Big and powerful: Those words were written more times in my notepad during the two nights I covered Guns N’ Roses at their new Las Vegas residency at The Joint inside the Las Vegas Hard Rock than any other adjectives. Although most of the setlist was similar to their past residency in 2012, some of the songs came alive like they have never done before. Over-the-top hits like “Paradise City,” “You Could Be Mine” and “Live & Let Die” had an extra something that morphed them from arena rockers into arena hurricanes. GNR were on a roll for their second and third shows of this residency and everyone was lit up as if Bumblefoot’s hot sauce had spiked their Gatorade.
The other word I had starred was connection. Bandmates were connecting not only amongst themselves but with the audience, slapping hands, throwing picks; Bumblefoot even held out his guitar for fans to play as he lay on the edge of the stage, lost in a rock & roll moment, making this more of a communal experience and not just a band playing songs for an audience. If you happened to decide to stay home and skip this second outing thinking it would be a repeat of 2012, you missed some heavy duty moments.
But let’s start off by mentioning that during this particular week, the band members were out almost every day celebrating charities, helping to bring awareness to some wonderful causes. On Thursday, May 22, four Gunners – guitar players Dj Ashba and Richard Fortus, drummer Frank Ferrer and piano player Dizzy Reed – visited the local Boys & Girls Club Of America spending time with some very excited youngsters. Later that evening, Ashba was a special guest at the Goodwill inaugural Blue Party downtown, which showcased up & coming fashion designers who repurposed Goodwill merchandise which was strutted down a runway and silently auctioned to benefit Goodwill’s mission in assisting people find employment.
On May 27, Ashba, Bumblefoot, Ferrer and Reed visited the Nellis Air Force Base to meet & greet with servicemen/women to thank them for their service to our country; and on May 29, Bumblefoot (aka Ron Thal) challenged some local celebrities to a Spicy Food Challenge with his trademarked hot sauce, the champion winning $1000 for their favorite charity.
But when the sun went down, it was all about the music. With added pyro, lasers and exploding fire bombs, a tingle shot up the spine as soon as Ashba was lifted up behind Ferrer’s drum kit, hitting those first snarly licks to the title track off Chinese Democracy, and you knew this was going to be good. All band members had highlighted moments of excellence. For example, the most passionate number of the set was the guitar duet between Fortus and Bumblefoot on Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Going To Leave You.”
Fortus also outdid himself on his spotlight solo and six-string duet with Ashba leading into “Nightrain.” Big and powerful came into play with Ferrer impaling the drums on “You Could Be Mine.” Bass player Tommy Stinson spit out an old Sex Pistols classic, “Holidays In The Sun” with just the right touch of venom and sneer. Bumblefoot sang fan favorite “Abnormal” from his 2008 solo album of the same name and spent a good portion of the show playing his kick ass double-neck. Unfortunately, Reed didn’t have a big number this time out, a la “No Quarter” in 2012, but his playing was heard throughout and was integral to many songs, as was Chris Pitman on keys. And instead of flying over the audience during “November Rain,” hydraulics simply lifted Rose and his piano up high in the sky.
Axl Rose, who earlier this month was hailed as the World’s Greatest Singer with a range that spans nearly seven octaves, proved he’s still got what it takes to sing these songs he helped create. Yes, there are times when his voice has a bit of a different tonality but the majority of the time he’s spot on. His voice is strong, wide-open, hitting the highs, and his energy level is still prime, never showing signs of being out of breath, as he was in great shape physically. And at times, he sprinkled the songs with humor.
Contrary to past events and rumors, Rose does indeed have a keen sense of humor. He smiled more, he laughed more, he played with his band more. During the Saturday show, he acknowledged that “on this very day in 1968, Jagger was arrested for marijuana.” A few songs later, following “Don’t Cry” and leading into “I Used To Love Her,” he quipped, “Let’s keep the love theme going,” before laughing that, “How come every time we play that song the ones that are most into it are the girls.” Other times, Rose was spotted plopping his hat onto Bumblefoot’s head during one of his solos, and shimming up alongside Ashba, pushing him out of his standing position, both laughing the whole time. A classic moment during Sunday’s show came during “Patience” as Rose sang the line, “I sit here on the stairs cause I’d rather be alone,” coughing out a “bullshit” with a huge smile on his face.
So what did fans think about these set of shows? I asked a few people and here is what they loved the most:
Scott, a Vegas resident who is seeing all nine shows of the residency: “Catcher In The Rye,” “You Could Be Mine” and “The Seeker.” Axl was on fire and Richard tears those riffs up.
Terry, an Australian native currently living in Los Angeles: They’re on-stage for two and a half hours plus and not an “I’m going to the bar for this song” moment anywhere to be found during the show. I mean it…and it’s not an easy thing to pull off. And you can’t say that without stating that Axl’s voice not only holds up throughout the entire show but it sounds great too. No down tuned songs to give his voice a break either. The songs are all in the tunings they were originally recorded in. A great part of the show for me was when Bumblefoot and Richard Fortus are working the intro to “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” and Bumblefoot pulls off some gorgeous jazz style two-handed tapping a la Stanley Jordan. I was fortunate enough to run into Bumblefoot the next day and I asked him about that part of the show and he told me he’s improvising a lot of it. That’s the caliber of musician he is. The quality of his playing is surpassed only by how humble and kind he is to the fans. A genuine talent and a genuine human being too.
Noga, who came all the way from Israel: I think the best part was when Axl started singing “Used To Love Her.” But I also started crying when I first heard “November Rain.”
Craig, a musician currently living in Vegas: For me it was “Estranged.” I love that song to start with but it even had more passion live. I look forward to every second in that song. Also, “Knocking On Heavens Door.” After given the opportunity to learn and play it with Bumblefoot at Vinyl, I grew a huge appreciation for all the twists and turns that make that such a dynamic, incredible live song. Also, it was the best I’ve seen Axl in general, ever. And he seemed to be in a good mood and that carried over into their awesome performance. I think GNR is the very last of their breed. A truly special live experience nobody should miss.
Katie, the lovely young lady who was spotlighted in my article with Ashba from 2012: “Catcher in the Rye,” “November Rain” and the “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” acoustic jam.
The Vegas residency will end on Saturday, June 7th. The band has nothing on the agenda for a little while, and band members will be spending that time on other projects. Fortus and Reed have a new EP coming out with the Dead Daisies in June and touring, first opening the Bad Company/Lynyrd Skynyrd tour starting in July, then hopping on the last leg of the Def Leppard/KISS summer tour. Stinson will be joining his old band The Replacements for a few select festival dates late summer/early fall. Ashba told me Saturday night that the new Sixx:AM album is finished and sounds great, and that he is working on some new Ashba Swag and enjoying time with his new wife. Ferrer played drums on the upcoming Compulsions record [Fortus played guitar]. And Bumblefoot is working on his next solo album and will be doing a short run with fellow guitar players Yngwie Malmsteen and Uli Jon Roth. [My full interview with Bumblefoot about his life and career will be appearing in MY ROOTS on June 9th]
With only a few shows left, you don’t want to regret not going.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough