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Refitted Guns N' Roses Does OK

December 4, 2002

By ERIC R. DANTON, Courant Rock Critic

"Chinese Democracy Starts Now," read the Guns N' Roses T-shirts for sale Tuesday night at the Hartford Civic Center.

"Now" was apparently a synonym for "whenever Axl Rose feels good and ready to start," which didn't happen until 10:40, after an hourlong display of what concertgoer Ryan Adams called "Hessian pageantry" - bare female skin on the video screens on either side of the stage.

When Rose and the group of musicians he insists is Guns N' Roses finally took the stage to the riotous opening chords of "Welcome to the Jungle," however, the preceding hourlong set from Mixmaster Mike and the intervening Breast Hour almost seemed worthwhile.

After all, it had been nearly a decade since the band's last North American tour, in 1993. The group pretty much imploded after that, with just about everyone but Rose calling it quits. Since then, Axl has spent years (and a lot of money) feverishly working on an album called "Chinese Democracy," an alleged masterpiece so astounding that it seemed as though mere mortal ears might not be worthy of hearing it.

But lo, "Chinese Democracy" is said to be almost ready, and Rose is back on the road with Guns N' Roses. Kind of. No, he and guitarist Slash haven't settled their differences; there's no Duff McKagan on bass. Instead, Rose assembled a lineup of top-quality pros, including guitarists Buckethead, Robin Finck and Richard Fortus; bassist Tommy Stinson, of Replacements fame; keyboardists Chris Pitman and Dizzy Reed, who joined the band in 1990; and drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia, formerly of Primus.

They are outstanding musicians, capable of playing whatever they're asked to. Buckethead, Finck and Fortus did a fine job re-creating the guitar parts on "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "November Rain," among others, but it took all three of them to equal the Slash-Izzy Stradlin combination of old. Buckethead is the least emotive guitar player ever. Wearing an expressionless Michael Myers "Halloween" mask and a KFC bucket on his head, he seemed to hardly move while playing, yet he kept popping up in different places on stage. Creepy.

Rose sounded surprisingly good - much better, in fact, than he did during the band's surprise appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards in August. His vocals are more brittle now, and he can't belt out the high notes the way he once did, but he wailed fittingly on "Sweet Child" and sounded aggressive enough on "Mr. Brownstone."

Punk-metal hybrid CKY opened the show.

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