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Saturday, November 30, 2002

Lone gunman

Guns N' Roses returns -- but only Axl remains

By JANE STEVENSON -- Toronto Sun



Air Canada Centre, Toronto

Friday, November 29, 2002


TORONTO -- Guns N' Roses, those missing-in-action, hard-rock kingpins from the late '80s, are touring again for the first time in nearly a decade.

Actually, make that lead singer Axl Rose is touring again, without any of his original bandmates, including dueling guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin.

Rose -- now 40 -- still managed to draw about 14,000 fans to the Air Canada Centre last night, with a lineup of seven musicians including longest serving GNR member, keyboardist Dizzy Reed who came on board for 1991's Use Your Illusion I and II .


The rest, guitarists Buckethead (who lived up to his name by wearing a KFC container on his head) Robin Finck and Richard Fortus, keyboardist Chris Pitman, drummer "Brain," and bassist Tommy Stinson, have all been working with Rose and Reed on the long-awaited new GNR album, Chinese Democracy, whose release has been delayed repeatedly.

For now, fans had to make do with Rose and Co., trotting out mostly oldies with a set list that favoured songs from GNR's monster 1987 breakthrough debut, Appetite For Destruction.

Opening with the anthemic Welcome To The Jungle and wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey (No. 26), black track pants and white sneakers -- the band didn't allow photographers -- the long-haired-and-braided Rose proved to be a real crowd pleaser. Even if it was kind of sad to see teleprompters, at least two located on the mini-catwalks on either side of the stage, displaying song lyrics.

To his credit, Rose didn't let down in the energy department, literally running around the stage for just over two hours when he wasn't doing his trademark moves -- the side-to-side dance, and the rhythmic stomping of one foot -- or letting loose with primal scream-worthy wails.

Highlights included a spirited cover of Paul McCartney's Live And Let Die -- complete with explosions, firebursts and a major crowd singalong -- and a more toned-down version of Bob Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door.

But the real barnburner proved to be Sweet Child O' Mine, with the boisterous crowd drowning out Rose's vocals, and the encore number Paradise City which got some added value from numerous explosions, fireworks, firebursts and confetti.

Runners-ups for audience favourites were You Could Be Mine, Out Ta Get Me, November Rain and Patience.

As for the musicianship, the guitar attack of Buckethead (who had his own dance moves and solo moment, which included the Star Wars theme) Finck and Fortus proved to be formidable along with the thunderous drumming of "Brain."

Even Rose showed off his chops, goofing around on piano before getting serious on November Rain.

The stripped-down stage, meanwhile, was decorated with Chinese symbols, on both the red flooring and white banners which served as a backdrop, to reflect that forthcoming album presumably.


Last night's show was certainly far better than the disastrous start to the GNR tour, which saw thousands of fans riot in Vancouver earlier this month outside GM Place after promoters cancelled the show at the last minute when Rose's flight was delayed in L.A. due to bad weather.

The most controversial thing about last night's performance was the parade of exhibitionist-happy women in the audience who -- whenever the video camera zoomed in on them -- flashed bras, breasts, bums, and the occasional thong, or made out with each other.

It was basically a ploy to distract the crowd from the fact that Rose and his band were 50 minutes late taking the stage. (More on Guns N' Roses)  

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