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  JONATHAN CHURCHILL: DEFENDING OUR ISLAND

GUNS N' ROSES/THIN LIZZY: O2 ARENA, LONDON


jonathan churchill



Guns N' Roses came to town last week for two dates at the O2 Arena, with special guests Thin Lizzy. With Slash scheduled to play Hammersmith just a few days later, this made for an extremely interesting comparison. With boring predictability, Axl had been late on stage for the entire UK tour and London was no exception. But this is how he has been for the last 20 years and it's nothing new. If you paid £50 for a ticket, this is all part of the performance. To all of those who were upset or threw stuff at the band, I have one question: What did you think would happen? If you don't like his bizarre timekeeping, don't buy his tickets!

As reported by MetalTalk.net, Kobra And The Lotus were cut from the support which was a shame; however Thin Lizzy more than made up for this by stealing the show. They were on outstanding form. We arrived late (well if Axl can, so can we!) to find Thin Lizzy just starting their trademark 'Whiskey In The Jar', and despite a half full O2, the crowd clearly understood that this was a real band, putting on a focused and passionate show. With time on their hands due to Axl's tardiness, Thin Lizzy were able to crank out a fourteen track set, building an easy rapport with the excitable crowd.

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Ricky Warwick is such a perfect lead singer and he adds a real Irish authenticity to the sound, brilliantly complemented by the rest of the band. Set-list highlights included 'Don't Believe A Word', with a guest slot from Richard Fortus, and 'Black Rose', which had the whole arena on their feet. Closing with 'Cowboy Song' and 'The Boys Are Back In Town', Thin Lizzy had the O2 dancing around in party mood. If you haven't yet had a chance to see them on this tour, I can't recommend it enough.

After the excitement of Thin Lizzy, we settled back to wait... and wait for G N' R. It left plenty of time to reminisce. I saw the original Axl-only G N' R in 2002 at Docklands Arena and it was incredible. It's always heresy to enjoy G N' R without Slash, but that night with Buckethead and Robin Finck on guitar and first performances of the long-awaited new songs is one of my all-time gig highlights. And it even started at 9.00pm prompt! Axl was oozing confidence and attitude and it really seemed as though he could continue to justify touring as Guns N' Roses.

Since then, while Slash has two recent new albums under his belt and has built an outstanding partnership with Myles Kennedy, Axl seems to have fallen into self-parody. It doesn't matter how good his band is; three lead guitars, all sublimely talented, do not make one Slash. In addition, there's been no new material since 'Chinese Democracy' which he was playing ten years ago. So this tour is identical to his last tour (I was at The Reading Festival when he got cut off. It was hilarious).

And prior to that, the previous tour, when he played two nights at Wembley with Sebastian Bach. With a back catalogue to die for, it's a shame not to hear a wider track selection, especially when chunks of the set are often taken up with pointless instrumentals. Just recently I saw a version of Guns 2 Roses (the UK's premier tribute to Guns N' Roses) attempt to play 'Dead Horse' in the Grove Tavern, South Wimbledon. It was brilliant fun and way more entertaining than the 'real' Guns N' Roses.

When the lights go down at 22.50, we're all amazed that the shows starting. But I have a strict midnight curfew tonight as I have my girlfriend with me and we both need to get home before dawn. So this means we will get over an hour of the set. Not bad at all. Unless of course you've paid full price and travelled miles to see the show which apparently ended around 01.30 the night before!

Opening with 'Chinese Democracy' and then 'Welcome To The Jungle', two things are apparent. The band sound magnificent and Axl Rose is on top of his game. It suddenly becomes clear why people are always prepared to put up with his shit. The 'Appetite'-era material always lifts the mood and 'It's So Easy' and 'Mr Brownstone', complete with Axl's trademark on-stage moves and attitude, are irresistible.

With fewer off-stage oxygen tent moments than I expected, we're getting a fast-paced show. Axl slows it down with 'Sorry', a seriously great song but not necessarily a crowd-pleaser, but kicks things off again with a note-perfect 'Rocket Queen'. This is followed by my personal moment of the night – 'Estranged'. A trademark Axl Rose song, it couldn't be more different from the 'Appetite'-era material and suits his current band. It's a real highlight.

Next up is the horrendously tedious 'Live And Let Die' with pyro. It's a huge fan favourite, but it's just so lazy and boring, it's not one of my favourites. However you can't argue with the next track, 'This I Love'. It's a vocal master class, with wonderfully dark lyrics and a gorgeous guitar part. It's pure Axl Rose and it sounds immense. Huge credit to him – he takes loads of abuse from the press and fans alike but he still walks the walk and can nail these tunes perfectly live. He continues with the 'Chinese Democracy' album, playing 'Better', before a surprise guest appearance from Izzy Stradlin, who sings '14 Years'. Nice!

And then it's over... we need to catch our train home and so the G N' R circus is finished for us. It's a conflicting night because although I've seen the band's full set a number of times, it's hard to leave. I'll miss 'Sweet Child...' for a start. But the fact he persists in starting late, having been advised that his audience can't get home, irritates. It's an arrogant, contemptuous approach which never feels right.

Despite all this, it's been a good night out. Going to the O2 is always fun. Thin Lizzy were majestic and the crowd around us have been having a great time. If Axl Rose had chosen to join in and acknowledge his fans, by starting the show early enough to finish by midnight, it could have been a great gig.

As it was, I made up for missing 'Sweet Child...' and 'Paradise City' by watching Slash's band at Hammersmith on June 6th. What a contrast to Guns N' Roses. The venue was packed to the rafters and they played relentlessly for just under two hours, mixing up old and new material seamlessly, with Myles Kennedy regularly stealing the show. There was no ego, no bullshit and most importantly, no ginger drama-queen. It was perfect.

As for Guns N' Roses, well, nobody can really question Axl Rose, because he's one in a million. Love him or hate him, he never fails to live up to his reputation. But it would be great to see him using his exceptional band to showcase his exciting song-writing talent and moving forward with new material which will really stamp his mark on this, his own personal vision of Guns N' Roses.

Bearing in mind how long 'Chinese Democracy' took to come out, I won't hold my breath!

11.6.11

Jonathan Churchill. MetalTalk.net
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