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06-12-2002 -Gun N' Roses at Madison Square Garden, (05/12/.02)

I had high hopes for this show. The new line-up has gotten some great reviews (despite a noisy and uninspiring showing at the VMAs), and I love the mp3 of Madagascar I've got from their Rock in Rio show a year ago. And with a few exceptions, the reports on Axl's voice in concert have been very positive. But really, I didn't know what to expect.
Then the lights went down, and the crowd went nuts. And from the get-go, these guys were on fire. They opened with Welcome to the Jungle, and never looked back. The band was tight, and looked really slick. The sound was very good for MSG, and only rarely was something drowned out (usually the lead).


Visually, the three-tiered stage was very cool, and the strategic pyrotechnics were a great effect, often scaring the crap out of theunsuspecting audience. Axl kept switching local team Jerseys (Rangers, Jeter's Yankees, Latrell's Knicks, Curtis Martin's Jets, another white Rangers Jersey), and looked kind of dumpy and out of place in his loose fitting ensemble when compared to the others. The rest of the band looked trim and stylish, and moved about the stage with gleeful aplomb. TommyStinson held down the bass, and Brain played a much heavier sounding drumsthan Popcorn Adler or Matt "Weaklink" Sorum ever did. Dizzy Reed and ChrisPitman on keyboards flanked the drums on the top level of the stage, andstayed in the background largely. Then there were the guitars.
Much has been made of Buckethead (who claims to have been raised by chickens in a coop), but he was truly amazing. He is also a giant. Towering over the rest of the band with his mask and his KFC bucket, he ripped show-stopping solos in You Could Be Mine, Out To Get Me, the end of Nightrain, the November Rain coda (which was amazing), and Paradise City, which was also stupendous. I've never been a big fan of You Could Be Mine, but the version last night was super rocking. Buckethead isn't just the fastest player I've ever seen, he's also tasteful, and he busted some moves that knocked me off my feet with their combination of melodicism, speed and feel. No wonder that Axl expended so much effort trying to get him to join the band. Buckethead's solo interlude was also amazing. He came out on the top level, and with Brain playing a cool beat, he busted out a pair of nunchucks and started go crazy, standing still but spinning them around like a 80s-style American Ninja. Then he dropped them and started expertly doing the robot. After a minute of breakdancing, he walked down to the stage level, strapped on an oversized, KFC-themed flying V guitar, and began playing a medley that included three themes from Star Wars, A Pirates Life For Me (from the classic Disney ride), slapping, and tapping. Then he put down the guitar, picked up a paper bag, and walked to the stage's edge, where he proceeded to throw gifts out into the audience. Top notch theater from an amazing player.
With a guy like that, you wouldn't think they need another lead guitarist. However, the other guys were no slouches. Robin Finck, formerly of Nine Inch Nails, was amazing, wearing an old fashioned white vest-suit and black cravat, and busting sinewy stage moves. He played all of the famous outro chops in Sweet Child O' Mine, improvising around Slash's classic solo. He also took solo duties in Brownstone, the middle solos of November Rain, and traded leads with Buckethead in the middle of Nightrain.



He seems to have ditched the goth makeup he used to wear, and looked less freaky than I've seen him in the past. He's fun to watch. The biggest surprise of the night was Richard Fortus, the most recent member of the band. He joined them this past summer, replacing Paul Tobias (or Paul Huge), a childhood friend of Axl's who is often credited as the catalyst for the old lineup's breakup. Richard Fortus is a superstar. Strutting, hoping, and jumping around the stage, he held down the rhythm duties, but also played a handful of blazing leads himself, and just looked like the coolest guy ever, having the best time of his life, running around and getting off with all the other blokes. I don't know much about this guy, other than the fact that he played on N'Sync and Ben Folds Five albums, but he is an hypnotic performer and a great guitarist.


Then there's Axl. He sounded tremendous. He hit every high note, held some for a long-ass time, and sounded like he did in his heyday. And he was pumped. The Garden was completely packed, and showered him with love, and you could tell he wanted to give it back. He gave every song his all, running around, jumping, smiling, and wailing. At one point between songs, he came out with some Krispy Creme Donuts and started talking about the "Conan O'Brien Diet." I can only assume that Conan was ranking on his weight. Anyway, Axl went off in a good natured way, tossed donuts to the crowd "courtesy of Axl's White-trash Bistro," then sat at the piano and played a little ditty featuring the refrain "You're an asshole." He cut it short with a smile and said "whoops, wrong song," then went into an interlude followed by November Rain. He seemed very happy.

Anyway, I've run out of superlatives. It was glorious to hear all the old songs, reinterpreted by a crack band that looked awesome. Of the three new songs, Madagascar, Chinese Democracy, and the Blues, I love the first, like the second, and am so-so about the last. They'll have to do better than that to put out an album that rates with their earlier stuff, but they're the most exciting band to watch that I've seen in awhile. Gosee them. Sell you children if you have to.


Guns N' Roses - Madison Square Garden, 05/12/02 Setlist

Welcome to the Jungle
It's So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Live and Let Die
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Think About You
U Could Be Mine
Robyn classical interlude
Sweet Child
Out to Get Me
Axl Conan O'Brian Donut rant
Piano->Asshole song -> Interlude ->
November Rain
Chinese Democracy
Madagascar
Buckethead interlude (nunchucks, breakdancing, guitar including Star Wars, Pirates Life for Me, slapping, tapping)
Rocket Queen
The Blues
My Michelle
Patience
NightrainRobyn interlude ->
Paradise City

 

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