Guns N' Roses headlined the seventh and final night of the Rock In Rio festival in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, closing out the festival with a music marathon that pushed the limits of our memories of the once-great Rock monsters.
Inactive since last December, the most recent Frankenstein incarnation of GNR have finally activated once more, and are setting their sites on the U.S. for a Fall tour. Those anticipating the upcoming shows looked to the Brazil performance as a good indicator of what to expect while watching it streamed worldwide, via YouTube. Sadly, the roaring firecracker frontman in Axl Rose is padded with middle-aged pudge, resulting in a great many out-of-breath moments and only token reminders of the soaring post-Slash incarnation that we saw in 2006.
When their planned setlist leaked hours before the performance, computer-savvy fans delighted at the sight of nearly 35 song (and four guitar-solo performances), which included most tracks from the band's original debut Appetite For Destruction, nearly every Chinese Democracy track and a few other gems. Naturally, as is the Axl Rose way, the band took to the stage two hours behind schedule, and the setlist was amputated as a result.
Taking to the stage in a yellow raincoat, black hat and sunglasses Axl ushered in the performance with the title track from Chinese Democracy, and immediately there were signs of trouble. Levels were wildly off, the vocals initially nonexistent, and the term "clumsy" came to mind far more than any other adjective. The stomach of this original-era GNR maniac twisted in knots as the notoriously reclusive frontman croaked and wheezed his way through the song – often with a backing track too high in the mix.
"Welcome to the Jungle" only made matters worse. Sounding often like an old lady doing karaoke while sprinting, Rose wailed "DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE F*CK YOU ARE?!"… as he stepped around the army of stagehands mopping the stage around him.
The elements weren't responsible for this failure, however, as guitarist Bumblefoot Thal's chosen attire for the evening – a Stormtrooper mask – fell down on his face and caused him to completely ruin the solo in three different spots because of it:
Similarly, solos were ruined on other classics, including a sacrilegious hacking of "Sweet Child O' Mine," while performances on some of the newer tracks were tighter – most notably the solo on Chinese Democracy track "Better," which former guitarist Robin Finck owned so thoroughly in the past.
After introducing his adoptive mom and sister in an awkward "Whose fault is it" moment that the crowd didn't really understand (he didn't address the guests as family), and an ensuing unwelcome Hip-Hop version of "Mr. Brownstone," the band delivered one of the night's only shining gems: "Estranged," the massive track from Use Your Illusion which hasn't been played live in nearly two decades, or since founding guitarist Slash made his exit from the lineup.
With five minute James Bond theme instrumental indulgences acting as a gross misreading of audience interest, the band played out their disconnect to a crowd dissipating heavily amidst the rains, and the time (4am) pushing patience en masse. It was a staggered return for what used to be the world's most dangerous Rock band, and a testament to the level of inebriation an OG Guns N' Roses fan will have to subject his or herself to in order to scratch that itch of nostalgia for the incredible power that represented the final legitimate gasp of the glam rock era.
GNR were once gods, the only band to truly straddle the schism between the collapsed hair metal era and the grime rock generation that followed. It only worked for a time, before egos and control issues devoured the promise and mojo of the greatest collective to ever rock the Sunset Strip, leaving a generation of tattooed leathered copycats and venereal half-cocked celebrators in their stead. Now we have this, a faltering musical Frankenstein geared for arenas and big-budget productions, cold calculations for nostalgia mining. And with Axl's diminishing ability, perhaps we should be thankful we're not watching that band we remember from so long ago, coming apart at the seams as it rattles down rock's unforgiving gravel road.