability, Axl sort of seemed like an asshole — a sexy, aggressive, audacious and introspective asshole, who commanded respect even when his vision took the band in odd directions. Does he still have it, and is it enough to carry the band sans its more famous line-up? Yes and no.
Yes, Axl Rose still has vocal chops. Yes, he can hit the high notes. And he seems to be in better shape than he has been in years. But the band's “L.A. Takeover” — which continues at the Wiltern tonight, and concludes at House of Blues on Monday — had some real problems.
For one thing, tickets for the General Admission show were all around $100. Then there was the fact that the band was scheduled to hit the stage at 11:30 p.m., which in Axl-time actually meant they went on well after midnight. And finally, the band itself is inherently, not G N' R. Period. All its current members are accomplished musicians, and all get time in the spotlight, through solos. But these Axl-less moments came off more like bathroom breaks. (They also gave Rose time to change his hats; during the night he donned three different wide-brim, fedora-type chapeaus.)
Axl has got a nice rapport with his backing rockers, particularly guitarist DJ Ashba. Still, the group never felt like a true, cohesive unit. There was no chemistry, and many of the classic Guns tracks — while instrumentally tight — felt flat and almost rushed.
Read Steve Appleford's review of the Forum show last November to get an idea of the setlist. It was virtually the same, right down to the curious covers, including Dizzy Reed's Who moment, The Pink Panther as headbanger, and Axl's take on Pink Floyd at the piano.
They played Chinese Democracy tracks, sprinkled in some Use Your Illusion stuff and spaced-out the classics, which, lets face it, most of us were there for. The set was a lengthy three hours. “Mr. Brownstone,” “It's So Easy” and “You're Crazy,” done blues-style, were pretty good.
But our favorite track — and that of apparently every gal in a studded belt there too — was “Rocket Queen;” unfortunately, it was off tempo-wise and lacked the sizzle and climactic sweetness that makes it a great album closer.
Monday's House of Blues show was, at press time, the only of the three to sell-out. Perhaps the locale, back on the Strip where Axl famously jumped off the bus and submerged himself in the jungle of depravity that is Los Angeles, will conjure some mojo from the old days and make for a more compelling show. The smaller venue size should be cool. How they'll fare at The Wiltern tonight is anybody's guess.
But bottom line is, until Slash and Duff McKagan — and, to a lesser extent, Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler — re-join their talented frontman, Guns n' Roses' fire power is but a puff of smoke.
We feel the same about Velvet Revolver and Slash's solo projects too, by the way, maybe even more so. If the OG G N' R members never see eye to eye, all the better; their tempestuousness and the tension that created on stage is what made them great together. Rumors that this may actually happen at the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame induction in April continue to fly, mainly because no one will say flat out that it won't, including Axl and Slash.
Personal bias: We had an Appetite For Destruction poster on our wall in high school.
The crowd: No kiddies moshing to Mr. Rose here, just a lot of sloshed heshers in concert tees, drowning in beer and busting out sing-alongs.
Random notebook dump: Axl needs to bring back his signature side-to-side glide! We saw hints of it, but never a full-on right-to-left, head-to-shoulders-to-hips grind moment. The “Axl Dance” is nearly as iconic as Michael Jackson's “Moonwalk,” and unlike say, David Lee Roth's high-kicks, age shouldn't make it more difficult.