My love/hate relationship with Axl Rose turned another page last night as I, for whatever reason, bought tickets to see Guns N’ Roses at Chicago’s Allstate Arena. As nostalgia goes, lately it seems that every time I decide to see a show from a band that had significance for me at some other point in my life… I leave unsatisfied, as though some key ingredient from my past love of a band remains elusive 20 years later in the here and now… Guns N’ Roses illustrated this evolving awareness perfectly to me last night…
Present back in April of 1992 at the very same Rosemont Horizon, I was part of sold out crowd for the rip roaring last show of the North American leg of the Use Your Illusion tour. GNR was a whole different beast back then… the exodus had begun as Izzy Stradlin had recently quit the band, but Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan remained the rhythm section and Slash was still on guitar. Dizzy Reed had also become a solid member of the band and remains so to this day…. but most significantly, they were still a band whose relevance was current having just come off their best work… that’s what fades over 20 years for most every band, their own hunger and relevance… truly as if fame and fortune exacts that particular toll… God knows, Axl hasn’t done much to disprove that notion… with one of the most distinctive voices in rock, I’m guessing the reason it still sounds so good (and he still does sound great) is that he hasn’t used it that much over the last two decades.
As a general rule-of-thumb though, a rock show that happens in an arena is determined by how many people want to see a concert as opposed to whether or not that specific band and its particular show is one that’s suited for an arena.
As far as arena rock shows go, GNR had all the modern day accoutrements… but they were cookie-cutter, which is where the problem lies… several stories tall video screens, explosions and pyrotechnics, all that cock-rock hamming and posing… but they also had an inferior sound system, a mix that was crap and the volume pumped 20 decibels past where it should have been… how does this possibly serve the music and to a lesser extent the venue? One’s left to guess as the headache grows… admittedly I’m most certainly in the minority on this… most concert-goers seem more than fine with things just as they are… but as live music fans, I believe we’re mostly tuned to accept what has always been a standard as opposed to insisting that increased ticket prices are reflected in the experience… to have a great sound system designed specifically for the arena context for example… is that too much to ask? The price of your ticket, parking, a concert shirt and a beer would set you back $150 at this particular show… the least we should get should be a clean mix at a reasonable volume so that the music could be enjoyed without inducing a volcanic headache and a ringing in the ears for the next couple days.
I wish I had the energy to analyze the set list for the evening… but why bother, it’s not a whole lot different from the GNR setlist of two decades ago… and the covers… wow, the covers… 11 of them in all if you count the individual showcases… and we got a lot of those too didn’t we… one for each of the guitar players including Tommy Stinson on lead vocals for the Who’s My Generation and Dizzy Reed pounding out a raggedy version of Baba O’Riley acoustic on the piano… but what really amplified the annoying was that GNR didn’t take the stage until 11:15 pm… who wants to hear Paradise City at 2 o’clock in the morning on a weeknight? Might not be that rock and roll of an opinion to have but fuck that… all this talk about “Axl time”… fuck that as well… we’re the customers, he’s the provider of a service… he needs to show some modicum of respect to those paying the bills… ticket says 9 pm… be on stage by 10. Its been reported that Axl needs 90 minutes of vocal prep prior to a show… its also been reported that he rolls into the arena around 8-8:30… All I can say is that I’m never gonna pay to see these guys again…
Arena rock is breathing its last breaths, its audience is aging out… the number of current bands relevant for an arena is miniscule… long live the theaters and smaller venues… the experience… sonic, social and otherwise are superior anyway… as is the value for your dollar. Think about it the next time you’re gonna drop all that money on a band whose best days were 20 years ago.
Nice knowing you Axl… from here on out it’s just me, my Guns N’ Roses discs and the memories.