Tonight, Guns N' Roses plays what's being billed as an "intimate" performance at House of Blues. From our perspective here at Rocks Off, that's a good thing. The opportunity to get close enough to W. Axl Rose to check carefully for plastic surgery scars is one many longtime fans never dared dream of, and the sound at HOB is pretty consistently excellent. We're looking forward to it.
Still, the choice of venue came as a bit of a surprise. Just a couple of years ago, the band was playing Toyota Center. Despite their origins in the seedy clubs of L.A.'s sunset strip, GNR has been a stadium-rock band through and through since the late '80s. If you can remember seeing Axl wail in a venue of this size before, congratulations, you're one hell of a rock and roll survivor.
Is Guns N' Roses no longer able to fill up a major U.S. arena anymore? It's hard to imagine, but only the promoters know for sure. But if their drawing power is on the wane, however, a big part of the problem might be that the group has gone through quite a few lineup changes in the past 25 years. Original members Slash and Duff haven't played a show with Axl since 1993, and even Buckethead, probably the most famous of the 21st-century replacements, has been gone for nearly a decade.
So who the hell is even in Guns N' Roses these days, anyway?
"Who cares?" would be the understandably smug response. For many fans, it's still Slash and Izzy or nothin'. But the simple truth is, Slash ain't walking through that door. That's a hard truth, perhaps, but no harder than this one: the new guys are pretty fucking good. Now that the current lineup has stabilized a bit in recent years, it's probably safe to start actually getting to know them a little.
To jumpstart the process of beginning to see the non-Axl members of Guns N' Roses as something other than faceless hacks and hired, er, guns, here's a handy guide to the capable musicians who will be furiously bashing out "Paradise City" tonight:
Dizzy Reed, keyboards The Guns N' Roses member who has logged the most hours in the group outside of Axl is keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who came aboard in 1990 to do some recording on the band's Use Your Illusion albums. He's managed to hang on ever since, humbly tickling the ivories, singing backup and generally knowing his role in a band that gradually came to be completely dominated by Axl Rose.
However, Reed has remained cool with his ex-bandmates too, contributing to albums by former Gunners Duff McKagan, Slash and Gilby Clarke. In a band filled with infighting, drugs and all-around drama, Reed has served as GN'R's Mr. Reliable for a couple of decades now.
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, lead guitar From relative obscurity to the lead-guitar slot in Guns N' Roses: probably not a difficult decision for axeslinger Ron Thal back in 2006. After the departure of Buckethead, the man known (or, perhaps, unknown) as "Bumblefoot" came recommended by guitar god Joe Satriani, and Axl evidently liked what he heard. He's been involved with the band ever since.
Thal recorded licks on parts of Chinese Democracy, one of a number of guys who were called in to fill Slash's snakeskin boots for the long-delayed album. Now he's playing gigs all over the world with GNR, performing the same solos that he used to play years ago in front of small bar crowds with his cover band, Leonard Nimoy. Not a bad upgrade.
DJ Ashba, also lead guitar Wouldn't surprise us if Slash occasionally has a chuckle over the fact that Axl hired two guys to replace him in Guns N' Roses: one to fill his shoes, and another to fill his hat. DJ Ashba would be the latter. In 2009, he replaced guitarist Robin Finck, who left GN'R to rejoin Nine Inch Nails. For those keeping score, that makes him the newest member of the band.
Ashba arrived already armed with L.A. cock-rock bonafides, however, having served time in BulletBoys, Beautiful Creatures and Sixx:A.M. He also wrote much of Motley Crue's 2008 album, Saints of Los Angeles. Axl apparently didn't begrudge him that paycheck, despite his early-'90s feud with Vince Neil and company.
Richard Fortus, guitar Yep, another guitarist! Richard Fortus scored big in 2000, when the talented six-stringer was asked to join the reunited Psychedelic Furs after playing in the band Love Spit Love with the Furs' leader, Richard Butler. He scored even bigger the following year when he was asked to join Guns N' Roses, replacing some guy named Paul Tobias.
In his spare time, we guess, Fortus plays with the band the Dead Daisies, which opened for Aerosmith on a recent Australian tour. The group's debut single, "Lock N Load," just so happens to feature Slash on guitar. Awkward.
Tommy Stinson, bass Tommy Stinson was the bassist in the Replacements, a band that just about invented alternative rock back when Guns N' Roses was still going through a can or two of White Rain every day. If you're familiar at all with the Replacements, you know that makes him just about the coolest guy in the band.
He's been holding down the low end for Guns since 1998, giving him one of the longest tenures in the group's history. His playing is notably featured on "Oh My God," GN'R's first single of the post-Slash-Izzy-Duff era, released in '99.
Chris Pitman, utility infielder Like Stinson, keyboardist (yes, another one) Chris Pitman also joined Guns N' Roses back in 1998 and played on every track of Chinese Democracy. Pitman has served as something of a utility man for the band, contributing bass lines and backup vocals in addition to his keyboard work. A longtime studio musician and Tool associate, he has also toured with Maynard and the gang and played with groups featuring Tool members such as the Replicants, Lusk and ZAUM.
He's also apparently done some work with the excellent '90s alt-rockers Failure, which totally counts in his favor.
Frank Ferrer, drums Frank Ferrer joined Guns N' Roses in 2006. He's the drummer, which has traditionally been the least interesting and/or essential member of Guns N' Roses. He also plays in Psychedelic Furs with Richard Fortus. That's about all your need to know about this guy.
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Oh, and he's also performed with Doro Pesch and Tool, so... righteous?