It was a weird night. Friday, at the Tacoma Dome in Washington, Axl Rose flashed video of Martin Luther King on stage. Axl Rose theorized that cops had it in for him on the opening night of the Guns n' Roses tour. Axl Rose showed up! It was a weird night, alright.
The day before in Vancouver, B.C., the kick-off concert for Gn'R's first American outing in nine years was canceled at half-past the eleventh hour. Fans rioted. Different parties offered differing reasons for the bailed show, but all agreed Axl wasn't even in Vancouver. Tacoma fans had their doubts rock's king eccentric would turn up in their town; testimonials of his presence -- "I just saw him, he was running out back" -- sounded more like Sasquatch sightings.
But turn up Axl did, with six new Gunners plus Dizzy Reed in tow. The lineup -- including avant-garde guitarist Buckethead, ex-Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, and former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson -- hardly distinguished itself. Then again, that wasn't their mission. This group was here to provide a facsimile of vintage Gn'R convincing enough to win over fans who'd waited nearly a decade for Axl to come out of seclusion. And that they did. From the opening lick of "Sweet Child o' Mine" to the arena chant of "Paradise City," the band laid out a rock show as familiar as the taste of your first beer.
Not that it came easy. Axl monitored the tiered stage like a party host antsy to be sure his guests were properly mingling. But the new players rarely interacted with each other, instead taking turns engaging their boss. Technical gremlins plagued Axl's mike, and it hardly inspired confidence to clearly see a teleprompter scrolling the night's lyrics, most of which came from Appetite for Destruction (1987).
The band did crack open the new "Chinese Democracy," but the top-heavy rocker owned none of the soul hips that once define Guns n' Roses swing. "Madagascar" included samples from an MLK speech -- but Axl's inaudible vocals killed any context, rendering the tune a mere oddity.
It was a weird night, indeed. And Gn'R fans, thrilled to have their man out of his cave and back on the stage, could give a rat's ass.