When my friend texted me that Guns N Roses were playing at Hiro for Fashion Week, I knew it was going to be one of those totally ridiculous things that I would regret missing.
When I got in, the girl DJ was playing the typical rock stuff that socialite rock DJ’s play. I believe she mixed “Rebel Rebel” right into “7 National Army”, which sounded cool. She also mixed “Ballroom Blitz” and “Lust For Life” in a fairly slick way. All of that was not nearly as cool as hearing “Definitive Gaze” by Magazine, which made my night. No one was really paying attention to the DJ, people were antsy. One, because it was packed in there and, two, because God knows how late Guns N Roses could go on. The crowd seemed like models and the sort of European bankers who have sex with models.
So, Guns N Roses goes on and it’s strange. They open with “You’re Crazy”, which was sick. Almost everyone on stage has a hat on. There are 3 guitar players and a bass player, respectively known as Nashville Pussy looking guy (no hat, wild hair and beard), Fake Izzy Stradlin’ (Johnny Thunders style fedora), and Marilyn Manson type guy (ugly-as-sin stitched up raggedly goth top-hat), and Tommy Stinson (Paul Simonon/Pete Doherty style stingy brimmed fedora). Axl looks all Michael Jackson eccentric in a black cowboy hat, bandana, sun glasses, and mustache/goatee combo. You got the feeling if you stripped away the JT LeRoy disguise, you’d be left with Bill Bailey: an out of shape middle-aged guy from Indiana who drives a beat up F150 and drinks at the VFW hall every afternoon.
Besides ruminating on what it means to be Axl, I also spent a lot of the show wondering what’s like to be Tommy Stinson and playing in Axl’s Guns N Roses tribute band. I mean I am sure it pays great, but I can’t believe he is super happy to be there. The set list was pretty good, and I say that as someone who last bought a Guns N Rose record in 1990. They covered Whole Lotta Rosie by AC/DC. They did lots of little showpieces for band members, probably just to give Axl time to chill in the hyperbaric chamber he had in the green room. Most of the showpieces were goofy, like a rock version of the Pink Panther Theme, but Tommy Stinson’s sounded good. He sang this song.
Most the time Axl’s vocals were way too low. I couldn’t tell if it was just bad mixing or if they were protecting him in some way. For some reason he was using a TV anchor style mic with a windscreen on it.
Halfway through the song “This I love”, I realized Axl is basically a white soul diva. Rock critics like Chuck Eddy have long noted that Guns N Roses were the last authentically funky American Rock and Roll band, but now it’s more like watching a Las Vegas revue.
There would be these big spotlight moments when Axl would just wail and it reminded me of seeing The Isley Brothers a few years ago; extremely professional, but still moving. I’ll be honest, when he sang things like the outro of “Rocket Queen”, or “Sweet Child Of Mine”, or “Patience”, I got goose bumps. These moments were interspersed with many moments of total boredom. It’s a drag to realize how boring a soulless, perfect, rock and roll band can be. But, Axl’s voice was more or less intact as far as I could tell. He may have lost a little bit of the softness in the middle of his range, but most people lose that with age (just look at Robert Plant). He definitely can still do all the ridiculous Axl screechy histrionics (like the end of “Don’t Cry” for example), and if anything it seemed like the songs were supposed to highlight that stuff.
Near the end , I got pretty close to the stage, maybe 1 row back. It was sort of bugging me out to be that close to Axl Rose. When he sang “Patience”, he didn’t have his sunglasses on and I swear he made direct eye contact with me. He had really pale blues eyes, his face was puffy and he was wearing mascara. It was kinda like having Bette Davis from “Whatever happened to Baby Jane” peering into your fucking soul.
Then after the show ended, I went to go buy some peanut M&M’s from the vending machine in the employee breakroom, and I hear this nasal, goofy , mid-western twang, talking something about a jacket, and BANG, there’s Axl Rose. I said “excuse me” and walked around him to get to the vending machine. I know that’s not much of a story, but I have never asked a famous person for a picture and I’m not one of those “Nice set, man!” kinda guys. Unlike most famous people, he seemed to be the exact right height. His guitar player with the Hot Topic patchwork hat was trying to change his pants by the Coke machine, as the actual green room was filled with sycophants (and Axl’s hyperbaric chamber). He said something about change, and I actually tried to give him change for a dollar, which was sorta funny. What I am trying to say is rock n roll is a very glamorous business, especially during fashion week.