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Guns N' Roses, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Guns N' Roses, O2 Arena

Guns N' Roses, O2 Arena

Epic, absurd, self-parodic, heroic... that's the wonder of Axl Rose

Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose in one of his many hats: Mad, bad, dangerous and always late for everything

"The Legend of Axl Rose" sounds like the title for a long and fanciful western movie, about a bandit who defies the law and even time itself. In person, wayward vocalist Rose does indeed resemble some kind of picaresque outlaw who rules his own eccentric kingdom, and he lent much-needed gaiety to this sprawling performance by constantly ringing the changes on a huge wardrobe of hats, jackets and multi-coloured T-shirts.

He's doing his best to defy time too, quite successfully in the case of 2008's Chinese Democracy album, which took 17 years to reach fruition. But lax time-keeping has been causing problems recently, with Axl and band having their performance forcibly terminated at the Reading festival after they ran over the curfew, then incurring the wrath of Dubliners by doing it again the following week. For this pair of O2 shows, they'd decided that 9.40pm was about the right start time, prompting the venue to screen electronic banners explaining how you might be able to get home when the show inevitably breached the  midnight hour.

The original Guns N' Roses was a group of squabbling individuals in a perpetual state of combustion, and their chaotic instability was a huge ingredient in their rise to worldwide notoriety. It couldn't, and didn't, last. Although there was a collector's-item appearance last night by the band's former bassist Duff McKagan in "You Could Be Mine" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" - the first time he has shared a stage with Rose in 17 years - the new-look Guns is essentially a bunch of hired hands paid to do their leader's bidding.

And what he bids them to do is perform a curious mishmash of material, which sometimes feels like some sort of homage to Rose's musical heroes, and at other times lurches into self-parody. Guitarist Richard Fortus (one of three) gets his own mini-showcase with a farcically overblown version of the "James Bond Theme", all feedback and powerchords as if it's a satirical echo of Jimi Hendrix playing "The Star-Spangled Banner". It was followed by Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die", an old Guns favourite crudely tarted up here with great spurts of flame and deafening pyrotechnic explosions banging home the song's climaxes. Later, guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal had a go at Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther Theme", converting its original lean slinkiness into a two-handed barrage of fretboard squitter. After the band had essayed a version of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall", Rose sat at the piano and played his own instrumental tribute to Elton John, like a heavy metal Liberace (Duff McKagan makes a guest appearance, pictured below).

axl_duff_smallBut there's a kind of grandeur in Rose's epic perversity, echoed in the spectacular stage set with its platforms, turrets, video screens and hanging speaker columns, and the band are capable of delivering decent-sized portions of awesomeness. Not even the ridiculous posturing of top-hatted guitarist DJ Ashba, striking poses on top of the monitor speakers, could impair the emotional charge of "Sweet Child O' Mine", while Rose's sinister baritone rasp lent menace to "Welcome to the Jungle". The turbo-ballad "November Rain" provided a framework for the overwrought emotionalism which Rose channels in his best songs, while "Rocket Queen", from their debut album, suddenly sounded like a lost masterpiece.

But it wasn't just the familiar oldies which got the juices flowing. Several of the Chinese Democracy songs can stand toe to toe with the band's best, with "Street of Dreams" and "Shackler's Revenge" blending muscle with melodicism, and "Sorry" floating mournfully over drifting minor chords. But can Axl ever learn to curb his appetite for self-destruction?

  • Guns N' Roses are at Birmingham NEC on Sunday 17 October and Manchester Arena on Monday 18 October
  • Find Guns N' Roses on Amazon
Watch Guns N' Roses play "Chinese Democracy":
There's a kind of grandeur in Rose's epic perversity, and the band are capable of delivering decent-sized portions of awesomeness

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Easily one of the best gigs of my life. And I went in with very low expectations. So much for Axl losing his voice; he sounded superb. And the 'hired hands' are some of today's greatest rock guitarists. Incredible to see Duff back onstage with him.

100% agree, I really wasn't expecting much, and what I got was one of the best shows I have ever seen. His voice is still amazing, and while some of the guitar solos were alightly drawn out, each song was immense. Not too sure about 'replacement Slash' and his top hat/cigarette combo, but Duff being back on stage was incredible and so unexpected. Everyone keeps mentioning the late start to the show, but what people fail to mention is the nearly 3 performance that followed it!

Easily the best gig I have ever been to... DJ Ashba was brilliant - in fact the whole thing was amazing...Dont believe everthing you read and hear in the press - go and see the show and judge for yourself...awsome :-)

don't agree with this review in general as i, like many there saw one of the best gigs in my life but appreciate that you liked some chinese democracy songs, which is far fairer than many reviewers! :-)x

Brilliant gig. Yes, they were a bit late but everybody who goes must know that and there were warnings on the o2 website. Read loads of stuff about Axl being unable to sing, out of breath and other rubbish - he was magnificent, total rock front man - I've seen much younger men fail to put in as much as he did. I love DjAshba, think he fits in really well and his playing is just right. Duff, amazing, will always remember it. Awesome night

What a great show. Totally loved it. DJ Ashba was amazing and he fits in so well. Of course they were late. They have been late on stage for the past 25 years!! Everything was awsome but November Rain was just magic :-)

Amazing night, my expectations were pretty low after the farce at Reading and Leeds but i was blown away. Maybe having Duff in the wings made Axl fire on all cylinders cos from where i was standing his vocals sounded as good as they ever had. He might be late but you cant say he doesnt put the effort once on stage.

Wow, everybody loves Axl! But I think he ought to consider that not everyone has a fleet of limos to take then home from the North Greenwich wilderness in the early hours.

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