Concert Review: Guns N’ Roses Closes Residency at Hard Rock

Guns N’ Roses ended its residency on Saturday night at Hard Rock’s The Joint in Las Vegas and to say fans received their money’s worth would be an understatement.

Axl Rose sings to Las Vegas crowd

Axl Rose and the rest of his band devoured more than 30 songs over three hours. The iconic singer was sharp for much of the performance hitting the falsettos and bass notes flawlessly and Guns N’ Roses, which has doubled in size since its 80s reign, was tight, very loud and bursting with energy.

Rose looked and sounded nothing like his 50 year-old self – a relief considering the first few songs sounded like he was tired and yet to recover from the previous night’s performance. The band opened the evening with “Chinese Democracy” the first cut and title track from their long anticipated and now four year old album, then “Welcome to the Jungle” and “It’s So Easy.” Rose’s vocals did not arrive until the fourth song “Mr. Brownstone.”

The band tirelessly pounded out hits, songs off the latest album and new ones from an as yet unannounced new album that sounds like the makings of another Chinese Democracy. Considering the number of band members every song sounded strong and as one cohesive unit. The band did flub on “Don’t Cry” but no one listening would have been the wiser had Rose not announced the mistake and at one point looked at bass player Tommy Stinson and said, so all could hear, “What planet are we on?”

Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin

Keeping a large number of musicians is no easy task. The old saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” certainly applies to the stage (perhaps that’s why the classic lineup is dead and buried) so whatever Rose has done to keep everyone happy and together for the last 10 years is working. Purists take heart – Rose added a ninth body to the stage when Izzy Stradlin appeared nearly halfway through the show and sang “14 Years.” Stradlin was more or less drowned out by the other three guitarists but he hung around and played several more songs.

Despite Rose’s past antics and petty behavior over the years the man deserves a lot of credit for the show he brought to Vegas. It’s nearly unheard of for a band to play three hours let alone 34 songs. He also often abruptly left the stage when any of the other members had solos seemingly giving them their due credit – though perhaps he just didn’t know what to do when he wasn’t singing.

Regardless, Rose still has his swagger and a really nice pair of boots that didn’t inhibit him at all from dancing, climbing stairs and running around the stage. The highlights of the evening were multiple but the most talked about rests with his stellar piano playing on “November Rain” which was done from a piano on a suspended platform raised above the crowd.

Though three hours of Guns N’ Roses may be an early Christmas gift for some, the reality is this show could have and should have been dialed back by 30 to 40 minutes especially with a nearly midnight start. A number of fans didn’t have the patience for the 30 minute encore which ended with the band’s best and most famous song “Paradise City.” And, unfortunately for those who stayed, Rose had shot his vocals by then.

Axl Rose on piano at The Joint in Las Vegas

The set was littered with too many self-indulgent and meandering guitar solos often tucked in as introductions to songs, and Stinson and guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal each sang a song nearly sucking the life out of the typically fast-paced show. Sorry, but the reality is, despite the talents of the other musicians, no one was there to see anyone but Rose. Tha band also added a silly, almost rediculous rendition of The Who’s “The Seeker” prolonging the evening even further.

Guns N’ Roses is the second big-ticket band to embark  on a residency at the Hard Rock. Motley Crue started it and up next is Def Leppard. The venue is much smaller (4,000 max seating) than an arena allowing a more intimate setting for the hardcore fan to enjoy and enough shows for the casual observer to see music legends. It’s an impressive idea and one that is likely to open the doors to more bands that typically tour large amphitheaters and arenas.

The only problem? You have to go to Vegas.

Guns N’ Rose Las Vegas Setlist:

1. Chinese Democracy
2. Welcome to the Jungle
3. It’s So Easy
4. Mr. Brownstone
5. Estranged
6. Rocket Queen
7. Guitar Solo
8. Live and Let Die
9. This I Love
10. Better
11. Motivation
12. Piano Solo – Dizzy Reed
13. Catcher in the Rye
14. Street of Dreams
15. You Could Be Mine
16. 14 Years
17. Guitar Solo
18. Sweet Child O’ Mine
19. Another Brick in the Wall (short cover)
20. November Rain
21. Objectify
22. Don’t Cry
23. Wole Lotta Rosie
24. Civil War
25. Used to Love Her
26. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
27. Instrumental
28. Nighttrain
29. Don’t Let it Bring You Down
30. The Seeker
31. Instrumental
32. Patience
33. Instrumental
34. Paradise City

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Thank God For Rush

The only problem with Rush is that they are just so good.

Alex Lifeson on guitar

Canada’s best and brightest export began the West Coast leg of their Clockwork Angels tour on Tuesday in Seattle at KeyArena and to call the show fantastic would be an understatement. Geddy Lee (vocals, bass, keyboards), Alex Lifeson (guitars and yes piano) and Neil Peart (drums) power “tri-owed” their way through a nearly three-hour 26-song set featuring nine cuts from their latest album and the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble.

The first-half of the set was a 10-song sprint highlighting much of the band’s classics from the 80s. Despite what is often negatively perceived as the keyboard era of Rush, Lee did in fact spend more time behind keyboards then the last three tours combined. But what is seemingly lost on those who strayed from the band shortly after Signals was released in 1982 is just how sharp and natural those albums and songs are.

“Subdivisions” started the night, followed by “The Big Money” and “Force Ten.” Lee said the band was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Signals but the evening clearly belonged to 1985’s Power Windows once Rush played deep tracks from that album including “Grand Designs,” “Middletown Dreams,” and “Territories.” “Analog Kid” was the other addition from Signals and Lifeson played a flawless and breathtaking solo. It was indeed a lesson in how to play rock guitar.

Peart incorporated the first of two solos in the middle of “Where’s My Thing” and the band closed with “Far Cry” before taking what is now a standard 10-minute break. “The Pass” a Rush classic was the only low-point of the evening. It was dropped near the end of a blistering set of a very fast-paced song list and it came across as slow and somewhat cumbersome. The emotional tone so evident on the Presto album never took hold.

Geddy Lee on bass

The evening was truly for the devoted as Rush began the second set with “Caravan” and didn’t stop playing songs from Clockwork Angels until eight more were done. Yes some energy was lost from the first half of the night as many in the crowd were no doubt there to simply see the band and hopefully get a line-up of their radio staples but Clockwork Angels, especially when you understand the album’s concept, is a creative masterpiece. Musically it is so different (yet with tastes from a number of their albums) it was almost like a different band was on stage.

Neil Peart surrounded by drums

It was obvious Rush was changing things up a bit when an eight-piece string ensemble walked onto an elevated platform set up just behind Peart. Many of the songs on Clockwork have string arrangements so the incorporation of live instruments rather than triggers was an interesting inclusion. Initially it didn’t seem to work all that much with “Caravan,” which started the second set off and doesn’t have strings on the album version, however after the title track and deeper album cuts like “The Anarchist” and “Carnies” were played the ensemble really worked. And end any worries of them distracting from the show because once the band plays they are simply background.

“The Wreckers” proved to be just as stirring as the album version and should be a staple in future tours. “Headlong Flight” was solid hard rock and infused some of that energy lost especially when Peart embarked on a short solo and then Lifeson added his own guitar work to open “Halo Effect.” Clockwork tracks came to end with “The Garden” a fan and band favorite featuring Lifeson playing the piano. All told the Clockwork package was strong and the evening could have ended shortly after those nine songs but the band just kept playing!

Alex Lifeson plays piano during “The Garden”

Dreamline brought the crowd back to classic Rush then Peart embarked on his second solo. Gone is the usual eight-minute drum package, instead Peart worked two shorter (about three minute or so) solos into the set and it’s hardly a reflection of Peart slowing down a bit as a performer. Remember – 26 songs. Rush ended the night with Red Sector A, YYZ, Spirit of Radio and encored with of course Tom Sawyer and 2112 – Overture, The Temples of Syrinx and Grand Finale.

It was without a doubt a rock show for the ages. Lee, Lifeson and Peart are such masters of their craft the band can be considered a super group. Lifeson was recently honored with the distinction of being the best all-time guitarist in Canadian history but the man gets absolutely little love in the United States. Considering the state of the music business here it’s not surprising or really even an insult. Lee’s voice was flawless and sharp and his bass playing is already in annals of rock history. Peart? He just continues to improve and even band naysayers have to admit he’s the best at his art.

Thank God there is a band like Rush that continues to stretch itself musically and artistically. All three members undeniably love playing, love making music and care about their fans. Peart is 60 and Lee and Lifeson are less than a year away from that milestone and they continue to tread new ground and outplay bands half their age.

Rush Seattle Setlist (Key Arena):

  1. Subdivisions
  2. The Big Money
  3. Force Ten
  4. Grand Designs
  5. Middletown Dreams
  6. Territories
  7. Analog Kid
  8. The Pass
  9. Where’s My Thing (Featuring drum solo)
  10. Far Cry
  11. Caravan
  12. Clockwork Angels
  13. The Anarchist
  14. Carnies
  15. The Wreckers
  16. Headlong Flight
  17. Halo Effect (guitar solo intro)
  18. Wish Them Well
  19. The Garden
  20. Dreamline
  21. Drum Solo
  22. Red Sector A
  23. YYZ
  24. Spirit of Radio
  25. Tom Sawyer
  26. 2112
    1. Overture
    2. The Temples of Syrinx
    3. Grand Finale

Rush Anaheim Setlist (Honda Center):

  1. Subdivisions
  2. The Big Money
  3. Force Ten
  4. Grand Designs
  5. Limelight
  6. Territories
  7. Analog Kid
  8. The Pass
  9. Where’s My Thing (Featuring drum solo)
  10. Far Cry
  11. Caravan
  12. Clockwork Angels
  13. The Anarchist
  14. Carnies
  15. The Wreckers
  16. Headlong Flight
  17. Halo Effect (guitar solo intro)
  18. Wish Them Well
  19. The Garden
  20. Dreamline
  21. Drum Solo
  22. Red Sector A
  23. YYZ
  24. Spirit of Radio
  25. Tom Sawyer
  26. 2112
    1. Overture
    2. The Temples of Syrinx
    3. Grand Finale

Rush Los Angeles Setlist (Gibson Amphitheatre):

  1. Subdivisions
  2. The Big Money
  3. Force Ten
  4. Grand Designs
  5. The Body Electric
  6. Territories
  7. Analog Kid
  8. Bravado
  9. Where’s My Thing (Featuring drum solo)
  10. Far Cry
  11. Caravan
  12. Clockwork Angels
  13. The Anarchist
  14. Carnies
  15. The Wreckers
  16. Headlong Flight
  17. Halo Effect (guitar solo intro)
  18. Seven Cities of Gold
  19. The Garden
  20. Manhatten Project
  21. Drum Solo
  22. Red Sector A
  23. YYZ
  24. Spirit of Radio
  25. Tom Sawyer
  26. 2112
    1. Overture
    2. The Temples of Syrinx
    3. Grand Finale

Rush Las Vegas Setlist (MGM Grand):

  1. Subdivisions
  2. The Big Money
  3. Force Ten
  4. Grand Designs
  5. Limelight
  6. Territories
  7. Analog Kid
  8. Bravado
  9. Where’s My Thing (Featuring drum solo)
  10. Far Cry
  11. Caravan
  12. Clockwork Angels
  13. The Anarchist
  14. Carnies
  15. The Wreckers
  16. Headlong Flight
  17. Halo Effect (guitar solo intro)
  18. Seven Cities of Gold
  19. The Garden
  20. Manhatten Project
  21. Drum Solo
  22. Red Sector A
  23. YYZ
  24. Spirit of Radio
  25. Tom Sawyer
  26. 2112
    1. Overture
    2. The Temples of Syrinx
    3. Grand Finale

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Gin Blossoms Continue to Grow Fan Base

The Gin Blossoms brought their version of 90s alternative rock to Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde, OR on Saturday without a lot of fanfare but with a whole lot of fun.

Gin Blossoms singer Robin Wilson

In perhaps one of the biggest venues the band has head-lined in recent memory (their last stop to the Portland-area was in Albany at the Linn County Fair) the Gin Blossoms eloquently played a 16-song set that featured six from their latest album No Chocolate Cake – now already two years old. Lead singer Robin Wilson, blessed with perhaps the most emotive tone in pop rock today, guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson and bassist Bill Leen, do things quite casually, meandering on-stage with no introduction, but what the band lacks in showmanship Wilson certainly makes up for in stage presence.

Fans are now so accustomed to Wilson’s antics some bring their own tambourines in hopes of being called out to play along with the band. Those without them Wilson graciously provides the extras and passed them out as he saw fit. Alas there was no shortage of high-fives given cheerfully by Wilson and a number of people were either sung to via phone or now have part of a Gin Blossom’s song on their voice mail.

The Gin Blossom’s started things off with Chocolate’s “Don’t Change for Me” and then “Lost Horizons” the first track from their smash album New Miserable Experience and continued with “Miss Disarray” probably their biggest hit from No Chocolate Cake. “Somewhere Tonight,” “Dead or Alive on the 405,” “I’m Ready” and “Wave Bye Bye” rounded out the songs from their latest album.

No Chocolate Cake (2010) felt, at the time, like a sophomore album after the fantastic Major Lodge Victory which came out in 2006. There are some solid songs on Chocolate but it didn’t quite live up to Major Lodge (their first studio release in 10 years at the time) which in some ways redefined the band and felt like a successful first album. However, the live songs from Chocolate were surprisingly strong and revealed the strength of the album. “I’m Ready” was one of the best songs of the night and showcased the band’s ability to jam.

Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela

Both Valenzuela and Johnson took turns taking lead and soloing and their deftness at their craft has never been stronger. Valenzuela performed a beautiful extended solo during “Learning the Hard Way” and Johnson did likewise on “Til I hear it From You.” Give it up for Leen who typically hovers in the background but didn’t let Wilson take all the spotlights as he thumped around up front – and even smiled a couple of times.

Of course, a Gin Blossoms concert would not be complete without fan favorites “Found Out About You” and “Hey Jealousy” which Wilson did not really need to sing as the audience took over most of the vocal duties. “Until I Fall Away” didn’t really measure up to the album version and was the only low-point of the evening.

For purists the band’s core members are still intact from their hey-day which gives them an element of authenticity and, in today’s short-lived music world, relevancy. (They’ve been recycling drummers since they reunited.) They broke up shortly after releasing Congratulations, I’m Sorry in 1996 but reunited in 2002 and have been more or less touring ever since while releasing two albums. However, it seems as though they are unwilling to take it to the next level which can be easily done by stepping up the show’s production. Wilson looked like he had just woken up and Leen looked like he just got back from running errands. They don’t even have a merchandise table which is unheard of in today’s music scene.

Regardless, the music is there and fans can expect more of the same for some time to come if Valenzuela gets his way. In an interview earlier this year, he indicated a desire to move away from recording full albums and instead release singles for movies or TV and he’d be happy to continue touring for 20 more years.

Gin Blossoms Set List (Spirit Mountain):

  1. Don’t Change For Me
  2. Lost Horizons
  3. Miss Disarray
  4. Allison Road
  5. Somewhere Tonight
  6. Until I Fall Away
  7. Dead or Alive on the 405
  8. Learning the Hard Way
  9. As Long As It Matters
  10. Found Out About You
  11. Til I Hear It From You
  12. I’m Ready
  13. Wave Bye Bye
  14. Hey Jealousy
  15. Follow You Down
  16. Can’t Hardly Wait (The Replacements cover)

Written By: AndrewT