UPDATED: Rocks Off just got off the phone with someone in the GN'R camp, who told us it was she who pulled our credentials, and that Axl had not even read our post from earlier Tuesday. So there it is.
Guns N' Roses, Venomous Maximus House of Blues May 28, 2013
An aging has-been milking the nostalgia circuit for a few last, big paydays. A petty dictator running out a squad of mercenary ringers onstage every night and calling it Guns N' Roses. For the more cynical observers among us, that's kind of been the rap on Axl Rose for quite a few years now: The Guns N' Roses of 2013 isn't a band, it's a business, with W. Axl Rose as its unquestionable president and CEO.
But that's not the truth. Certainly not the whole truth, anyway. To Axl Rose, Guns N' Roses has never been about business. It's personal. Yesterday, I found out just how personal.
On Tuesday morning, Rocks Off published a blog entry I wrote exploring the backgrounds of the modern-day Gunners who would be backing up Axl at the House of Blues later that evening. I wrote it because, like many fans, I didn't know much about them, and I wanted to have some idea about who I'd be seeing and hearing at the gig.
Along the way, I took a few jabs at Axl and the gang. I happen to think that they were pretty tame, and that the tone of the piece was all in fun. Not everyone agreed. Specifically, Guns N' Roses' camp did not agree. They
(and by "they," I'm pretty sure we're talking about one guy in particular, here) took it personally. And so, they decided to revoke the Houston Press' media credentials to cover Tuesday night's GN'R concert.
Dick move? You decide. Had it been any other band, that probably would have been the end of it. But Guns N' Roses is personal for me, too. The group was in its creative peak just as I was beginning to explore music for the first time growing up. Their songs' dangerous mystique and their videos' lavish vision captured my imagination as a boy, and I've never quite gotten over it.
In short, seeing Guns N' Roses play live was on my bucket list, and even if the original band is gone for good, surely the 2013 version still has some of the old spark left. I wanted to experience it for myself, whether Axl wanted me to or not.
So I logged on to StubHub and bought a ticket. To quote a famous man, "Suck on that."
I wasn't the only one psyched to see GN'R. The show was sold out, even with general-admission tickets selling for $133. Just as excited to be in attendance were the men of Venomous Maximus, the local kings of occult metal, who were tabbed to open for Guns. Beginning with the first note of "Path of Doom," Venomous instantly filled the venue with its heavy, rollicking sound, making no effort to hide their glee at sharing a stage with one of rock and roll's most legendary bands.
It's no easy task opening for Guns N' Roses, but Venomous Maximus played fearlessly. Some folks dug 'em, some folks hated 'em and some folks ignored them. That's the gig when you're jerking the curtain. With any luck, they'll get to abuse that big, loud HOB sound system again very soon.
Once Venomous departed, the waiting began. The wondering began. Would Guns N' Roses show up on time? Would Axl sound good? And if one or more of those things didn't happen, would a riot break out?
That was all put to rest fairly early, with the band hitting the stage promptly at 10:30 p.m. As if that wasn't enough of a clue that this wasn't the GN'R of old, the group opened with the title track to Chinese Democracy. Good song. The band sounded tight and focused. The crowd looked happy but confused.
That confusion turned into elation quick when Axl and crew roared into "Welcome to the Jungle" next. This was the shit people had paid to hear. It was immediately followed by "It's So Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone," two more indelible cuts from Appetite for Destruction. The audience rattled and shook ecstatically, pumping their fists in the air and hoisting their phones to capture snapshots and video.
What did they see through those digital viewfinders? Well, a band that looked a lot different from its original incarnation -- including the lead singer. At 51 years old, Rose isn't exactly cute anymore, and his lung capacity ain't quite what it used to be.
But he's hardly unrecognizable, either. Even mostly hidden behind a pair of shades and a collection of wide-brimmed hats, Axl Rose has still got the rock and roll mystique that made him famous. The stage moves are still there, too, even if they're a little slower and more subtle these days. He didn't say much to the audience, but he didn't need to, either.
The singer looked and sounded entirely in his comfort zone on "Estranged," a personal favorite of mine from Use Your Illusion II. In the song's quieter moments, Rose dropped the gravel from his voice entirely, crooning softly and sweetly. Whether that was by necessity or design, it worked. In total command, he sounded vulnerable without being weak.
It was obvious that a great deal of his confidence flowed from the musicians surrounding him. They didn't much resemble the guys that fascinated me on MTV decades ago, but they sure as shit sounded like them. Led by the triple-guitar attack of Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, DJ Ashba and Richard Fortus, the Guns N' Roses of 2013 is a well-oiled machine, drilled to precision and unfettered by the drugs and drama that helped end the original group's run.
What's more, they looked like they were having a hell of a lot of fun up there. Belying his public reputation as a bit of an egomaniacal control freak, Rose never hesitated to share the spotligt with his bandmates. Everybody got a turn to take a featured solo, and while Ashba and Fortus didn't quite make us forget Slash and Izzy, they didn't make us miss them, either.
It's taken quite a few years for Rose to assemble a group that he trusted to deliver his musical vision, but it was obvious on Tuesday that he'd done it. These guys were not simply hired hands. Fortus, Dizzy Reed, Tommy Stinson and the others were shown a great deal of respect and deference onstage by their ostensible employer.
Together, they pumped out hit after hit. "Sweet Child." "Patience." "November Rain." The audience ate each of them up. In spite of a few hiccups here and there, Axl's voice held up well throughout a solid, two-hours-plus set. By the time the group closed the evening with "Paradise City," he sounded a little tired, but the crowd was singing along so loudly that it didn't matter.
I was singing along, too. Was I pissed that Guns N' Roses tried to stop me from covering a rock show in my own fuckin' city? Yeah. But I decided not to take it personally. Life, I find, is a lot more fun that way.
Personal Bias: Let's just skip this one.
The Crowd: Over 30, white, with big money to blow on concert tickets.
Overhead In the Crowd: Non-stop chatter and chit-chat. Highly annoying.
Random Notebook Dump: Security was tighter than I've ever seen it at House of Blues on Tuesday. Women had their purses searched; men had to turn out their pockets. Pat-downs for everybody. Were they checking for weapons or cameras, Axl?