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.