|For one night at New York City's Madison Square Garden, the newly reconstructed Guns N Roses didn't suck-they rocked. They rocked extremely hard. And then they were no more.
There was a sense that the entire existence of Guns N Roses - a tenuous entity if ever there was one- hung in the balance on December 5th, 2002. It was the day of New York city's first major snow storm of the season, and the evening of GNR's sold out performance at Madison Square Garden. And 10:00 P.M. was make - or break time for the winter of Axl Rose's discontent.
For most of the last year, the elaborately braided midwestern madman had an appetite for miscalculation: His MTV performance last August was suspect; the subsequent Guns tour sketchy (there was a riot after a no show in Vancouver, and there were half empty arenas across the midwest) Plus, there's still no glimpse of "Chinese Democracy" arguably the only album in rock history to be postponed for more than eight year's. This was it pretty much: If the New York show tanked, the very idea of blues based, boogie-ballad, big hair booze rock was going to be as dead as the diplodocus. And Axl seemed to realize this. And Axl seemed to understand that it was finally time to be a band for real.
And for the first time... well,since forever, Guns N Roses went onstage early and played real fucking rock music for two fucking hours (19 songs, three of them new). Against seemingly unfathomable odds, the reinvented Guns N Roses were remarkably awesome.
What's so surprising about the 2002 assault is that their less bloated than the lineup that packed arenas on the Use Your Illusion tours during the early 90's."November Rain" still runs in the neighborhood of 12 minutes, but it no longer seems masturbatory; "Patience" is still melodramatic, but that melodrama feel's anthemic (and even a tad nastalgic). Instead of just being about attitude and reckless abandon and finding drugs, this neo-Guns is focused on the art of arena-size rock. What always made Rose so interesting was that he overtly strove to be hyper-epic, and that's one thing about him that hasn't changed: On "Madagascar" (a new song), the band flirt's with Zeppelin's "Kashmir"(sonically and sort of geographically): "The Blues" is like side one of Houses Of The Holy performed by mid-period Stevie Wonder: the track "Chinese Democracy" is a kin to quasi-political White Zombie. If this ridiculous album ever comes out, I'm going to buy it three times.
Certainly, there is something flummoxing about hearing old Guns music reproduced by seven random stranger's who had no part in it's creation; and it's weird to hear a sober Tommy Stinson (ex-Replacements) sing to Duff McKagan's harmonies on "It's So Easy" and to watch Robin Finck (still in Nine Inch Nails) shred the opening chord's of "Sweet Child O' Mine" on a les paul that look's exactly like the one Slash used to play on MTV. But they do replicate everything perfectly - maybe too perfectly. The new star of the band is indisputably Buckethead, the avant-garde metallectual who wears a kentucky fried container on his dome and whose enigmatic guitar solos deploy almost every genre of geek culture: Star Wars, nunchakus(!), "robot dancing, "prog rock, bluegrass (!!!), and action figures (which he tossed into the crowd)
What any of this really means remains unclear, particularly since promoter Clear Channel cancelled the tour after Rose failed to show up for the next stop in Philadelphia (causing yet another crowd riot). Perhaps that glam-rock diplodocus is dead, and considering Axl's inherent insanity (he delivered two ad hominem attack's against New York Times critic Jon Pareles for something written in '91), it's hard to imagine Guns N Roses ever becoming the relevant, important force they were back when George W. Bush's Dad was dropping smart bomb's on Baghdad. But Gnr at MSG did prove one thing: Axl Rose never needed a face full of botox or Vernon Reid's hair or five year's in the desert's of Sedona. He just needed to try.