"Happy Valentines Day," Axl Rose said with a smirk Sunday night, addressing the 150 very beautiful, very lucky people who landed on the guest list for a private Guns N' Roses concert at the Gramercy Park Hotel's Rose Bar in New York City. Winking and referencing his band, he added: "We're the morning-after pill!!!"
Charming. But celebs like Mickey Rourke, Adrian Grenier, Ryan Phillippe, Albert Hammond Jr. and Fab Moretti of the Strokes, Emily Haines of Metric, and Sebastian Bach didn't come for holiday chivalry. They came for badass rock'n'roll -- and they got it. Lots of it.
The late-night concert -- an installment of Nur Khan's Rose Bar Sessions, sponsored by Deleon Tequila, One Music, and SPIN -- was a little piece of paradise city: Rose and his six-piece band unleashed a 90-minute, 16-song set spanning all their hits.
GNR performed in front of a fireplace covered in roses, with a black-and-red painting of a skull hanging above. The lights were dim, gorgeous women outnumbered the men 2 to 1, the booze was free, and the light fixture overhead, the singer noted, looked like the spiky thorns of a rosebush. It could have been a scene from a GNR music video.
The band opened with "You're Crazy" and "Mr. Brownstone," and proceeded to play acoustic versions of hits from Use Your Illusion, Lies EP, and their 1987 mega-hit Appetite for Destruction, including its eternally awesome lead single "Welcome to the Jungle."
The 48-year-old frontman, wearing a brown velvet suit jacket and matching top hat over his red bandana, slithered and tossed the mic from hand to hand as he stretched his vocals on set standout "Nightrain."
He slowed the tempo on super ballad "Patience," as the lights overhead turned his gigantic diamond rings into miniature disco balls, and the crowd sang along and waved their lighters in the air (real ones -- thanks, smokers!).
The band played only three tracks off their 15-years-in-the-making 2008 record Chinese Democracy: "Catcher in the Rye," "Street of Dreams," and "Sorry."
The sound, especially Rose's vocals, was occasionally muddy, but the bandmembers -- keyboardist Dizzy Reed, drummer Frank Ferrer, bassist (and former Replacement) Tommy Stinson, and three guitarists -- the chain-smoking DJ Ashba (Yes, that's his real name. No, he's not an actual disc jockey), Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, and Richard Fortus -- played admirably through the slog.
Overall, the show was a reminder that love 'em or hate 'em, Axl and GNR created some of the most quintessential rock songs of the '80s and '90s.
GNR's cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" scored loudest crowd reaction of the night, with second place going to set-closer "Paradise City."
On the latter, as Stinson sang backup, a very sweaty Rose ripped of his top hat, jacket, and sunglasses. In a red bandana, unbuttoned shirt, and blue jeans, he recalled the iconic Axl from the late '80s -- only 20 years older and 30 pounds heavier.
"It sounds really good," commented one hardcore fan. "Hey, I can just close my eyes and pretend it's 1987!"
Guns N' Roses setlist:
1. "You're Crazy"
2. "Mr. Brownstone"
3. "Used To Love Her"
4. "Welcome To The Jungle"
5. "Street Of Dreams" (Chinese Democracy)
6. "Sorry" (Chinese Democracy)
7. "It's So Easy"
9. "Rocket Queen"
10. "Catcher In The Rye" (Chinese Democracy)
11. "My Michelle"
12. "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (Bob Dylan Cover)
13. "Whole Lotta Rosie" (AC/DC cover)
14. "Sweet Child O' Mine"
16. "Paradise City"