Timing is everything in the world of Guns N Roses. From the oft-ridiculed span it took to create the ultimately disappointing “Chinese Democracy” album to Axl Rose’s curfew-busting, occasionally riot-inducing lateness, the band might as well incorporate a clock and/or a calendar into its logo.
At this, the only Gotham-area stop on the band’s first North American tour in five years, time was on Guns n Roses’ side. Onstage by eleven – a mere hour after openers Asking Alexandria played their final tune – the band bobbed and weaved through a full three hours of material, a surprising amount of it culled from the catalogs of other bands. Depending on your point of view, that made for a perf that was either incredibly generous or wildly bloated.
The main body of the set started promisingly, with the title track to “Chinese Democracy” segueing into “Welcome to the Jungle” (a surprisingly early airing to what was arguably the evening’s most anticipated song). Rose’s voice, a point of much internet discussion, was strong. He can’t really hit the high notes that characterized his singing in his twenties, but he’s no longer stretching and missing them, choosing instead to re-interpret tunes like “It’s So Easy” and “Estranged” for a lower register.
While there was no criticizing his vocal performance, Rose’s overall vibe was a bit off-kilter. He left the stage for enough costume changes to make Diana Ross nod in approval – and also took his leave at random points during instrumental passages and solos, of which there were many (including guitarist Ron Thal’s take on the Pink Panther theme and an all-hands on deck vamp through “Another Brick in the Wall.”)
The sheer number of covers – from a Tommy Stinson-sung rave-up on “My Generation” to not one, but two forays into AC-DC’s catalog – was striking, given the number of vintage originals that were left by the wayside. Then again, the ensemble seemed most electrified when going down that road. Even Rose himself looked happiest when seated at the piano for a solo “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
While purists yearn for lightning to strike, prompting a reunion of the original G n R lineup, which imploded nearly two decades ago, the current incarnation actually operates more effectively as a band. No, the three-guitar, two-keyboard combo currently backing Axl Rose isn’t as dynamic or personality-driven as its long-ago predecessor, but it is far more coherent and cohesive, never threatening to spin off the rails or generate an onstage fistfight.
Does that mean that this incarnation of Guns ‘n Roses has an iconic album in it? Doubtful. But if the band could rein in some of the excesses that saw it playing to a half-filled venue at 2 a.m., its potential as a touring juggernaut is considerable.