Axl Rose, Guns N' Roses rocked Colorado's 1stBank Center on Sunday - Reverb

Live review: Guns N’ Roses @ the 1stBank Center

O, Axl Rose. You’re really going to start a two-and-a-half-hour Guns N’ Roses show at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night?

Late rock shows are fine and good — the norm, even, at some venues — but not even the second coming of the great Axl Rose explains the organization of Sunday’s show, which included two openers and pushed the GNR start time to 11 p.m. in the suburban 1stBank Center.

It would be one thing if this were 1987 and we were seeing the fresh-faced band on its legendary, too-good-to-be-true “Appetite For Destruction” tour. But no, this outing focused primarily on 2008’s curious “Chinese Democracy,” an elusive record that never met its years-in-the-waiting hype.

Seeing a GNR show in 2011 is basically seeing the Axl Rose Show — with a decades-old penchant for pyro intact. Gone are all the other faces from the old album covers and videos, and in their places are fill-ins — wearing hats, covered in tattoos, rocking scarves and other such ’80s rock paraphernalia. The players were perfectly serviceable, and they played all the familiar solos exactly as they’re remembered.

But what about Axl?

The 2011 Axl Rose isn’t fat or corn-rowed as the Internet remembers him. He’s also not young or cool or baby-faced or charismatic or wiry or wild or dangerous or unpredictable like he was in those early tours and videos. No, 2011 Axl Rose is an awkward shadow of those old black-and-white publicity stills — the ones where his knowing eyes look at you as if he’s deciding whether to cuddle or stab you.

Rose spent most of the night in a fedora-and-sunglasses combo that would have looked more at home on a “Smooth Criminal”-era Michael Jackson. He ran the length of the stage throughout the show, taking numerous curious off-stage breaks at nearly every guitar solo or break. But he looked more like a yearning-for-relevance Bret Michaels than anything else.

Metal — even pop-metal — is a young man’s game.

That said, Rose’s voice was mostly intact — the biggest surprise of the night. (The second-biggest surprise? No rock-star antics. He was just another frontman.) As Rose flew through an odd three-pack of “Appetite” jams early in the set, he barely missed a step. His “Welcome to the Jungle” was fierce and fiery with him nailing everything down to the “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-knees, knees.” His “It’s So Easy” showed off his singular lower register, which is even more iconic than his screeching, upper-register howl. And a funky “Mr. Brownstone” was proof that Rose is comfortable with his current line-up, which included multiple guitarists and a total of seven other musicians on the stage.

The not-full arena was littered with headband-wearing fans. (It seemed to be a median age of about 39, which made sense.) Lots of Broncos jerseys in the house, too, given the post-game nature of the show. (“Tebow pulls out another win, and I’m seeing Axl tonight? Woooo!,” screamed one such bro waiting to get into the 1stBank Center.) The guys in the front on the floor were clearly into the show, raging even to the lackluster “Chinese Democracy” jams. But most of the fans hanging out in the bowl rested in their seats — taking in a cultural spectacle like no other, and resting for the long and late night to come.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.

Evan Semón is a Denver freelance writer and photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work.

  • gadsby

     GnR blow. They cant even sell out 1st Bank. R&R hall of fame material? NOT.

  • Whirlybird540

    I actually went to the show and was maybe like 9 people from the stage. It was 3 amazing hours of a blistering set. I also went 5 years ago and this show far out shined it. First of all, they played Estranged and Rocket Queen and second the guitarists were having a blast jamming in between songs. In response to this editors comments of its “the Axl Rose Show”, is a comment given by so many other GNR fans who can’t move on. Axl might not have the voice he used to but this band is musically far superior to the old GNR. Ashba, and Bumblefoot are considered some of the best shredders out there. They far surpass Slash any day and on any song. This will go down as the best show I’ve ever been to, Axl is still one of the greatest front men ever. On his way out, him and the rest of the band got together and took a bow in front of the crowd apologizing for taking so long to get back to the states on tour and next time it won’t be so long. Class act. I would definitely suggest checking them out if you have a chance, well worth the money. Don’t listen to the critics like this guy, he would have something negative to say even if it was the original band.

    • Ricardo Baca

      Axl did sound great. (I said that up there.) Cheers to his voice still being so strong. 
      As for the guitarists, they were solid – though saying they’re better than Slash is a little silly. Slash wrote a lot of those parts, so are they really comparable? 

  • Paul Krason

    I’m one of those HUGE GnR fans that refused to see this show on principle.  GnR without Slash makes no sense to me.  Ricardo’s fine review confirmed that my money and time are better saved to see Slash when he comes through town with Myles Kennedy (should that happen).  Such a shame that the original lineup imploded from over-consumption and personality disorders.  That used to be the most blistering band on the planet.

    • Indy fan

      if you research it, the reality is that Slash let down Axl and the bandmates big-time.  the guy had to have a heart defibrillator implanted in his chest at age 35 b/c his heart was so swollen after years of drug abuse and alcoholism.  He was completely dysfunctional the last couple years he was in the band, and as an addict refused to accept he needed help.  If you’re Axl, what choice was there?  Either be a survivor and move on and live life forward or go down on the sinking ship.  Slash was and is amazing, but he also moved on and joined not 1 but 2 other bands.  When Weiland returned to STP, it left a mess for Slash.  But Axl had already assembled a new band, and he’s been with his new bandmates for over 10 years – how could he possibly leave his new bandmates now?  I’d love to see the original band together again as much as the next guy, but the reality is that it’s 2011, Axl and the new band have been a real band for 12 or 13 years, and his survival and current success should be celebrated and enjoyed by both the fans and media.  Izzy left by choice.  Slash and Steven became dysfunctional addicts.  I think both the fans and journalists should acknowledge that the reality is Axl’s original bandmates let him down by letting drugs and alcohol dominate their lives…and ultimately destroy a great band.  Axl was no saint, but the destruction of the original band was not his fault.

      • Paul Krason

        To say that it was not Axl’s fault that the band broke up is not correct.  He contributed in a huge way.  Namely by going on stage hours late and acting like a prima donna.  They were all at fault but but to exonerate Axl is just disingenous.

        • Indy Fan

          Yeah, well, I’ll give you that.  Axl should not be exonerated.  No doubt he contributed to the break up.  I actually think it was his ego that pushed Izzy to finally throw in the towel, and they’d been friends since childhood.  It seemed at the time that Izzy didn’t like who Axl had changed into, so he took off.  Once Izzy left, Axl had lost his writing partner – and while Axl primarily wrote the lyrics, Izzy primarily wrote the harmonies.  But once Izzy was gone, I don’t think Axl could handle the addiction of the other band members.  Research it and you’ll see that while Axl drinks and did his fare share of drugs, it would seem he was still functional and was FAR less abusive to his body than one might think.  There was also a great SPIN article marking the 20th anniversary of Appetite a few years ago, and in this article the writer quotes someone involved with the making of that album who described what the house was like that the Guns members were living in at the time.  Basically, it was the classic Rock n Roll mess, with one lone exception:  Axl had a lock on his door and nobody was allowed in.  His room was the only room that wasn’t a mess.  In fact, it was immaculate.  That stuck with me.  There’s no way for me to validate this theory, but it seems to me that Axl was always different from the other guys.  It’s like he actually took things more seriously.  

          Anyway…the concert I saw was great, and Axl was far better than I imagined he’d be.  All I can say is he survived, he kept the GnR name alive, and he’s making it work.  Granted, not the same GnR we’d all like to see – but it’s a damn good band he’s touring with.

  • Carey

    I’ve seen Motley Crue, Kiss, Poison and Def Leppard all perform on recent tours.  This Guns show was the greatest show I’ve ever seen and I’m a die hard Gunner.  I would absolutely love to see Slash, Duff and Izzy up there, but give the new band members credit, they worked their butts off.  3 hours of heavy rock, running around on stage and wardrobe changes.  I agree the Chinese Democracy tunes are a bit lackluster, but great call out by Whirlybird, that they played Estranged and Rocket Queen, pretty unique/long/not the most popular songs, but great tunes.  They also threw in a sweet piano set of Teenage Wasteland and “The Wall” by Pink Floyd.  I loved it.

  • One23iv

    the show ruled, I would be the first to talk shit.  blew me away, yeah Chinese Democracy songs were the lull but gave time to hang with friends and drink beers…It was worth every penny, I had a blast and feel as if people missed out by not going….I was debating even getting off the couch after football…glad I did, may have been the show of the year.  And I see a LOT of shows.

  • Flayertim92

    Haha, I was one of those front row ravers at the show I went to. These shows are amazing, but when you wrote this review, even if you liked the show, you spent so much time on other issues than the music, such as starting time (which is early for GnR) and comparisons to the old band that the review comes off almost negative.

  • MarlaHooch


    If Axl sounded great, they played for three hours, the band was “perfectly serviceable”, and the guitarists were “solid”, why is the much larger percentage of your review about what Axl was wearing and how full or not full the venue was?

    Hipster douche…

    P.S.  The tickets say 9, there were two opening acts, and they went on at 11.  What’s the problem?

  • Mary Louise

    I’m also an awkward shadow of my old black-and-white yearbook photo from 1986. I understand the yearning to go back to the beginning, especially if you could do it with all the knowledge you have today. But you can’t. No matter how badly you lust after those dingy, poorly edited flyers for shows at the Troubadour, you can’t get back there, so the past is a moot point. I didn’t see this show, but it appears that Axl has achieved his long-time goal of performing a 3 hour show and did it well. Whatever else you were expecting is fantasy.   

  • Mmmillner

    The reviewer must have left early. The show was 3 hours easy. Axl changed his outfit several times too. You have to note axl as a fashion trendsetter as well. He rocked the red headband during “Nightrain.”

  • Jesse

    This guy must have intended on writing verbal sh!t before he even parked for the evening.  Everyone knew that there was 2 opening bands and that the doors opened at 8 and the show started at 9, on top of which the first band was done by 9 and BLS didn’t take long at all.   The show was amazing, and I was in the bowl standing the whole time, until Paradise City came on, and then I jumped the fence, like most people had done durning BLS so they could be on the floor for Guns….. This article is just “Axl sucks” bandwagon crap.

  • Lellightwhat

    GNR is worth seeing with this lineup.  They play the songs and play them well.  Axl’s voice is one of a kind and hearing GNR songs without it would not be the same.  Listening to people whine about extraneous things like the start time and whether the event sold out is irrelevant to the music and the quality and substance of the show.  It’s rocknroll after all, let them play.  And they played until 2 am.  If you closed your eyes, it was GNR, no less.  Fantastic.  I would do it all over again.  Also, the 1st Bank Center is a great place to see a show.  These smaller venues are so much more entertaining than the Pepsi Center, or worse, Comfort Dental.  In the end, GNR justified every reason I had for going in the first place.  

  • Gregb511

    Some reviewers get it right and this is another one who is simply a lousy journalist. I went to th Guns N’ Roses show at the LA Forum and wanted to see how the show was elsewhere because the show in LA was the BEST CONCERT of the YEAR!!! I go to a lot of shows (different styles of music). Not taking anything away from previous members, the musicians at this show are phenomenal. AXL was better than ever moving around the stage for most of the three hour show. It was sold out at the LA Forum and had they stayed on until 5 am, I’m sure everyone would have still been there watching and rocking. One can only hope that GNR will tour again sooner rather than later. What a gift I got to see this show.

  • gypsy

    This was an excellent show. I am 50+, veteran of hundreds of rock concerts in the last 35 years and this concert ranks as one of the top ten in my book. I was a bit hesitant to go because of less than glowing reviews and Axl’s notoriety for showing up late and throwing fits. But obviously thats all in the past.  
    Gates opened at 8 pm, the first band was already playing when I arrived at 8:30, Black Label Society played a full hour from 9:15 to 10:15, 45 minutes to reset the stage and G ‘NR started exactly on time at 11 – then rocked for an unheard of 3 hours. Doesn’t get much better than that. And I even had to get up early and drive to Las Vegas later that same morning – and I am not whining. I had not seen G’NR before, but am a big fan and thought Axl and the band sounded amazing. Axl was full of energy and obviously enjoying himself. The band sounded ever bit as good as the original lineup if not better. The volume was a tad loud for the venue and was distorted a bit to the sides, but thats not unusual for rock concerts. The set list of over 30 songs was a great mix of new, old and covers. I like Chinese Democracy but now have an even greater appreciation of the songs hearing them live.Thanks Axl for a wonderful evening! I also recently saw Slash, and honestly I was not impressed at all.