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