Monday, June 12, 2006

Axl gives his fans a bumpy ride

Andrew Perry reviews Guns N' Roses at the Carling Apollo in Hammersmith

At 10.40pm, booing and slow hand-clapping resounded about the Apollo. In a sane world, Axl Rose's latest line-up of Guns N' Roses should have been in full flight by now, reaping ovations for their encores.

It seems, however, that Rose no longer inhabits such a world - not since 1993, at least, when he fired his original band (including top-hatted Slash, rock's most beloved guitarist) and began working on an album called Chinese Democracy, which is still yet to materialise.

So, there stood his remaining fans, none more embattled, inspecting a stage empty but for one support band, for nigh-on four hours. Numerous people angrily claimed a refund. Tetchy voices heckled that you don't get treated like this by Velvet Revolver, the group formed by Slash and other former "Gunners", who have gone global with a slick professionalism since Rose's band last toured in 2002.

I began to wonder why, almost 20 years since GN'R coined their one solid-gold album, Appetite for Destruction, anyone should bother hanging around for a glimpse of their profligate singer.

Amid a stadium's worth of lights, fireworks and frou frou, he appeared, finally, for a dazzling opening barrage of Welcome to the Jungle, It's So Easy and Mr Brownstone, all drawn from Appetiteā€¦.

But, even after three songs, Rose seemed to be out of puff. He failed to apologise for being late, instead mumbling inanities ("No sleep 'til Hammersmith, huh?" - how original), as if he had completely lost his match fitness. The band, too, were carrying excess weight, with three guitarists and two multi-instrumentalists. Bongos? In a heavy metal band?

On the plus side, Rose's hair transplant, now successfully completed after looking like a swatch of brown carpet last time out, matched his gold crushed-velvet jacket. But he soon replaced this, instigating a sequence of costume changes that gave the show a limping structure.

Each time Rose headed for the dressing room, all the energy drummed up by, say, Sweet Child o' Mine or Out ta Get Me was quickly dissipated, as each guitarist stepped up for an interminable solo.

As for the four songs (presumably) from Chinese Democracy, they lacked the euphoric choruses of Appetite....

Close to 1am, the patchy performance wound up on a pyrotechnic high with Nightrain (oh, the irony - the last rail service from these parts had departed ages ago) and Paradise City. In many senses, Rose will need to shed some baggage if he's to make a serious comeback.


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