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Guns N' Roses Axl Rises From Darkness


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DATE: May 15, 2006

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune

Guns N' Roses' Axl rises from darkness

By Bob Gendron, Special to the Tribune

15 May 2006

Copyright 2006, Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.


Welcome back to the jungle. Again.

Amid speculation that ex-members Slash and/or Izzy Stradlin were rejoining music's longest-running curiosity item, Guns N' Roses played its first show in nearly four years and kicked off a sold-out four-night stand in New York City Friday night at the intimate Hammerstein Ballroom in preparation for a European tour.

The sentimental rumors proved unfounded, but the band unveiled its newest guitarist (shredder Ron Thal, a.k.a. Bumblefoot) while its 2-hour concert answered several questions -- chiefly, whether the formerly worldbeating act had anything left to offer after last being seen on a disastrous 2002 trek notable for erratic performances and a premature ending.

Activity in the GNR camp began stirring earlier this year when reclusive frontman and lone original member Axl Rose began appearing at hip gatherings. Shortly thereafter, Internet leaks and airplay of unreleased tracks reignited hopes that the band's forever-delayed "Chinese Democracy" album was nearing completion.

Rose didn't address the now-mythical project but divulged that he's been hanging and partying in New York. Smiling and joking, his persona was far removed from that of the introverted leader who previously struggled with depression and direction.

Wearing a black leather shirt, blue jeans and boots, the mercurial singer was a flash of SoHo cool and Hollywood glam, his serpentine-dance a mix of defiance and sexuality. Rose still has cornrows, and he appeared physically lean and in great spirits. Confidently prowling or manically darting about the stage, he consistently hit piercing highs that probed melancholic pain and flexed a range of shivering wails, shuddering croons and scorching yowls that attacked like a starving animal ripping into prey. Led by stage-diving guitarist Robin Finck, Rose's seven mates executed signature riffs and bluesy rhythms with a sonic fullness that suggested that, this time out, they prepared.

What "You Could Be Mine" and "Mr. Brownstone" sacrificed in swagger, they gained in heaviness and smoothness. A blistering "Nightrain" was capped off by Rose, on his knees, belting out a white-hot refrain. That sight, and the worshipping crowd, brought back visions of the group's heyday, on which the set list heavily leaned.

GNR played six unreleased songs, each somewhat known due to unauthorized online availability. The piano-laden "The Blues" and "Madagascar" were exercises in dramatic epic-pop balladry; "Better" cut its teeth on a serrated groove, and "I.R.S." flirted with burbling electronics. While all featured catchy hooks, "There Was a Time" impressed with a budding progression and cathartic conclusion.

Near the concert's finale, bassist Tommy Stinson told Rose how much fun he was having. The singer embraced him, symbolizing the chemistry that the group maintained throughout the evening. GNR V.5 still has plenty of noticeable kinks -- the new material hasn't completely jelled, the group needs to more frequently deviate from the standard outlines and the ferocity could be heightened. But at a show where Rose's soulful conviction and gospel harmonies took "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" to church, it was hard not to believe that he may have finally found a way to channel his demons.

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