Axl Tries Not to Barf at Intimate Guns N’ Roses Brooklyn Bowling Alley Show
"Truck stop revenge" meant a relatively tame Governors Ball warm-up show
Last night, the beloved mess that is Guns N’ Roses invaded Brooklyn Bowl, a 600-capacity venue/restaurant/bowl-a-rama, for an intimate warm-up gig to anticipate Saturday night’s Governors Ball Music Festival, which they are co-headlining with Kings of Leon and Kanye West. For lucky fans quick enough on the draw — and willing to pay $150 — this was a unique chance to catch the one-time Biggest Band in the World play a room that’s about to host Toad the Wet Sprocket. But anyone hoping to see the scrappy, gloriously sloppy, alcohol-fueled dervish that shimmied its way across the Sunset Strip club scene in the late ’80s would be disappointed.
Dealing with a case of what he deemed “truck stop revenge,” frontman Axl Rose apologized — sincerely, for what it’s worth — to the crowd for his lack of energy. “I’m just trying not to throw up,” he said. “It’s literally the most fucked time I’ve ever had on stage.” He skulked the stage like a rapper (probably not a coincidence from the dude who used to wear an N.W.A hat on stage), wearing three or four chains. Some dark sunglasses, a studded Diceman-style jacket, and an Indiana Jones hat never left his person for the nearly two-hour duration of the show, giving him the feel of a screaming shadow that wandered on and off stage during guitar solos.
The current eight-member incarnation of the band (including Use Your Illusion keyboardist Dizzy Reed, Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, stunt guitarist Bumblefoot, and some other guys) was as professional as a Beyoncé show, showing the dependability of a band that just did a 12-date Vegas residency. (It’s an odd feeling to be relieved and disappointed that the notoriously tardy band was ready to play a mere 20 minutes after their scheduled showtime). They are more Vegas sleaze than L.A. sleaze these days: You can see it in their neatly trimmed beards and neck tattoos, in guitarist DJ Ashba’s post-Navarro steez. I wouldn’t be surprised if the leather in their coats was from some other animal besides “cow.” At one point, Ashba had a change of hat. Adding to the Vegas vibes, the crowd (we’re wagering old and responsible enough to pay Brooklyn rent and still have $150 to blow on concert tickets) was receptive but polite, barely even hoisting camera phones. But did they ever sing along. Loudly. They shouted back “Mr. Brownstone,” “Estranged,” and “Live and Let Die” and were, naturally, loudest for “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Stinson at least was a good throughway to their sloppy roots, leaning into “Used to Love Her” (which is basically a Misfits song anyway), and taking the lead on his own “Motivation” (which was the only time this sounded like a band you would hear at a Brooklyn club).
But fuck all that, because no matter what happens, Axl Rose was still Axl Rose. He sleazily fingered the microphone stand, mumbled something about not even having a drink, did that trademark sway even if it was muted. He added extra screams in “Live and Let Die” that sounded well rehearsed, well harnessed, well controlled — but they were still that Axl scream. Of all the massive hits they played on that stage, the most important Rose moment was during the comparatively quiet Chinese Democracy deep cut “This I Love.” Without the bluster of his band, you could hear the voice of Axl Rose, 26 years past its breakthrough moment, almost unadorned. You could hear the cracks and faults of time, you could hear the moments of sheer perfection that never left, you could hear the Joplin-meets-alleycat mewl that it’s hard to believe was somehow the voice of rock radio and MTV next to honey-dripped stuff like White Lion and INXS. You could hear Axl Rose, a guy who could headline a music festival if he was backed by a Discman and a sparkler. We overheard one dude saying, “Worth every penny.”
Guns N’ Roses setlist
“Welcome to the Jungle”
“It’s So Easy”
“Used to Love Her”
Richard Fortus guitar solo
“Live and Let Die”
“This I Love”
DJ Ashba guitar solo
“Sweet Child O’ Mine”
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”