Guns N' Roses at the Forum: Concert Review

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Whether you consider today's GNR a nostalgia act, cover band or the same game-changing group born of the Sunset Strip two decades ago, Rose still knows how to rock an arena. 

The split in American politics as been well-documented these days -- about 45 percent vote Democrat, another 45 call themselves Republican with 10 percent remaining independent. Well, the current Guns N’ Roses fan base is roughly the same and every bit as polarized. Plenty think Axl Rose is an ass and are likely reading this review just to see if he threw a temper tantrum or badmouthed any former band mates at the band’s L.A. Forum show on Wednesday night; The other half remain loyal (read: open-minded) devotees of one of the greatest rock bands to ever grace the stage.

Sorry to disappoint the Rose bashers, but the frontman was on his very best behavior at the Forum show, thanking the fans multiple times, going on two minutes before 11 p.m. (right in the 10:30 to 11 p.m. window promised), and even smiling on several occasions. And in further bad news for the anti-Rose contingent, the current incarnation of Guns, featuring former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson along with keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who played on Use Your Illusion, and Love Spit Love guitarist Richard Fortus, sounded pretty solid.

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That, of course is where much of the animosity stems from -- the faithful who’ve dreamt of an Appetite For Destruction-era reunion maintain this Slash-less band, touring for the first time in five years, isn’t Guns N’ Roses at all so long as Rose is the only original member. Their argument may have merit, but it’s not relevant to the quality of the sound and production today, both of which were top-notch for an arena rock show.

Featuring six video screens, repeated pyrotechnics and Rose working tirelessly to play to the whole crowd as he repeatedly ran back and forth across the stage, the visuals and showmanship defied expectations. Given Rose’s penchant for perfectionism, one wouldn’t expect any less.

Musically, the band delivered stellar renditions of both old and new material. Among the classics were several highlights -- “Civil War” and “Night Train” came down with a ferocious energy and passion, while their cover of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” turned into a massive sing along. Of course, “Welcome To The Jungle,” inspired by the Hollywood streets mere miles away, was met with a justifiable frenzy, while a largely stripped-down “Don’t Cry” stood out for its sense of intimacy and soul.

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Perhaps even more impressive, however, was the more recent material, with Chinese Democracy’s “Sorry,” an F.U. song worthy of John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep,” leading the charge with its atmospheric anger and subtle tension. The pop ditty “This I Love” and the big “Madagascar” were also highlights. In fact, if there was one complaint from an artistic standpoint, it’s this one: it would have been nice to see more of the new material -- songs like “There Was A Time” and “Riad N’ the Beduoins” -- interspersed throughout the set and not just relegated to beginning and end.

The middle was reserved for the rawk part of the show, and did they ever, especially on a killer cover of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie.” The band also paid tribute several times to their influences, like Reed’s piano solo version of the Who’s “Baba O’ Reilly” and Rose’s Elton John snippets on piano leading into “November Rain.”

In fact, over the course of three mammoth hours (the show didn’t end until around 2 a.m.), GNR showed they could be almost anything, from nostalgia act to cover band to, yes, relevant rock band of today. Watching the crowd go crazy to “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” a rock radio staple for more than two decades, and pondering how that would go over at, say, a Coachella or Lollapalooza, was an intriguing thought. After all, we’ve yet to see the new generation fully embrace GNR and vice versa. But this show unquestionably proved there is room for a current version of this iconicband, even if some people don’t want to let go of the past.

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