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Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Rose, hold the guns
On Monday night I found myself sitting in the upper decks of the Rose Garden. Down below, a mostly nude, tattoo-soaked Suicide Girl had just taken the stage. As she gyrated to a Led Zeppelin song and waived around an Indiana Jones-style whip, I took note of a father and son sitting in front of me. The father was staring across the arena, his blushing face visible despite the darkness. The kid, all of ten, passed the time by staring at the floor, occasionally stealing glances at the stage. They looked like they had just rolled in from a trip to buy Xmas presents at Best Buy. Later, three other girls trotted out dressed in stewardess uniforms. They tore off their clothes while acting out the instructions in a flight manual. By the time they poured chocolate syrup all over themselves, the father's head had exploded and the son had climbed over the man's corpse to move down to the 100-level for a closer look.
Of course, that last bit is completely made up. Still, I'm sure the evening is one that will live long in their memories. This incident reminds me of the time a friend's father made the mistake of taking a group of fifth graders to OMSI for a Guns N' Roses laser light show sometime in the late '80s. During "Paradise City," a nude woman drawn with a green laser ran around the dome. All the man could do was bury his head in his hands.
Here's hoping that someday the father and son will be able to laugh about Monday night's opening act. I wonder what they told the mother this morning when she asked, "So, how was the Axl Rose concert?"
Let there be no mistake about that. On Monday night, Guns N' Roses didn't play the Rose Garden, Axl did. And, just like in the old days, he took his time getting on stage. The "sold out" crowd sat through three opening acts: the Suicide Girls, a local metal band called Helmet and Sebastian Bach. After Bach finished his lame, wannabe David Lee Roth act, complete with a five minute tirade about a security guard, Axl showed himself around 10 to midnight.
As everybody knows, where Axl goes, confrontations and controversy are sure to follow. You might think middle-age would mellow him but, in the last year alone, he started another feud with ex-bandmate Slash, bit a security guard, got into a fight with Tommy Hilfiger and, well, the rest can be found here. Despite the delay, the once legendary frontman behaved himself. No temper tantrums and, together with his new band, he played just about everything anyone in the audience could have hoped for. This latest incarnation of Guns N' Roses covered every song on Appetite for Destruction, with one huge, notable exception, along with beloved chestnuts like "Used to Love Her (But I Had to Kill Her)." Perhaps more amazing: Axl can still screech like a cat attached to a car battery. The fact that he can still hit the high notes on "Welcome to the Jungle" is either a testament to the wonders of modern medical science or rampant drug abuse and misogyny.
The crowd was stuffed full of aging metal heads and stoned teenagers. They made up for Axl's good behavior with their own brand of low-level debauchery. I counted no less than two puddles of vomit in one stairwell. Two guys in their forties killed time during the opening acts drunkenly shouting obscenities. A teen sitting behind me threw up in the row behind him. Around that time, I decided to sneak down to the 100-level. As Axl and his band began "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," someone sitting in a sky box decided to throw a full beer at my head. I immediately broke out the appropriate tactic in response: I ran over to a security guard, whined like a little girl and talked him into letting me move down another seven rows. Or maybe storming the sky box would have been the right move?
Axl's set was pompous, pretentious and overblown. All things considered, that's what I was hoping for. If he hadn't brought along the fireball machines for "Live and Let Die" I would have left disappointed. During the long intermission between acts, the road crew raised banners with Mandarin symbols behind the stage to help promote the likely never-to-be-released Chinese Democracy, now reportedly the most expensive album ever recorded. When the lights went down, search lights scanned the crowd. During the encore, propaganda films played on the stage's view screen. A shower of sparks spiraled down onto Axl's piano and the band during the closing riffs of a note-perfect "November Rain." Around 2 AM, the band began the opening cords of "Patience." Now approaching their sixth hour in the Rose Garden, those remaining exhaustedly waived their lighters back and forth in the air.
Then came the encore. I suspect that most of us had stayed for thing and one thing only: "Paradise City." Instead, Axl returned to the stage to break out two tedious Chinese Democracy tracks. The later, which included a lengthy audio excerpt from an MLK speech, was so self-aggrandizing that it not only bordered on parody, it delved into full-blown Spinal Tap territory. Bleary-eyed and dreading their alarm clocks, the angry crowd headed out into the miserable December Rain wondering "No 'Paradise City'? WTF, Axl, WTF?!!!"
Axl Rose: still pissing everyone off after all of these years.