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Axl comes up Roses at Target Center

MUSIC REVIEW: GNR's erratic frontman took the stage at 11:45 p.m., but at least he showed up. Or did he?

Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune

Last update: December 03, 2006 – 7:10 PM

All the doubts that Axl Rose would show up for his Target Center concert with Guns N' Roses were finally answered about 11:45 p.m. Saturday, when the blaring guitar intro of "Welcome to the Jungle" filled the Minneapolis arena and 9,100 fading fans awakened.

Alas, Axl never made the nearly 2½-hour gig. The guy who did emerge on stage to scream, "Do you know where you [expletive] are?" sounded like Rose. He even looked like him, although, thanks to Axl's reclusiveness, no one really knows his look nowadays besides cornrows and pale skin.

But this fill-in guy -- let's call him Rose's Bud -- was too congenial and way too professional to be the ne'er-do-well Axl we've all come to know. He seemed happy to be back, and he looked to be in better shape than Rose did in 2002 at Target Center, when his 12-years-in-the-making "Chinese Democracy" album was supposedly almost done (it's still not out).

Rose's Bud even generously shared stage time with his bandmates. We all know that the real Axl -- who long ago split with GNR's original players -- would never do that.

The faux Rose did a pretty good job acting like the real one early on. Wearing a half-unbuttoned, vinyl-like black shirt and beat-up jeans, he dropped a few extra F-bombs into "It's So Easy." In "Mr. Brownstone," he threw his mike stand hard against the stage.

Rose's Bud also wasted no time flashing Axl's enormous ego of old, performing his versions of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" as if they were so definitive, he couldn't pass them up.

After a spot-on remake of "Sweet Child o' Mine," though, things got weird. Part-time Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck played the first of three lengthy axe solos -- one for every guitarist in the band. Rose's Bud even let keyboardist Dizzy Reed get a few minutes alone in the spotlight. As if the real Axl would ever let anybody tarnish the baby-grandiosity of "November Rain" by letting them play a piano solo.

Without oddball axe-man Buckethead, whom Rose fired after the 2002 tour, the new GNR looked more workman-like and punkish. Its style reflected its feisty and frill-less approach to classics such as "My Michelle" (sung with opener Sebastian Bach) and the setlist surprise "Down on the Farm."

With Minneapolis native Tommy Stinson still playing the bass spread-eagle style, the band made a solid case for the unreleased songs -- you can't really call them "new" anymore -- especially the stormy and frayed rocker "Better" and the freakish encore opener "Chinese Democracy." Best of all, those songs were where Rose's Bud really pushed himself vocally, almost as much as the real Axl did back in 1991.

So where was Rose on Saturday? He might have been sidelined by that ear/throat problem that canceled the Milwaukee show Wednesday. Or else maybe he got stuck at Best Buy headquarters in Richfield explaining why the most-anticipated rock album of the '90s (most folks stopped caring around 1998) still didn't make it to shelves for Christmas, as Rose's people promised.

Hopefully, when "Chinese Democracy" finally does come out, Axl will bring along his friend for the tour.


Paradise City at the Target Center (?)

Perhaps it's time for Axl Rose to update some of his lyrics. Because in order to be a Guns N' Roses fan in 2006, it takes more than a little patience.

When the latest lineup of the '80s rockers took the Target Center’s stage at 11:45 p.m. Saturday night, the faithful general-admission ticketholders had already been on their feet for a good five hours. During that time, the audience of about 9,100 endured four opening acts, two of which were of interest to almost no one. Throw in travel time and navigation of a typically crowded downtown Minneapolis on a frigid weekend night and you're approaching the double digits in terms of hours expended to share 140 minutes in the presence of Mr. Rose.

Was it worth it? Yes and no.

This was a concert designed for drunk people, which meant everything was big and bludgeoning, with three guitarists, fire, pyro and a complete lack of anything approaching subtlety. The show also allowed plenty of time for each of those guitarists to launch into lengthy, indulgent solos -- just perfect for those looking for a bathroom break and another beer.

But in his push to party like it was still 1989, Rose seemed to have forgotten that a significant portion of his dwindling audience consists of grownups with jobs and/or children -- or possibly wardens who need convincing to grant that weekend furlough. And a fair amount of those people don't have the stamina it takes to make it through such a marathon. For proof, I needed only to look to the woman sitting next to me who, midway through GNR's performance, slumped into her seat, plugged her ears and fell asleep. (As it turns out, Rose already had a plan in place to deal with such sleepyheads. Midway through "Out Ta Get Me," a single and utterly incongruous explosion from the stage seemed to serve solely as a wakeup call.)

And that pre-Guns lineup was baffling considering the crowd, with one totally unknown act (Modern Day Zero) and another (Helmet) that has one song that might've been vaguely familiar to those paying attention to major-label alt-rock in the early '90s. Both should have been jettisoned, as the goth strippers of the Suicide Girls and hair-metal survivor Sebastian Bach provided ample amounts of stage warming on their own.

Back to GNR. The band, of which Axl is the only original remaining member, played pretty much the same setlist they did the last time they were in town back in 2002. That meant almost all of the band's undisputable classic "Appetite for Destruction" alongside a handful of later hits and a few of the new tracks that will appear on "Chinese Democracy," an album that’s been promised for at least a decade, but has yet to be released. The only significant changes in four years' time arrived in two additional fresh cuts, "I.R.S." and "Better," alongside fan favorites "Down on the Farm" and "Used to Love Her."

Rose's sketchy vocals -- coupled with the aforementioned overkill of three guitarists -- made for a touch-and-go evening. When he was on, Rose's yips and yowls were transcendent. But far too often, his delivery felt clipped and strained. Maybe it was lingering after-effects from the ear/throat issues that caused Rose to cancel a Milwaukee gig last week. Then again, perhaps it was sheer exhaustion. The Target Center performance was actually the band's second of the day -- the particularly lucky residents of Ames, Iowa, had to wait until a half hour past midnight on Friday for GNR to play for them.

The notoriously prickly Rose said little to the audience, beyond a wee bit of cracking wise about the frigid Minnesota temperature. He did also acknowledge Minneapolis as the hometown of Tommy Stinson, the former Replacements bassist who has been with GNR for eight years now. Indeed, of all the recent recruits, Stinson was the only one with whom Rose showed any real obvious chemistry or affection.

As expected, the GNR standards, from "Welcome to the Jungle" to "Paradise City," gleaned the lustiest response. The newer stuff, though, didn’t go over nearly as well, even though bootlegged versions of songs like "Madagascar" and "The Blues" have been widely available online since 2001.

Maybe Rose needs to think about the fact that it's only the hardcore followers bothering to seek that stuff out. The rest of his audience, including that snoozing woman next to me, might better appreciate the new songs if they had the chance to legally purchase "Chinese Democracy." If, four years from now, GNR rolls back into town with the same story, one can’t help but wonder if anyone will have any patience left at all.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: As I was quite literally falling asleep in the wee hours of the morning while finishing this review, I went in and made some minor edits that fixed a few odd sentences (and probably added a few new odd sentences in the process) and expanded on a few points a little bit more. A version similar to the one that's now up here will appear in Monday's Pioneer Press print edition.

I've also included the setlist below. And feel free to continue posting your thoughts on the show in the comments section.

1. Welcome to The Jungle

2. It's So Easy

3. Mr. Brownstone

4. Live and Let Die

5. Better

6. Robin Finck solo

7. Sweet Child O' Mine

8. Knockin' on Heaven's Door

9. You Could Be Mine

10. Dizzy Reed solo

11. The Blues

12. Down on the Farm

13. Richard Fortus solo (followed by a Fortus/Finck jam)

14. Out Ta Get Me

15. November Rain

16. Used To Love Her

17. I.R.S.

18. Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal solo

19. My Michelle (with Sebastian Bach)

20. Rocket Queen

21. Patience

22. Nightrain

23. (Encore) Chinese Democracy

24. Madagascar

25. Paradise City

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Right on. Most of the fans around me were in their mid-20s or so, at least younger than me (I'm 35).

One guy had his preteen son & daughter. That was...interesting. Though he had to physically pick her up when they left- she did NOT want to go!

Good to see a 25 song list with Rocket Queen, Down on the Farm and Used to Love Her !! Wish I was there :)

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