Guns N' Roses at Comerica Theatre, 12/27/11

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Guns N' Roses Comerica Theatre Tuesday, December 27 See also:

Our complete Guns N' Roses and Sebastian Bach slideshow.

Our interview with Guns N' Roses bassist Tommy Stinson.

The line stretched around Comerica Theatre, and snaked all the way down Adams, placing us just across the street from the stucco façade and glowing neon sign of the New Windsor Hotel, and every single person waiting to get in was talking about Axl Rose. Would he show up? Would he have a meltdown? Would something go catastrophically wrong?

Never mind that we were packed in a line at 8 o'clock, knowing full well that G N' R wouldn't take the stage till 11 p.m. I saw some big shows at Comerica this year — Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, Bob Dylan, Louis C.K. — but this was a different kind of big.

This was an event, a massive, curious one. Maybe folks had read the reviews, heard that Axl and crew had been putting on solid, career spanning three-hour sets, that Rose seemed to be in good health and good spirits, and the band was kicking ass. But there's always a sense of volatility regarding Guns N' Roses: Would things work out? Would the guy dressed as Slash be disappointed by Axl's lineup of guitarists Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, DJ Ashba and Richard Fortus, three pros who have the unenviable task of living up to the guitarist's legend? Would the already viably drunk guy shouting at his girlfriend to "hurry up" make it in in time to sit in his seat for an hour before any music started?

All questions were set aside for an hour set by Sebastian Back, who won the crowd over with Skid Row classics after sorting out some muddy sound issues. Bach prowled the stage with a tremendous amount of energy, and his voice has remarkably held up. My experience with solo Bach has been an iffy one (I watched VH1's SuperGroup, and could never shake loose him insisting that Savage Animal was a great band name), but his set great when leaning toward the classic stuff; the new nu-metal flavored newer material didn't showcase his defining aspect (voice, not hair, though the latter was looking good, too), but the crowd seemed on his side, anyway.

"I want to thank you for 25 years of fuckin' rock 'n' roll!" Bach shouted, taking time out to sing happy birthday to guitarist and Phoenician Nick Sterling's father.

Guns N' Roses took the stage promptly at the very rock 'n' roll time of 11 p.m., marching in right as the theme from Showtime's Dexter concluded. Ripping into "Chinese Democracy," Axl emerged, clad in a tight leather jacket, blue jeans, sunglasses, and a hat. He ran laps across the stage, singing the title track to the album that despite what felt like a forever wait has proved to be something of an afterthought in the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-approved career. But Rose didn't sing it like anything other than The Most Important Song in the World, and then, without so much as a breath dove straight into "Welcome to the Jungle." No wait for the goods here — you want G N' R? This is G N' R.

Sleazy L.A. classics like "It's So Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone" followed, with Rose shimming his signature shimmies and the 6-piece band roaring behind him. Explosions, giant video screens, goofy women-in-distress mock "art-films" beamed onto said giant screens — like I said, this wasn't a concert, it was an event.

Rose didn't speak much, offering little more than: "How are you tonight?" and "This is a cool looking place," but he sang and the crowd air-drummed along unironically, mimicking Rose's dance moves, and making out.

Even the most ardent Slash-fan couldn't help but be impressed by the trio of guitarists — and they had plenty of chances to watch them in action. Everyone took turns playing solos — which can be annoying if you aren't into the shred thing, but luckily found everyone playing tastefully. Well as "tasteful" as shredding solo guitar allows you to be. Other members got in on the action, too — Tommy Stinson performed his solo tune "Motivation," which he hinted at doing during our interview, and Dizzy Reed, the only guy who's been in the band longer than Stinson sat at the baby grand for a nice rendition of The Who's "Baby O'Riley."

Much of the set found the band cementing its place in the classic rock canon — performing G N' R tunes like "You Could Be Mine" and "Nighttrain" alongside covers of Wings (though you could argue that Rose's take on that song has actually eclipsed Paul McCartney's in terms of pop-culture relevance), Elton John, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, and Bob Dylan.

The setlist read a lot like others I've seen from this tour, with one notable exception — the band brought out Bubbles from the television program Trailer Park Boys to perform Liquor and Whores. I'm not familiar with the show (other than Netflix repeatedly recommending it to me), but I've seen the character and "got" the joke a little more than a lot of the folks around me, who looked a little confused by this yokel guy singing a country song with Guns N' Roses.

The band closed out its proper set with "Nightrain," prompting a younger fan to rush the stage — who was promptly wiped-out by stage hands. "Someone just got a little too excited," Rose said, walking the stage (in what I think was his fifth or sixth costume change of the evening — the man has a lot of hats). "I think I'll just pick up on the second verse," he laughed. Yeah — Axl Rose sporting a smile and chuckling onstage. It was awesome.

Taking the stage for the encore, Rose asked if it was okay for the band to "play a few more." The crowd cheered. It was almost 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, and a few of the less hardcore members of the crowd at indeed bowed out, but those left cheered loudly. The band closed with "Paradise City," adding in some of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

Rose has always done it his way. Sometimes, as last night and this tour have proved, his way is exactly what the folks want. Something huge. Something pretty much outrageous. An event.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Guns N' Roses and Sebastian Bach at Comerica Theatre

The Crowd: A true Arizona hard rock crowd, which is to say more diverse than most concerts you go to.

Random Notebook Dump: "Dear guy dressed as Slash, I applaud you."

Overheard: "'Paradise City,' 'Welcome to the Jungle,' 'Sweet Child O' Mine' — wake me up for those songs, okay?"

It Must Be Kind of Weird: Going to see what was once the most dangerous rock band in the world with your mom.

If I Had to Pick a Favorite Guitarist From This Lineup of G N' R: It would be Bumblefoot. Dude's soulful. Thing I Would Be Into, But No One Else in the Audience Would Be Into: More Tommy Stinson on lead vocals.


Introduction: Dexter Theme Chinese Democracy Welcome To The Jungle It's So Easy Mr. Brownstone Sorry Shackler's Revenge Estranged Rocket Queen James Bond Theme (Richard Fortus solo) Live and Let Die (Wings) This I Love Riff Raff (AC/DC) Motivation (Tommy Stinson) Baba O'Riley (The Who, Dizzy Reed solo) Street Of Dreams You Could Be Mine Mi Amor (DJ Ashba solo) Sweet Child O' Mine Another Brick In The Wall (Pink Floyd) Elton John Medley (Axl solo) November Rain Pink Panther Theme (Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal solo) Don't Cry Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC) Civil War Liquor & Whores (With Bubbles of The Trailer Park Boys) Knockin' On Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan) Instrumental Nightrain

Encore: Instrumental Jam Madagascar Better Patience Paradise City My Way (Frank Sinatra)

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