Guns N' Roses Live at Allstate Arena - 11/15/11 Chicago Concert Review

Guns N' Roses Live at Allstate Arena - 11/15/11 Chicago Concert Review

For the first time since the 2008 release of Chinese Democracy (following Rosemont appearances in 2002 and 2006 with different lineups), Guns N' Roses arrived in the Chicagoland area to perform at Allstate Arena on Tuesday night. 

It should be noted that despite room on the general admission floor, the Allstate Arena appeared pretty full by the time the band hit the stage shortly after 11PM (credit reduced ticket packages from Ticketmaster or Groupon if you'd like but the simple fact remains that most seats were indeed filled).

It should also be noted that entirely too much is being made of the band's "late" start time.  A quick google search in the days leading up to the show revealed quickly (and with very little effort) that the band would be taking the stage around 11PM central time. This is what they've done every night on this tour almost without fail.  No American shows have been cancelled.  No shows have ended in riots.  While 11PM may seem late to some, it is nevertheless the time the band has started their performance night in and night out so at the very least it shouldn't have been surprising.  In fact, it means Guns N' Roses was on time, and NOT late.

It also means that, as hard as it may seem to believe, on this tour, Axl Rose has been timely and dependable.  When it comes to those two traits, Axl's poor track record in the past more than speaks for itself.  So while the show didn't end until after 2AM on Wednesday morning, Axl Rose should be commended for delivering a three hour set that most bands simply aren't.  I was a lot of things on Tuesday night but surprised about the start time wasn't one of them.

Axl Rose looked and sounded good in Chicago.  Much has been made about the audio and video that went viral in the days following the band's appearance at the "Rock in Rio" festival in early October which seemed to portray a winded and struggling frontman.  But on Tuesday night in Rosemont, Axl appeared to be in better shape and he was certainly in better voice which was a pleasant surprise.  He was also more affable, even keel and conversational (he appeared to crack himself up several times and even led the crowd in a rendition of "Happy Birthday" to keyboard player Chris Pitman at one point) than he was when I last saw him live in 2002.

Now to examine the music... because there was a lot of it and most of it was pretty good (over thirty songs if you include band member solos).

There was a little bit for everyone in Tuesday's set:  Seven songs from Appetite For Destruction and six from the two Use Your Illusion albums as well as seven tracks from Chinese Democracy (some of which at times seem forced considering the album was released about four years ago).  There were also covers... A surprising number of covers that hit on longtime favorites like Bob Dylan ("Knockin' on Heaven's Door") and Wings ("Live and Let Die") as well as The Who (twice), AC/DC (twice) and much more.

The set couldn't have opened much stronger as one of the newest album's more rocking moments ("Chinese Democracy") gave way to a murderer's row of Appetite hits in "Welcome to the Jungle," "It's So Easy," and "Mr. Brownstone."

After that, my biggest problem with the set was its pacing.  Following those opening four numbers, the show never regained the same prolonged energy as ballads and solos generally prevented it from happening.  That's not to say that all of the slower songs were bad.  In fact, some were highlights of the show.  Axl sat down at the piano for "Estranged" and "November Rain" and was in outstanding voice, nailing Use Your Illusion's most epic moments.  The problem was that both performances were followed shortly thereafter by band member solos.  Richard Fortus slowed the pace with his version of the James Bond theme (though it was an appropriate prelude to "Live and Let Die") following "Estranged" while Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal followed "November Rain" by bringing the show to a grinding halt with a wholly unnecessary rendition of "The Pink Panther" theme on guitar (ironically, the only moment of the night that I noticed him actually play the bass neck on any of his many doublenecked guitars).  The band noodled for far too long leading into "November Rain" too as they jammed on Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" prior to an extended piano intro from Axl who dabbled in some Elton John before finally starting the song proper.

This lineup of Guns N' Roses apparently requires three guitarists to accomplish what Slash and Izzy Stradlin used to produce years ago.  But credit the aforementioned Fortus and Thal, along with newcomer DJ Ashba, for injecting new life into tracks like "Sweet Child O' Mine."  Their aforementioned solos may have been nearly unbearable (only Tommy Stinson's bass/lead vocal on The Who's "My Generation" was serviceable) but between the intermingling guitars, constantly changing leads, and Stinson's chugging bass, the rendition performed on Tuesday was tighter, faster and more relevant than it has ever been.  In my opinion, "Sweet Child O' Mine" was always disappointing live (yes, even during the Slash days) but on Tuesday night it was one of my favorite moments of the concert.

And then there's the material from the Chinese Democracy album.  Some of it was good.  Some of it not so much.  To me, the two best tracks on the album are "Sorry" and "Better" both of which sounded good at Allstate Arena.  Axl (for better or worse) has tried his damnedest to stay relevant and contemporary both musically and stylistically. When it comes to the new material, "Better" comes closest to accomplishing that lofty goal.  On the other hand, "There Was a Time" sounded out of place while "Madagascar" and "Shackler's Revenge" brought the encore to an inexcusable lull. Luckily, not unlike "Sweet Child O'Mine," "Paradise City" was a tour de force that sent concertgoers home shortly after 2am tired but on a high note.

It's worth nothing that for the beating this band regularly takes (often being dismissed as nothing more than a glorified cover band), it was ironic that when all was said and done on Tuesday, Axl seemed most energized and engaged on a cover of AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie" (the band also covered AC/DC's "Riff Raff"), throwing the mic stand around and running sprints across the stage as if it was 1991.

All in all, Guns N' Roses' return to the Chicagoland area on Tuesday at Allstate Arena was a solid show.  Nobody attracts more controversy for doing less than Axl Rose and for such a clearly scripted show, one still couldn't help but feel a vague sense of unpredictability lingering from start to finish.  Love him or hate him, nothing makes for better rock n' roll than unpredictability and that's a quality Axl Rose still has in spades.

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    Jim Ryan

    Jim Ryan has written about music in print and online for a variety of Chicagoland publications for over fifteen years. In addition to duties filling in as Traffic Anchor on CLTV or in the helicopter on NBC 5, you can also catch him Sunday afternoons at 3PM central as host of "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" on AM 1420 WIMS (streaming at wimsradio.com and via the free TuneIn Radio app on any computer, phone or device. Jim has also worked locally for WXRT-FM, lives within walking distance of the Metro and is an avid White Sox and Blackhawks fan whose first live concert experience came at Comiskey Park in 1984 during the Jacksons' "Victory" tour.

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