Meet the friendlier, more tranquil Axl Rose: the version who says thank you a lot, high-fives fans in the audience, jokes around with band members onstage, dances, smiles – he even starts his shows on time.
It wasn't the version concertgoers to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena may have expected to meet during Friday night's epic, 5-and-1/2 hour concert featuring headliners Guns N' Roses and high-energy opening acts Papa Roach and Sebastian Bach, but they left satisfied and happily exhausted nonetheless.
Fortunately, and a bit surprisingly, this version of the fiery frontman emerged from the darkness of the stage before an enthralled crowd of roughly 6,500 on this seventh night of the "Chinese Democracy" tour.
Though much has been made of the late start times on this tour – with Rose rarely starting previous shows before midnight – he was prompt during his Huntington visit, beginning the show shortly after 11 p.m.
The enigmatic vocalist seemed happy to be onstage and worked hard to please the audience.
"I know it's cliché to ask this, but how are you all doin'?," he asked during a brief break in the band's set. "It looks like you're having a good time, which is helping us out. So keep that spirit going."
Rose charmed a captivated audience as he snake-danced, whirled, and swayed throughout the band's 21-song, 2-hour-and-45-minute, continuous set that drew heavy portions of 20-year-old favorites from the classic "Appetite for Destruction" album, a couple cuts from the "Use Your Illusion" era, and a four-song selection from the ridiculously long-delayed "Chinese Democracy," an album that has been in production for nine years at an estimated 15 million dollars.
Cartoonish ex-Skid Row lead screamer Sebastian Bach kicked off the night with a one-hour set featuring heavily his former band's material, with a handful of new songs mixed in for good measure. Dressed in tight, black leather pants, a matching vest, and white cowboy boots, Bach swung his microphone overhead as he head-banged to cuts like "Slave to the Grind," "18 and Life," and "Youth Gone Wild."
Stopping briefly to introduce each song, Bach peppered the audience with a barrage of F-bombs and quirky one-liners. The audience reacted well to the blonde madman's act and he left the stage to a loud hand.
Perhaps the least enviable slot on the bill belonged to nu-rockers Papa Roach. The audience seemed to take a wait-and-see approach with the band, and it wasn't until the band's third song, "She Loves Me Not," from 2002's "lovehatetragedy" album, that they broke through. The band worked through their catalog of rock hits, including "Getting Away with Murder" and "Last Resort," as vocalist Jacoby Shaddix led audience members in a Bono-esque sing-a-long to new tracks like "…To Be Loved" and "Time Is Running Out."
Of course, the night was reserved for Axl and his seven-man band.
"Do you know where you are?" Rose screamed the famous opening line from Guns' incendiary 1987 hit "Welcome to the Jungle," kickstarting this last portion of the show.
The crowd answered with an anticipatory roar as new guitarist Robin Finck echoed the opening riff throughout the arena and a single spotlight careened off Rose's jet-black glasses and matching silk shirt.
Finck, the longest-incumbent guitarist in the new Guns N' Roses fold and who swung his ax previously in Nine Inch Nails, sported a scraggly beard and untamed mane that reminded you of Jimmy Page's brief, bearded moment during the Zoso album era.
In addition to Finck, other Guns members are long-time keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who joined the band before the "Use Your Illusion" double albums in 1992; bassist Tommy Stinson, formerly of the Replacements; fusion guitarist and composer Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal; keyboardist Chris Pitman; and former Love Spit Love members Richard Fortus on guitar and Frank Ferrer on drums, the latter of whom is filling in on this tour for Bryan "Brain" Mantia on who is currently spending time with his wife and their newborn daughter.
A bit heavier now and old enough to be the dysfunctional dad to many younger Guns N' Roses fans in attendance Friday, Rose's marathon of fist-pumping heavy rock-n-roll delighted many nostalgia-tripping 30-somethings and their kids – many of whom must have come into the show wondering what they had missed out on some 15 years ago when Rose was revered as the biggest, most controversial rock star in the world.
The audience maintained a high energy level throughout the show as the band tore through a set allowing room to showcase their wide-ranging musical abilities. They might not have been Duff, Izzy, Slash, and Matt backing up Axl Friday night, but to their credit this is a very competent unit assembled to crank out Guns' tunes with a similar tenacity.
Rose fed off the crowd's raucousness and showed many patrons in attendance why he is still considered a captivating frontman. His aging voice cracked and strained to hit high notes in songs like "My Michelle" and "Sweet Child O' Mine," but his 44-year-old frame showed no signs of fatigue as he sprinted from side-to-side of the stage to shake hands with fans, exciting those especially in the first few rows.
The show ended with the fitting "Paradise City," another hit from the 1987 "Appetite for Destruction" album. That album alone has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.
It was an appropriate ending to a night that so many never envisioned happening. This was, after all, only the second time Guns N' Roses has performed in West Virginia. Their first time was as an opening act for Aerosmith in Wheeling, WV, in 1988.
Edited by lennonsong, 04 November 2006 - 12:22 PM.