Concert Review: Axl Rose and His Hired Guns Put on Epic Performance at Youngstown's Covelli Center

To put this concert review into some perspective, I will give you a little background about myself. I think I have been blessed with seeing some of the best tours that rock n roll has ever seen.

In the summer of 1988, when I was just starting middle school, I saw Elton John for the first of 3 times. At 13, in 1990, I saw Paul McCartney's excellent show when he played Municipal Stadium and two more times when he played arenas stateside in the 2000s. I saw Guns N Roses for the first time on the second last school day of middle school and was the envy of all the burnouts who were shocked that a straight laced kid such as myself was allowed to see what was then dubbed as "The Most Dangerous Band on the Planet". I've seen legends such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan multiple times and have taken in shows by Oasis' Gallagher brothers at a rate that may have surpassed twenty times. I've seen shows by The Who, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and U2. I was privileged to see the inaugural Rock N Roll Hall of Fame show on the shores of Lake Erie that brought about numerous legendary acts that the genre spawned. I say this to notify you straight-off that I know a thing or two about a great rock concert, and what I witnessed at the Covelli Center on Wednesday night that turned into Thursday morning topped them all. Axl Rose and his hired guns delivered a performance of epic proportions.

People love to bask in nostalgia and miss Axl's top wearing hat partner but, truth be told, I've seen all three legs of the Chinese Democracy Tour (which started in 2002 even though the album didn't get officially released till 2008) and each show surpassed that of the Use Your Illusion Tour that hit the Richfield Coliseum in 1991. While Axl didn't have his childhood buddy playing rhythm guitar, a drunk on bass, a herion junkie on drums (who was axed by the time I saw them), and the famous guitar virtuoso, things seemed more refined in the 2000s-era GNR show in a good way. The Chinese Democracy bands from 2002-2008, made up of seemingly anyone who Axl wanted to play with at the time who was a highly skilled musician, never was sloppy and was well rehearsed (maybe to a fault) and didn't play at a decibal level that made your ears ring for days on end. What was dissapointing was the element of surprise that the shows brought and their heavy leaning on GNR's debut album Appetite for Destruction when they had many more songs at their disposal that would have added a better mix to an hour and forty five minute gig. What seemed to unnerve many concert goers during these gigs was the fact that Rose would saunter on stage at just about any time he pleased and deliver a stellar gig, like in the golden era of GNR, but their lives had changed with family and work obligations and they didn't enjoy getting home after the bars had already closed down for the night.

The original GNR shows seemed to have a club feel in an arena setting and, while at times electrifying, seemed to be out of place in the surroundings. When the Illusion shows moved to stadiums, which I unfortunately missed, it probably opened things up a bit but by that time Izzy Stradlin had left the band which was a devastating blow as he was a key songwriting partner, backing vocalist, and decades long friend to enigmatic Rose. Key members of the band remained and they played many legendary shows, but after 1994 the fire was gone and Axl went his separate ways with the rest of the old crew.

With all that being said, let's take our to attention to proceedings at Youngstown's Covelli Center. Axl is still a late arriver to his party but seems to make his regular appearance at about 11 pm nowadays. Every party needs something to celebrate and what is better than being inducted to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame earlier in the day on his first try. Rose was clearly in a good mood and the crowd was truly electric in the modern arena that was at near capacity. The band, some of which has played with Axl for a decade now, is tight as ever and doesn't play as close to the vest as they had in the past. Couple that with a setlist that has added in stellar songs from the Illusion era, including Civil War which had been absent for 18 years, along with the songs you expect from Appetite and a great selection of covers that show the wide ranging influence on Rose and any moderate GNR fan would be more than pleased witness the proceedings. Also included in the set are sublime choices from the highly underrated Chinese Democracy which would could have been called Use Your Illusion III as it is in the same vein as those two classics that spawned hits such as November Rain, Don't Cry, You Could Be Mine, and the McCartney cover Live and Let Die which all made their way on the setlist that lasted 3 hours with some guitar solos thrown in so the crowd could catch its breath after being barraged with hit after hit in the Axl Rose canon. This time around it seems that the band is playing at a little louder level than in the past which was welcoming as added something extra to the show but is not nearly as loud as the 1991 version which was over the top.

For a man nearing 50, the Indiana native hasn't lost a step. Rose still zooms across the stage at a roaring pace throughout shows like he did in his 20's and still has the vocal prowess of an Opera singer. It is noteworthy to point out that the tour manager seemed to know how to plan these gigs as the Youngstown gig, which is a short trip from Cleveland, was the same day the GNR induction announcement and I highly doubt that was a coincidence. The band followed it up with a trip to Indianapolis yesterday which is an hour drive from his hometown of Layfette. Axl acknowledged being being anointed Rock royalty by concluding the night by saying "Thank you to the Rock Hall and our fans" and later tweeted a nearly identical message to his legion of fans on the world wide web.

Seeing McCartney at age 48 and Rose at age 49 really helped me put things in perspective as I compared the two performances in my head. The former Beatle put on a show that I will never forget, and is still in my top 3 all-time, but even with all those classic songs that spawned stadium sing-alongs the energy at the 3 hour Guns N Roses show was more explosive. That is why Axl Rose is a first ballot member of the Rock Hall.

It will be interesting to see if he shows up to Cleveland's Public Hall to accept his award with the bandmates that he has been estranged from for so long but as the night concluded with Frank Sinatra's My Way nobody knows what is up his sleeve. Maybe if they invite the cast from America's favorite serial killer Dexter, who's theme song he came out to with roaring applause, perhaps Rose can be coaxed to reunite with the original Guns and make it the happy ending that many music fans are dying to see. If he keeps putting on shows like this I really don't care who it is with as it was a truly sensational performance that shows that Axl is still performing at the highest levels of rock n roll royalty.

Setlist
Dexter Intro
Chinese Democracy
Welcome To The Jungle
It's So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Sorry
Shackler's Revenge
Estranged
Rocket Queen
Richard Fortus Guitar Solo
(James Bond Theme)
Live and Let Die
(Paul McCartney & Wings cover)
This I Love
Civil War
Sonic Reducer
(Dead Boys cover) (Tommy Stinson on lead vocals, with Band Introductions)
Dizzy Reed Piano Solo
(Baba O'Riley)
Street Of Dreams
You Could Be Mine
DJ Ashba Guitar Solo
(Ballad Of Death)
Sweet Child O' Mine
Instrumental Jam
(The Lemon Song/Another Brick … more)
Axl Rose Piano Solo
(Gran Torino/Goodbye Yellow … more)
November Rain
Bumblefoot Guitar Solo
(Pink Panther Theme)
Don't Cry
Whole Lotta Rosie
(AC/DC cover)
Knockin' On Heaven's Door
(Bob Dylan cover)
Nightrain
Encore:
Instrumental Jam
Madagascar
Better
Instrumental Jam
Patience
Instrumental Jam
Paradise City
My Way
(Frank Sinatra song)