Axl Rose is fashionably late -- again -- and doesn’t apologize. As he wheels his bandwagon around the world, the Guns N’ Roses front man will never cut a sympathetic figure: he’s a peculiarly unpleasant force.
Rose, 48, is a pudgy, shrieking, manipulative toddler, petulantly throwing his microphone stand around the stage. His voice often edges toward that of a strangled alley cat.
He’s a man with attitude, arrogance and truculence. This year, the tantrum-prone star kept fans waiting at the Reading and Leeds rock festivals.
The show at London’s O2 lasts 2½ hours. The final chords of “Paradise City” crash in at 12:15 a.m. -- after the last train to central London, leaving fans stranded, facing long waits or huge cab fares.
Rose became an industry joke and fashion pariah during the 14 years (and a reputed $13 million) it took to record 2008’s “Chinese Democracy” album.
The good news is that, as lord and master of the show, he is mesmerizing. He adds ego to “Welcome to the Jungle,” punch to “Shackler’s Revenge” and confidence to “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Dressed in various hats, bandanas and flamboyant jackets, he silences (and deafens) his many critics.
The new group unleashes a battery of fireballs. Its rampage includes a snatch of Elton John -- “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” to a plaintive piano solo.
There’s rather more of “Chinese Democracy” and a lot of “Appetite for Destruction” from 1987. That debut stripped the primp of the L.A. hair-metal scene and delivered a sound that was as sweetly nasty as possible. It was a global hit, sold more than 28 million copies and unleashed a monster.
By comparison to the new guitarists, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones could model for Health and Fitness magazine, the abstinence issue. DJ Ashba’s hat and cigarette ape those of original Guns star Slash; Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal wields a double-necked guitar; the tattooed Richard Fortus does savagery to the James Bond Theme that Blofeld could only dream of, before an assault on Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.”
For the O2 concert, original member Duff McKagan joins Rose onstage for the first time in 17 years, playing bass on “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” The song punches home. Rose Tattoo’s “Nice Boys” and AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” are powered by Frank Ferrer’s gut-kicking drumming.
When the rage subsides, Rose’s singing has a vulnerability that lends ballads like “November Rain” a surprising pathos. All jokes aside, he’s still a force to be reckoned with.
The Guns n’ Roses tour continues with dates in Zaragoza on Oct. 23 and Barcelona on Oct. 24.
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(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)