Friday, June 1, 2012

Guns n' Roses at the O2, 31st May 2012

Axl Rose is a raving egomaniac with absolute contempt for his audience.  He pudgily stalks the stage with an unearned swagger, a man artistically bereft, trading on songs written 25 years ago.  He’s a dinosaur, a fossilised relic from a tasteless and self-centred era.  He’s the epitome of every creeping, self-loathing emotion in mankind.  Greed, solipsism, vanity, anti-intellectualism, he embodies all this and more.  When humanity stares into the abyss, it is Axl Rose that stares right back at us. 

The abyss.
Having said that , I have to admit the guy certainly can put on a show.

I’ve never been a fan of Guns n Roses.  I was more of a Nirvana fan, a band that set themselves in opposition to the kind of overly theatric cheesy cock rock that Guns n Roses provide.  They seemed moronic, music for meatheads, the kind of rock that appeals to people who don’t really like music that much.  I’ve softened on them over the years (and also stopped taking my music taste so seriously), and I’ve recognised they have redeeming qualities.  There is a place for rocket-fuelled streamlined songs about sex and violence, and I’ve grown to if not admire, then at least respect their primordial ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude. 

There are certain expectations that go with a Guns n Roses show.  The first, and most important is that they’re going to be incredibly late.  Getting annoyed at this seems a bit like getting annoyed that the tide comes in and out.  As the crowd booed and hissed as the minutes ticked by, I couldn’t help but wonder what they’d expected.  It seems pretty easy to combat Axl’s lateness anyway, just turn up late yourself.  I arrived just after 10 (doors opened at half six), and was only waiting for about half an hour or so.  He banishes the bad vibes in the crowd pretty handily though, launching straight into ‘Welcome to the Jungle’.

The show is loud, bombastic and very bright.  There’s nothing particularly unique about the set up: the stage is covered lots of ramps and balconies for Axl to roam around on and strike cliché ‘rock star’ poses. Every surface seems covered in video screens which seem to alternate between vaguely trippy graphics and permed 80s models smiling at the camera.  I suppose they know their audience. 

Two necks makes a guitar twice as good, right?
For all their lateness, and Axl’s prima-donna nature, you certainly get your money’s worth when it comes to length.  The show runs for two and a half hours or so, running through their hits; ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘November Rain’, ‘Night Train’ and ‘Paradise City’, as well as squeezing in some famous covers like ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part II’, ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’.  I don’t really know much of their  discography (I only really know ‘Appetite for Destruction’) I was a bit concerned that they’d be playing lots of songs I hadn't heard of, but even the ones I didn’t know were enjoyable enough.  You have to hand it to Axl for giving it all vocally – it’s an impressive feat to get through such a long set and with difficult songs like this.

The music is all bravado and promotes a kind of hedonistic ‘kill or be killed’ masculinity.  It’s pretty unreconstructed stuff, stuffed with complicated guitar virtuosity and powerful riffs.   Axl’s singing voice is an impressive thing to behold throughout, sounding much the same as it did in the late 80s.  There always seems to be room for a guitar solo, during which Axl pops off stage, and apparently huffs oxygen to keep going.  This isn’t the original Guns n Roses though, rancorous legal divides mean that past members like Slash (who is largely responsible for their biggest hits) refuse to even be in the same room as Axl.  But the current band acquit themselves well – they never seem anything less than professional and entirely competent.  In fact they’re so professional that it can seem a little clinical at times.  I imagine Axl runs a pretty tight ship improvisation-wise, and there isn’t really any sense of spontaneity to the performances.  It’s not that it’s over-choreographed, just that Axl is always the centre of attention.  It all revolves around him but then he’s the reason we’re there, so it’s hard to complain.

Unfortunately, at least where I was sitting, the crowd seemed somewhat comatose.  Perhaps the wait between arriving and the band taking to the stage had finished them off?  It’s a strange contrast to have pyrotechnic guitar solos onstage and someone gently dozing away next to you.  I was up on Level 4 of the 02, so I guess these might not have been the most passionate members of the audience.  As the night dragged on, the audience began to thin, tempted perhaps by the last Jubilee line tube home.  I half considered leaving myself, being stranded in North Greenwich at 2am doesn’t sound like much fun at all, no matter how good the show is.

Imagine a boot stamping on a human face... forever.
This incarnation of Guns n Roses is a hell of a spectacle.  The thing is, they have to put on a big show.  Their last album, ‘Chinese Democracy’ infamously took 15 years to be released, and then to middling reviews.  It’s pretty clear that Axl Rose, bereft of Slash, is not going to be writing any new smash hits anytime soon.  This is a genre of music whose day in the sun has passed, and what Axl has left is the name ‘Guns n Roses’, and a catalogue of nostalgically remembered hits from 20-odd years ago.   

Guns n Roses have a lot working against them; the entire rest of the band acrimoniously quitting; a lack of any interesting new material and a lead singer who keeps audiences waiting for hours upon end – so it’s a little surprising that they still pack out stadiums.  Tours like this are all Axl has left, and when the years take their toll, and his ego and gut continues to expand will the audiences keep coming back?  I’d like to think so.  It’s nice to have a little pocket of reality where leather, bandanas and guitar solos still rule the roost.   

As for Axl himself, I’ve developed a strange affection for him, or at least, what he represents.  I wouldn’t ever want to interact directly with the guy, but he is the quintessential pampered Spinal Tap-esque rock star.  Do we really want to live in a world where big-headed rock stars can’t make ridiculous demands of their audience and strut around in ridiculous outfits while fireworks explode behind them?   Yes, Axl Rose is unquestionably an egomaniacal prick. But frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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2 Responses to “Guns n' Roses at the O2, 31st May 2012”

Unknown said...
June 2, 2012 at 10:29 AM

good review! even if i disagreed with some points. also the double neck might seem spinal tap but its actually a necessity you see the bottom neck has frets and the top doesn't allowing the guitar player to do all kinds of different sounding licks/riffs.
as for Axl... probably a bit too had on him, and at the same time it was fair. as much as i love guns n roses and respect Axl, its just not fair to start a set at 11:30 or whatever it was. people who stay miss trains, possibly have to walk late at night possibly through dangerous areas. its not going to change though. do i think it makes Axl cool? no, i think you can be just as "i don't give a fuck" by coming on at a reasonable time. the attitude of i don't give a fuck is fine but when its messing with your fans the people that adore you and support you... you've got to wonder!

londoncitynights said...
June 2, 2012 at 11:41 AM

Axl seems to have gotten to the point where his lateness has become some kind of barmy personal philosophy:

"Love it Hate it Accept it Debate it – You want 8 o’clock shows go find F-R-I-E-N-D-S or hit a cinema somewhere.. or you wanna be informed go catch the 10 o’clock news.. this is Rock N’ Roll!

Treat yourself don’t cheat yourself thinking you’re gonna go to school or work or whatever you ‘normally’ do the next day. Oh and remember before you get high and never want to come down. ‘you can have anything you want but you better not take it from me!" - Axl Rose

Yeah, cheers Axl. We kinda need those jobs if you're charging about £50 to come and see you. The O2 was pretty good about the lateness though, putting on what essentially turned out to be a free riverboat and free buses to get people back to central London.

Thanks for the tip on the double neck guitar btw. I did always wonder what the point of those was.

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