It’s been a long three years since the release of Chinese Democracy. Axl Rose and the current iteration of Guns N’ Roses have largely avoided North America these last few years, but the group has finally embarked on a tour of America and Canada. Although a bit late to really be a tour in support of Chinese Democracy, the album was well represented during Wednesday night’s show at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, OK.
After sitting through 45 minutes of Hinder (one of the only bands worse than Nickleback) and then another 45 minutes of waiting, Axl & Co. appeared on stage to the theme song from Dexter. As it came to a close, DJ Ashba, the band’s current hat-wearing guitarist, struck the intro chords to Chinese Democracy.
The song’s reverb-heavy riff sounded great bouncing off the walls of the arena, and although not many in the crowd seemed familiar with the track, Axl’s voice was definitely familiar and had people instantly excited.
A string of GNR classics followed, starting with a biting version of Welcome to the Jungle. As the song’s descending guitar riff began, the crowd seemed captivated by what was happening up on the stage. Pretty standard takes on It’s So Easy and Mr. Brownstone were next, helping to deliver on the band’s promise to perform “all of the hits” on this tour.
Sorry was up next, immediately ending the excitement that the band had built up with the last few songs. The grinding Chinese Democracy track was unfamiliar to seemingly the entire crowd, and Axl’s voice was really straining to hit the notes in his lower register.
A cover of AC/DC’s Riff Raff was followed by one of the most welcome surprises of the night – Use Your Illusion II’s Estranged. The nearly 10 minute song unfolded before the crowd, with guitarist Bumblefoot handling the song’s soaring lead guitar lines. During Sorry Axl had trouble singing in his lower register but Estranged didn’t suffer the same fate – Axl sounded like he did on the original studio track from 20 years ago.
The rest of the show mixed together the biggest GNR hits with a few more Chinese Democracy-era tracks.
Live and Let Die was a crowd favorite, eliciting loud roars from the audience as huge bursts of pyro punctuated the music. Axl’s voice sounded spot on during the breakdown in the track, but it was really the group’s three guitarists that stole the spotlight during the song.
Chinese Democracy’s Better sounded great in a live setting, starting off quietly, almost muted, before exploding into a guitar-heavy rocker featuring one of Axl’s strongest vocal performances of the night. The song is one of a few great tracks on Democracy, and it’s good to see the band perform the song with as much passion as the older tracks.
Almost as if to prove to the crowd that the band had the chops to be playing with Axl, almost every member of the band was given his own solo performance.
Richard Fortus played a fiery, overly dramatic take on the James Bond theme while Bumblefoot mixed his own playing style into the Pink Panther theme song. DJ Ashba performed a piece called Mi Amor which was definitely the best of the guitar solos.
Tommy Stinson chose a cover of The Who’s My Generation as his solo of the night, performing lead vocals and doing a great job of playing the song’s legendary bass line. This segued directly into Dizzy Reed’s solo, which was a great take on Baba O’Riley on a piano in the center of the stage.
During these solo performances, Axl would run to a curtained room that was set up on the right side of the stage. After asking around to find out what he was doing, it turns out that Axl runs over to the mystery room to suck down oxygen in between his own vocal performances. Might be old news for some, but by Axl’s fifth trip to the curtained box it became apparent that the solos were more than just a chance to highlight the band.
Later in the show, a brief instrumental medley of Elton John’s Somebody Saved My Life Tonight and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road transitioned into November Rain. As a massive amount of lighters and cell phones began to light up the arena, one of GNR’s most musically ambitious tracks inspired the crowd to start singing along. Axl’s voice was a little rough in spots during the song but the noise of several thousand singing along helped to keep it from becoming too noticeable. The ending (mostly instrumental) portion of the song sounded fantastic, Bumblefoot completely nailing the epic guitar solo. It was a definite highlight of the show.
During the encore, the band played both Madagascar and Shackler’s Revenge from Democracy. Madagascar’s swelling orchestral synths and brass served as a perfect backing track for both Axl’s voice and some great guitar work by the band’s trio of six-stringers.
Shackler’s Revenge is one of the heaviest songs in GNR’s repertoire, complete with creepy backing vocal work and a pulsing, nearly industrial guitar riff. It sounded phenomenal live, and although the crowd once again seemed unfamiliar with the “new” material, Shackler’s Revenge is catchy enough that it managed to hold the audience’s attention.
The show ended with a solid version of Paradise City and as red confetti showered over the audience, Axl and his band seemed to pour out whatever energy they had left for the song. After the song came to a close, the band came to the front of the stage to take in the applause and thank the crowd.
After seeing the show, it seems unfair to call Axl’s band “hired” guns. These guys have been playing with Axl for quite some time – DJ Ashba for 2 years, drummer Frank Ferrer for 4, Bumblefoot at 5, Richard Fortus for 9, and both Tommy Stinson and Chris Pittman for a whopping 13. Dizzy Reed is considered an original member by many fans and has been with Axl since 1990.
Guns N’ Roses isn’t quite the revolving door some would like to believe – and this show served as an indication that this current iteration of the band is more than capable of bringing these songs to life in a live setting. The band may not look like the “classic” Guns N’ Roses lineup, but they damn sure sound like it.
While some people will never accept a GNR without Slash, Duff or Izzy, those that are willing to give the newer band members a chance will find a great, solid, entertaining show filled with some of the best rock music created in the last 30 years. Stop waiting for the original GNR to get back together and go catch one of these shows – you won’t regret it.
Chinese Democracy, Welcome To The Jungle, It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone, Sorry, Riff Raff (AC/DC), Estranged, Rocket Queen, Richard Fortus Solo (James Bond Theme), Live and Let Die, This I Love, Better, My Generation (Tommy Stinson on vocals), Dizzy Reed Solo (Baba O’Riley), Street of Dreams, You Could Be Mine, DJ Ashba Solo (Mi Amor), Sweet Child O’ Mine, Instrumental Jam (Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2), Axl Rose Solo (Someone Saved My Life Tonight / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), November Rain, Bumblefoot Solo (Pink Panther Theme), Don’t Cry, Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC), Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Nightrain
Encore: Instrumental Jam, Madagascar, Shackler’s Revenge, Patience, Out Ta Get Me, Nice Boys (Rose Tattoo), Paradise City