There’s no getting around it; Guns N Roses, 2003 edition, is a joke. Axl Rose’s tattoos looked shoddy back in 1988, and now they just look atrocious, like they’ve been drawn on with crayons by a three-year-old; his band’s new album, the oddly ubiquitous, all things considered, ‘Chinese Democracy’ will probably never see the commercial light of day; and, most laughable of all, his guitarist insists on wearing a bucket of fried chicken on his head. One assumes that it’s Axl eating all the greasy meat inside, what with his seemingly ever-expanding waistline. Yep, there’s no skirting around the issue; Guns N Roses should, by all accounts, have disappeared for good years ago. At least then Rose could have held up his head with some dignity. Thankfully, Universal have now decided to re-release (release date now pushed to January 2004) these two 90-minute films of Guns N Roses at the peak of all their pomposity, reminding us that once upon a time, Axl Rose was the greatest rock n roll singer in the world. So, pull on your frayed Reebok Pumps, crack open your Tab Clear, and make like it’s 1992 with me.
Back then, drum and bass was just as likely to mean a never-ending bout of soloing from sticksman and bassist than it was any pounding techno muzak. And that’s exactly what you’ll find on Volume II – drummer and bassist in unison, sending what looks like the entire teenage population of Japan into rapturous appreciation, and anyone with any respectable level of patience reaching for the fast forward button. Thankfully, DVD technology means that you can skip straight to disc highlight ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ without having to watch Slash *slaughtering the theme from _The Godfather_ at double speed. Indeed, _‘…Child’_ and finale _‘Paradise City’_ aside, much of Volume II is given over to pointless fretboard masturbation, leaving *Volume I to deliver the goods. But what goods they are…
You want hits? You got ‘em. ‘Welcome To The Jungle’? Check. ‘Mr Brownstone’? Check. ‘Live And Let Die’? Oh, check check check already! They’re all dispatched like they’re going out of fashion quicker than an immaculately sculpted Hoxton hairpiece. And then, of course, there’s ‘November Rain’, a song that briefly made being a little soppy cool, and that gave Slash the chance to stand on that hill and riff to his heart’s content. In the expansive Tokyo Dome he’s made to settle for a solitary spotlight and the adoration of, oh, just a few hundred thousand (it's what it looks like) Japanese fans. I’m sure he found the compromise more than acceptable. Axl meanwhile does what Axl always did – race back and forth across the sizeable stage like a PG Tips chimp after about eight sugary cups too many, wear some shockingly tight hot pants, manage to change his costume four times during ‘Civil War’ alone, and eventually get into a kilt and growl at the crowd. “Perhaps a little Arnold?” he asks, before the band launch into Terminator 2_ tie-in ‘You Could Be Mine’. It’s during their John Connor-approved performance that you first notice something that's, well, rather saddening really; Axl has an autocue! Shocked? I fell clean off the sofa.
So they’re a joke now, but, lyric prompts aside, Guns N Roses were masters of their art thirteen years ago. Heck, Duff McKagan even gets to toss in a Misfits cover. Respect. Their flame was never meant to burn for a prolonged period of time; they just consumed too much of what was around them for it to ever last. But, for nearly three hours, they command the attention of a festival-sized crowd in a way that no act could manage today. Robbie at Knebworth? Nah, his knees are far too knobbly for a kilt, let alone hot pants. With The Darkness ensuring hair metal nostalgia remains cool for, let me see, at least another five minutes, use your time wisely and check out how it used to be done, and without a square-inch of spandex in sight. A few moments of wankery on Volume II aside (those solos, Rose’s ‘rap’ during ‘Rocket Queen’), you won’t see a band sustain such a high level of consistency for so long, ever. And to think, they did it all with a ginger front man.
9Mike Diver's Score