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Welcome Back to a Defoliated Jungle


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DATE: Tuesday, May 16, 2006

AUTHOR: David Segal

SOURCE: The Washington Post

DIRECT LINK: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...6051501795.html


NEW YORK -- One of the great upsides of earning a reputation as an ornery, thin-skinned nutter is that it

sets the bar really low. Fire enough musicians, cancel enough concerts and stay out of sight long enough to

be tagged a recluse, and pretty soon you're a hero just for showing up and shouting, "Are you ready to


Axl Rose surely didn't cultivate his legendarily prickly persona to keep expectations to a minimum, but on

Sunday night he and the rest of Guns N' Roses could have Jazzercised for the opening five minutes of the

show and nobody would have cared. These fans are among the most deprived tribe in rock.

After canning or alienating every other original member of the group, Rose is GNR these days, and he isn't

delivering much product. He has been working and reworking the same album for the last 10 years, and the

last time he hit the road, in 2002, he scuttled the tour for unknown reasons before he hit Washington. (This

time Washington isn't even on the schedule.)

So when the lights in the Hammerstein Ballroom went down and Rose himself sprinted onstage -- dressed in

a black leather jacket and sporting weird-for-his-age cornrows in his confoundingly blond hair -- it felt like a

taxidermic miracle had unfolded before our eyes. An animal once believed extinct was running wild.

The guy hasn't lost many steps, though he hasn't added any new ones, either. Guns N' Roses seems like a

band that has become a nostalgia act against its will, which is perhaps inevitable given the dearth of new

material and the durability of the hits it recorded nearly 20 years ago. A good chunk of the crowd wasn't

born when "Appetite for Destruction" was released in 1987 and turned GNR into the last great heavy-metal


The trick now for Rose is somehow connecting to the late-'80s macho girlie-dude aesthetic without letting his

show devolve into kitsch, which it teetered pretty close to the first time around. So: vintage red bandannas,

out; vintage stage moves, in.

From originals like "Welcome to the Jungle" to covers such as "Live and Let Die," Rose brought back the

hunched-over rain dance, the slithery snake and the mike-stand toss, the latter of which he executed with

casual fury, carefully aiming at a target behind him so it didn't hit anybody. Melodramatic rage is still Rose's

favorite pose. On songs like "Sweet Child o' Mine" and "Out ta Get Me," he nailed the spirit of louche, middle-

finger defiance that made GNR so appealingly nasty.

But Rose, 44, has lost some decibels. At times the music all but smothered his voice, and whenever there

was a break in vocal duties he bolted offstage, adding to the sense that he was struggling. Sunday was just

the second night of the band's tour, which is supposed to head to Europe this summer. Rose explained

halfway through the show that he could sing only after the miraculous intervention of a throat doctor.

How Rose could possibly sustain a full-fledged tour is hard to imagine. The band is already picking up a lot of

slack. Guitarists Richard Fortus, Robin Finck and Ron Thal (also known as Bumblefoot) took turns soloing

alone onstage, often for four or five minutes at a time. You could occasionally detect a melody in all the

noodling, such as during Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," and more surprisingly in "Over the Rainbow" and

Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful."

You could also detect some restlessness in the audience. These Axl-free interludes began to seem like

timeouts. That, plus the occasional moments when nothing happened onstage, made the show feel a bit like

a dress rehearsal. Or maybe the new GNR is still becoming a band. Bumblefoot, Rose announced, joined the

group less than a week ago.

Rose played a couple of tracks from "Chinese Democracy," the album he's been tinkering with all these

years -- the most talked-about long player you can't buy, now that Brian Wilson has released "Smile." Of the

new tracks, only "Better," with its alarm-like guitar riff, stood out. The title track sounds shockingly like a

Nirvana song, mimicking a beat that so clearly belongs to Kurt Cobain & Co. that it might be a tribute. Which

is strange, since Nirvana really ended the career of GNR, making the vanity, excess and exhibitionism of

metal seem out of touch.

"It's obvious that many of you can hold your breath a lot longer than David Blaine," Rose said, the only time

he brought up "Chinese Democracy." "I thank you for that."

It's anyone's guess if the album will ever emerge, but Rose can always find work feeding fans the back

catalogue, no matter whom he recruits to the act. The presence of all those teenagers proved it: GNR owned

a moment in rock history, a moment that was loud and a little lewd, excessive and unashamed about it, not

afraid of a rhyme as silly as "Take me down to Paradise City/Where the grass is green and the girls are


As shtick, it's a little dated, and it's not obvious that Rose can sustain it for more than two nights in a row.

But if you had to be stuck in a moment, you could do a lot worse.

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