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At Allstate Arena, a polished Guns N' Roses now more brand than band

By Greg Kot

Tribune music critic

Published November 28, 2006, 6:20 AM CST

When last seen at the Allstate Arena, in 2002, Guns N' Roses had retooled its lineup and was previewing tracks from its years-in-the-making album, "Chinese Democracy." Pyro and fireworks exploded, guys not named Slash played fancy guitar solos, and the songs from "Appetite for Destruction" still sounded unbeatable.

On Monday at the same venue, it was 2002 all over again. The Gunners lineup had once again been shuffled around singer Axl Rose, and "Chinese Democracy" had still not been released. Several songs from that endlessly forthcoming album were once again trotted out to little notice, but "Sweet Child O' Mine" and the rest of the "Appetite" tracks still rolled through the joint like a freight train on fire. There were more long guitar solos by Slash stand-ins, and the pyro was still hot enough to flush cheeks in the lower balcony.

If Rose and his revolving door of bandmates sound like they're spinning their wheels, that didn't bother an audience that filled the arena to three-quarters capacity and lingered through three opening acts and a two-hour-plus Gunners set that didn't end till nearly 2 a.m. They came to relive the era when Rose, Slash, Duff McKagen, Izzy Stradlin and Stephen Adler put the sleaze back in Sunset Strip rock 'n' roll, and sold millions upon millions of records. Since his 1987-92 heyday, Rose has managed to alienate all his sidekicks and many of his fans. Now he stands alone atop GNR, but there's the inescapable notion that it is now more of a brand than a band.

Monday's show was a polished procession of oldies and a smattering of new tracks. Rose's recent material sounded more labored than the swaggering older material. The "Chinese Democracy" songs were outfitted in once-trendy touches, such as trip-hop beats, but they already sound dated. The fans were unmoved. They came to hear "Appetite" played in its entirety, and Rose played most of it. Night-prowling anthems "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City" framed the concert, and "Mr. Brownstone," "Sweet Child O' Mine," "It's So Easy," "Nightrain" and "My Michelle" (which Rose sung with opener Sebastian Bach) still packed a wallop.

Rose's snake dancing charisma isn't what it once was. With his beefier frame, sun-glasses, and braids pulled back in a pony tail, he looked like one of those oily '80s talent scouts who once might've signed Guns N' Roses. But when his yowl wasn't badly undermixed, as it was in the early portion of the show, it still cut like a rusty blade. He was at his best on "Patience," first whistling the melody, then crooning it with grizzled authority against a subdued acoustic backdrop.

The singer was unfailingly gracious, and the set rolled along without a hint of trouble. The musicians around him, including bassist Tommy Stinson and guitarists Robin Finck, Richard Fortus and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, sounded well-rehearsed. They were pros doing what pros do when on six-figure retainers.

And so the night was a journey along the back road of mega-stardom, where professionalism rules. Like Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, the Gallagher brothers and countless others, Rose is just the latest rock 'n' roll rogue to take final refuge in its comforts.


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You know, my wife put it best about the show, she is MUCH less biased than me, so its not all G N R love from her..

She pointed out, as someone who has theatre experience, that the show was basically scripted. It wasn't spontaneous and everyone in the band knows exactly whats coming.

Now i have to point out this clearly wasn't the case in 92 when they played this same venue, that show was unpredictable, not pre-determined and was deadly good. This one was good, but not in the same league as that. And its not a slight on Axl or the other band members, its more of how the show is packaged. More "brand than band" is a good way to put it...

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