Guns ‘N Roses

Axl Rose has been so reclusive and obsessive in the years since Guns 'N Roses' last full-on foray into the public eye, but he hasn't, based on Friday's appearance at the Hammerstein Ballroom, missed a step. Rose careened through a two-hour perf with all of the manic energy and banshee vocal agility of the band's heyday.

With:
Band: Axl Rose, Robin Finck, Tommy Stinson, Ron Thal, Richard Fortus Dizzy Reed, Brian Mantia.

Axl Rose has been so reclusive and obsessive in the years since Guns ‘N Roses’ last full-on foray into the public eye, but he hasn’t, based on Friday’s appearance at the Hammerstein Ballroom, missed a step. Rose careened through a two-hour perf with all of the manic energy and banshee vocal agility of the band’s heyday.

True to form, Rose tested aud patience by taking a — to say the least — relaxed attitude towards timely performance, taking the stage a full 90 minutes after opening act Bullet for My Valentine finished. Having waited more than a decade for the chance to glimpse the new-model G ‘n R in action, however, fans didn’t seem prone to grumbling about the additional delay.

The singer wasted little time in breaking out the red meat, firing off a feral opening salvo of “Welcome to the Jungle” and “It’s So Easy” that crackled with live-wire intensity. Impressive though Rose’s voice was during the bulk of the set, he did come up noticeably winded after a few of his stage-crossing sprints.

This version of the band — other than Rose, only keyboardist Dizzy Reed has appeared on officially-released studio material — didn’t add perceptibly to the arrangements of the set’s battle-tested tunes. On the other hand, the musicians didn’t slip into tribute-band mimicry — primary guitarist Robin Finck, in particular, made an impression through leads that bristled with steely cool, a stark contrast to the sensual bluesiness of the departed Slash.

For most of the house, of course, the elephant in the room was “Chinese Democracy” — the album Rose has been tweaking fanatically lo these many years. The set — which didn’t end until well after one A.M., featured a surprisingly generous helping of the disc’s songs, which ran the gamut from gripping to baffling.

The tense, menacing “I.R.S.” fell squarely into the former category, its dark progressions enhanced by a throbbing keyboard underpinning and an infectious chorus that had many in the aud singing along — a fact Rose acknowledged with a wry “you fuckers sure know how to download.”

Other new offerings, however, dragged palpably, particularly the aimlessly sprawling “Madagascar” and a sloppy version of “Better,” neither of which yielded a memorable moment. That disjointed quality stemmed in part from the unwieldiness of the three-guitar lineup, of which new addition Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal — who was granted two solo spotlights, which proved two too many — seemed the most out of place.

While there were certainly moments of unfettered nostalgia — like Rose duetting with fellow ’80s survivor Sebastian Bach on “My Michelle” — the show didn’t feel like a Vegas spectacle. That’s due in large part to Rose’s force of will. The singer seems to have shed his “most likely to incite a riot” baggage, but the edginess that remains could clearly fuel a conflagration should the need arise.

Guns 'N Roses

Hammerstein Ballroom; New York; 3300 capacity; $63.

Production: Presented by Live Nation. Opened and reviewed May 12, 2006. Also May 14, 15, 17.

Cast: Band: Axl Rose, Robin Finck, Tommy Stinson, Ron Thal, Richard Fortus Dizzy Reed, Brian Mantia.

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