I may have just witnessed the best rock concert I've ever seen in my life. With little or no promotion or press buzz about the show, there were maybe at most 2,000 people in attendance. But for all those that went, I doubt anyone would forget this show anytime soon.
As with tradition, the band came on late, maybe 90 minutes after the opening band. There were actual rumours swirling down in the audience that Axl was going to pull out last minute, and I, for one, was as nervous as a train wreck. I've been waiting 15 years to see him live, and of course, his reputation preceded him. But at roughly 10pm, the lights dimmed, and the same voice recording as the Rio show started playing. Then the band got on stage and launched into the most badass version of "Welcome to the Jungle" that I've ever heard. Even though I'm a huge fan of the original band, Slash, Izzy, Duff, and even Steven Adler, I have to say this new band kicked @#%$ ass. Axl wore a black American football jersey and a blue bandana, and surprisingly, his voice seemed to improve with age. After "Jungle", it was straight into "It's So Easy". In fact, I'm pretty sure he played almost the entire tracklist of "Appetite For Destruction".
"Rocket Queen", "Think About You", "Mr. Brownstone", "Nighttrain", and "Out Ta Get Me" all sounded fresh and exciting. "Sweet Child O' Mine" was especially incredible, with Robin Finck handling Slash's opening riff, and Buckethead playing the same riff for the rest of the song. What was amazing was that all three guitarists were beyond capable, each of them taking turns on Slash's solos. Hate to say it, but can't say Slash was missed at all.
About half-way into the show, the incredible Buckethead did his solo. To the sound of heavy drum machine, he came out with two knumbchucks, swinging around like Bruce Lee on acid. He could actually do it! Then after throwing both knumbchucks into the audience, he went on to do some crazy breakdancing, like a serious loon. With a yellow windbreaker, white mask and KFC bucket, he was unlike anything I've ever seen. Then he strapped on his guitar and played choice selections of the "Star Wars" theme, "Pirates of the Caribbean" from Disneyland, a crazy computer-like solo that sounded like a synthesizer, then a funk jam where he was actually slapping his guitar like a bass, and various nutty solos. That might of been the virtuoso highlight of the show.
After his insane solo act, the piano was rolled out where Axl twidled the keys like a classical solo. I never knew that Axl could play! He wore the same red velvet jacket as in the video, and changed his bandana into a red one. The band launched into "November Rain", which though I never was a big fan of the song, I loved the live version. Then they played a much shortened version of "Estranged", really only the final climax of the song. Besides these two, the other songs from "Use Your Illusion" included "You Could Be Mine" and "Live and Let Live". I never thought I would hear a version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" as brilliant as their '88 show at the Ritz in New York, but the one they played tonight was just mind-blowing. The guitars were incredibly soulful and moving, and Axl's voice! Instead of the "Aye, aye, aye, aye, aye" after the title verse, he instead went into this incredibly high-key harmonizing. As a singer, I think he's unrivaled in the rock world, and as far as this 29 year-old is concerned, as pointed out by one of my friends there tonight, he may be the "last great rock star" performer. No one since has surpassed his ability and talent live on stage, in my humble opinion.
He played two new songs, the first one a slow number that he didn't introduce. Before he played the second one, he told a little anecdote why the new album is called "Chinese Democracy". He said it was because he saw a photo taken in Hong Kong, which he's using as the new album cover. And then he showed it on the video screens, and it was a black and white picture of a bicycle with a basket, and in the wall behind it, someone had grafittied "guns n roses"!!! He said "I didn't paint that myself, so one of you mother****ers out there must have did it!" The crowd went wild, and he launched into the song. Despite what many people have reported about them taking a "techno" turn, this song was pure hard rock n' roll. Though being the first time I've heard it, I absolutely loved it!!!
About the band, new guitarist Richard was excellent, sporting a goth look that I didn't expect, hearing that he formerly played with the Psychedelic Furs. Tommy on bass provided much of the backup vocals, and the only one that looked "normal", coming onstage in sports jacket that was gone pretty early in the show. If I didn't know that the drummer was Brain of Primus fame, I would have sworn that he was Reni from the Stone Roses! He wore the exact fisherman's hat (though I have seen Beck's drummer wear the same thing), and he played just like him! Very tight and just like Steven Adler on the record, though he didn't play any solos so it was hard to gauge how good he really was. The two keyboard guys banged their heads and rocked out, though I swear to god, you could not hear them on the mix at all! Which for me was a good thing...probably the one song where you could hear them was the first slow new song, which was had a bit of synthesizer sound, and a drum machine beat for part of it (Brain just sat there not playing for that part).
The regular set ended way too early for this lifelong fan, though it was probably a good hour and 45 minutes. The last song might have been "Patience" (the only song from "Lies"), though I can't remember exactly. Another beautiful rendition, Richard and Buckethead both strapped on acoustic guitars, with Robin playing the only electric. Axl did an insane job on the whistling, and this might have been one of the best received songs of the show. The end part of the song was incredible, with the band rocking out and Axl belting out that part with such power and beauty. The crowd just went nuts, and the whole place was practically drowned by the audience singing along.
For the encore, Robin came out by himself with a sunburst Les Paul and played a very soulful, instrumental version of "Don't Cry". Hard to imagine as soulful and beautiful guitar playing from the guy from Nine Inch Nails. Then the whole band came out and played the most kickass version of "Paradise City". On the video screen, opening with a shot of the China flag, they showed shots of Hong Kong from a car and a helicopter, which were probably taken by Axl himself today or yesterday. The song was pure energy, with Axl hitting every @#%$ note and wail. It was also the visual highlight of the show, with flames bursting that you could literally feel the heat from, and then fireworks and red and yellow confetti streaming down from the ceiling. I was right smack center, maybe 14 rows from the front, and visually, it was as if I took acid and shrooms in a Vegas casino. Just visually @#%$ stunning!!!!
And then the show ended, leaving I'm sure, every @#%$ person in the audience blown away. We came in a big group, with hundreds of shows between us, and no one could remember a better show that they've seen. The big story of the night might have been how incredible Axl's voice was, with none of the coarseness from the "Live Era". Big, strong, high, and perfectly in key did he sing all @#%$ night. His outfit was leather pants and a black 99 football jersey for the first half of the show, and then a white 80 jersey later on (besides the red velvet jacket). Though the stage was relatively small, he still did his share of sprinting around, and disappeared backstage every so often for a minute or two, before coming back out. Buckethead showed why he was the man, filling in the very, very big shoes of Slash, and in his own way, probably every bit a player as Slash is. And the band was just @#%$ tight. All in all, it was a truly amazing @#%$ show, playing every good song (that at least I @#%$ wanted to hear). From a guy that was there, I'm telling you, Guns N' @#%$ Roses are back!!!!
P.S. Axl, if you're reading this, I was the guy in the green hemp t-shrit right in front of you on the chair, swaying along in synch with you during "Patience"!