Did he still have the banshee howl?
It’s been a long time since Axl Rose was the undisputed king of the underground Los Angeles rock scene. Back then, his band, Guns N’ Roses, was the ‘it’ band, the group that had been able to navigate the terrain between punk, metal and glam rock.
It has been 20 years since Guns N’ Roses played Buffalo, the last time being a headlining slot at what was then known as Rich Stadium. The slightly metal-inflected version of the GN’R take on Aerosmith’s early work has not exactly been in vogue over the past two decades. Were the GN’R faithful still out there?
On Wednesday, as Guns N’ Roses kicked off the Outer Harbor Concert Series season, it certainly seemed that the folks who worshipped “Appetite for Destruction” had not forgotten their band. And judging by appearances, a whole new generation of GN’R lovers was eager for their first experience of the band.
The Outer Harbor series has made some serious improvements since last year, its maiden voyage. In addition to much more accommodating parking, the investment in sound, production and staging was immediately apparent.
The band? Yes, this is the version of Guns N’ Roses that lacks founding member and guitarist Slash. And yes, so much has been said about singer Axl Rose over the years since Slash left to suggest that the GN’R singer is pretty much a nut job. But Wednesday’s show suggested something different. This version of GN’R came to kick butt and take names. And, flying in the face of Rose’s tendency to take the stage hours after the published time, the band arrived by 10:15 p.m., and tore into a set that could not have left diehard GN’R fans disappointed.
Opener “Chinese Democracy” gave way to “Welcome to the Jungle,” and the place went nuts. Rose, a heftier and significantly more Southern rock-looking form of the man all of these people had fallen in love with in 1989, accorded himself well. “It’s So Easy” boasted much of the strut of the original, as did the decidedly swanky “Mr. Brownstone.” Rose was energetic, on point, and if he couldn’t quite deliver the goods with the power he displayed in the old days, well, who could blame him? He was certainly going for it.
Rose, from the beginning of his career, sang in a hyper-powerful head-voice falsetto of the variety that does not age well. That he could sing as well as he did during older tunes like “Rocket Queen” and the highlight of the evening, a take on Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” was rather incredible.
Rose did highlight each player – pianist Dizzy Reed vamped on Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” while a jam on Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” gave way to the power ballad “November Rain,” and finally, guitarist Bumblefoot’s “Objectify.”
But in the end, this is Rose’s show, and he lorded over it – for better and for worse – throughout. GN’R in 2013 still kicks butt. Even if Rose’s voice is not what it once was.