Axl and Co. bring “Democracy” to New York


An aging former member of an iconic rock band goes out on the road periodically, bringing along with him an ever-changing lineup of musicians. He plays a generous selection of the beloved vintage hits, along with a smattering of new material that the audience responds to only half-heartedly.

No, it’s not Ringo and his All-Starr Band. It’s the return of Guns N’ Roses, or actually Axl Rose and whoever he happens to feel like playing with at the moment. The last time around, for instance, it was Buckethead on guitar; now it’s “Bumblefoot” (Ron Thal), among others.

In the third of four immediately sold-out shows at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, Axl and company delivered a solid and vigorous performance that was all the more remarkable for the fact that it went on at all. Of course, some things haven’t changed. The band didn’t hit the stage until after 11 p.m., 3 1/2 hours after the doors opened. Presumably, because they went on at exactly the same late hour every night, it was less about unavoidable delays than about building audience anticipation. What, 10 years isn’t enough?

Still, all was forgiven, thanks to the group’s dynamic presentation of a good portion of one of the most powerful, albeit limited, catalogs in rock history. From the classic opener of “Welcome to the Jungle” and “It’s So Easy” to stirring covers of “Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” to the extended encore of “Paradise City,” the lengthy show touched all the appropriate bases, with the ecstatic fans singing along to every song they could.

The show even included more than a few numbers from the long-gestating “Chinese Democracy,” probably the best-known unreleased album ever. While such numbers as “I.R.S.,” “Madagascar,” “Better” and “The Blues” don’t compare to Rose’s previous compositions, they’re not too shabby either, and they were performed with a fierce commitment indicating that someday we may even get to hear the damn record.

Rose was in uncharacteristically genial and chatty form, cracking jokes, thanking “die-hard” fans for their support and garnering cheers with his mention of a good-luck call from former GNR guitarist Izzy Stradlin. Looking fit and in good voice, the singer, sporting braided hair, proved that he’s still capable of recreating his trademark high-pitched yowls and serpentine dance moves.

He was well supported by a lineup that included three — count ’em, three — guitarists, who were given ample (if a little too much) time to demonstrate their prowess via extended solos. The fan favorite was clearly Robin Finck, who returned the affection by periodically launching stage dives into the crowd. Also on hand was special guest Sebastian Bach, who showed up to duet with Rose on a rousing version of “My Michelle.”

Designed as a warm-up for an upcoming European tour, including two opening slots for the Rolling Stones, the show was unusually lavish for a club date, with extensive use of video screens and pyrotechnics.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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