The rockin' Axl Rose experience legally known as Guns N' Roses is like the megabucks movie version of some gritty off-Broadway play. It won't make you forget the original, but its gloss and sprawl are not to be despised.
Looking like an alien mantis, jaws parted as if to bite the head off a giant fly, Rose disdained credibility at the Gibson Amphitheatre on Sunday night while injecting further histrionic fizz into the vocal melodies of turn-of-the-'90s GNR ballads such as the buoyant "Sweet Child O' Mine" and the tenderly overfragranced "November Rain"; if he had ever drawn genuine emotion from his weeper repertoire (doubtful), those days were dust. Still, a creepy artificial buzz always rewards the absorption of Rose's headlong muggery, and when he had nothing in mind but rocking his butt off ("It's So Easy," "You Could Be Mine") and polluting his liver ("Mr. Brownstone," "Nightrain"), he took everybody along on his ambulance joyride.
Pyrotechnic heat you could actually smell fired up a two-plus-hour Rose set calibrated like a Rolls engine. The pistons were a seven-piece backup band, cranked by bearded ax mechanic Robin Finck and calculated to appear even slicker by contrast with a weary and spectacularly out-of-tune Izzy Stradlin, former rhythm guitarist of the "classic" GNR, who was dragged onstage for several songs. Ingenious instrumental breaks served to pace the proceedings and revive demand for additional Axl shriekery.
And a number of impressive unreleased selections -- including the ramped-up "IRS," the drifting "Madagascar" and the chop-riffing "Chinese Democracy" -- augured well for Guns N' Roses' upcoming album, whose endless postponement recently cracked a rift with the band's management. (The group canceled its remaining tour dates after the three Gibson shows to focus on finishing "Chinese Democracy," now targeted for release March 6, according to GNR's official website.)
At the 2 a.m. curtain call, Rose said he'd soldier onward for the fans despite the dirt bag write-ups he always gets. And so he should.
Sebastian Bach, the finest microphone twirler of his generation, warmed up the stage with reckless rockers ("Piece of Me") and prom ballads ("I Remember You") from his Skid Row heyday circa 1990, plus some homicidal new numbers. More than an MTV clown, the lanky Bach is a radiant entertainer; his animalistic screams and party attitude spawned grins while muscly guitarist Metal Mike Chlasciak (formerly of Halford) shredded manfully.
The night's darkest moods were the gift of Helmet, whose "Monochrome" CD this year announced a return to the artistic spikes of its platinum early '90s. Gaunt, buzz-cut Page Hamilton's grating yet melodic singing, contemptuous lyrics, gut-gouging riffs and twisted guitar solos rocked metal-hard and punk-furious.
The L.A. chapter of the nationwide art-sleaze phenomenon Suicide Girls opened, gyrating and undressing to Zep and Prince soundtracks within cinematic conceptual frameworks. The longtime link between metal and strippers: not broken yet.
Guns N' Roses
Where: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
When: 8:15 p.m. today and Wednesday
Contact: (818) 777-3931