Welcome to the New Jungle

Metal Edge Magazine - May 2001

by A Diehard Fan

Welcome To The New Jungle

A lot of people are caught up on the fact that Axl Rose is still using the Guns N' Roses name without the rest of the guys being in the band. "How can he do that?!" Diehards scream, and many are bashing Axl, bashing the new lineup, bashing the fact that the old lineup isn't together, bashing the new GN'R songs, before they even hear them. Yes, I realize that the original Guns N' Roses is no longer together and the new band is not the old band. But, put aside that kind of thinking for once and remember what rock n' roll is about. Rock n' roll is not about thinking, it's about feeling. It's about feeling the songs, feeling the lyrics, feeling the vibe. Feeling the music. So open your soul and leave your personal politics aside. With that in mind, this is my take on a night in Las Vegas - New Year's Eve 2001 - when the unthinkable happened: Axl Rose took the stage after an eight year hiatus with his new Guns N' Roses lineup.

My heart was thumping, my pulse was racing faster than Mario Andretti and adrenaline was pumping harder than Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a hell of a journey to get there, and I still couldn't believe it was happening. I was talking to a newfound Friend, and we were about to pinch each other just to confirm that it was true. I hadn't slept in over 24 hours and I didn't give a @#%$. Axl Rose was about to take the stage with the new GN'R lineup. My mind was spinning and my legs were shaking. What was he gonna look like? What was he gonna sound like? What was the band gonna sound like? Would they play old songs? New ones? Will Axl actually show up? I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was there was no place in the world I would rather be. There was no other way I would like to bring in the New Year. My anticipation was building so high I thought I was gonna burst. I felt like I had been waiting to see Axl Rose sing for longer than GN'R had even been together.

Looking around at the crowd, I got a really weird vibe. Does anyone even live in Las Vegas? There was such a mixture of faces --- Some people you can tell were old school diehards, some younger kids who probably have never even had the pleasure of seeing GN'R live 'back in the day,' and some people who just didn't look like they belonged at a rock show… Makes it all the better, though. To look at such a mixture of faces makes you realize just how many different people GN'R has touched over the years. Everyone was in great spirits, probably still drunk from bringing in the New Year just a few hours before. At 3:30am, it was time. The crowd was frantically cheering. I was ecstatic, smiling ear to ear, glowing with excitement and anxiety. I felt as if I were a teenager again and this was the first concert I'd ever been to. Every other anxiety I've ever experienced in life was lessened. I'm about to see Guns N' Roses man!

The stage was filled with televisions upon televisions, stacked on top of one another. Suddenly they came alive and a cartoon image of Axl appeared. Much of it was a blur as I kept looking off to the side of the stage trying to catch a glimpse of the living legend. I do remember the cartoon Axl professing "Uncle Axl's newfound lack of dependence on drugs. The crowd started growing impatient and then Axl Rose burst onto the stage with shades covering his eyes.

All the questions that were up in the air for all these years, floating around through my head as recently as 10 minutes prior, suddenly found answers. He looked phenomenal, still had a full head of strawberry red hair, and a great figure. And then he opened his mouth --- "You know where you are, you're in the jungle baby." It was enough to send chills down your spine. "I wanna hear you scream." Axl was back, and better than before. He looked comfortable onstage, wearing a pair of black Adidas track pants with red stripes down either side, and a black (and later white) button down shirt with a dragon printed on it. He swayed the "Axl sway" and spun the mike stand ferociously. His energy level was different, though. There was a new maturity and stealth in his undeniable presence and movements. He wasn't as erratic or hyped up as he was before, but hell, this was his first show back in over eight years, and he still had the audience by the balls the entire time.

Once he took off his shades, you could see Axl staring at you in the same awe in which we were staring at him. It seemed like he was genuinely excited to get back on the stage, just as excited as we were seeing him there. Throughout the night, Axl Rose spoke to the crowd the way you talk to your friends. He joked about having just woke up from an eight year nap and said that he's had to deal with the emotions he had on playing the old band's music. At one point, Axl even prided himself on the fact that this time around was different. He said that unlike the past 15 years, he actually attended practice, rehearsal, and soundcheck.

It was weird to look up and not see Slash or Izzy or Duff or Matt or Steven, but just as we got used to Matt after Steven left, I think it's safe to say there's a chance we'll warm up to the new band. I know I did. And that was only the first show. Axl said it best when he introduced Tommy Stinson saying, "Tommy's old band's name is synonymous with the music industry, it's filled with The Replacements." Joining "the replacement" bassist in the new lineup were Primus' Brian "Brain" Mantia on drums, keyboardists Chris Pitman and Dizzy Reed, and guitarists Buckethead, Robin Finck, and Paul Tobias --- someone Axl referred to as, "An old pal who used to fight with him over who was a better band, Queen or Led Zepplin." They're all amazing musicians who had some tough @#%$ shoes to fill, and they did a damn good job. The audience responded with a warm --- yet hesitant --- welcome during the introductions (with the occasional cry out for Slash), but I swear, if you closed your eyes, at times it was hard to tell the difference. Especially when hearing the voice of magic, a voice like no other… The voice of Axl Rose.

It was as if he kept his voice bottled up… Rose sounded better than he did 14 years ago, hitting and holding every note with precision and passion, spicing it up with his "yowser" inhales that only he could do. He was on top of his game. During the powerhouse 2 hour set, Axl and all his new guns were fired up. There was lots of joking and laughing among the members as they pretty much flawlessly blasted through almost all of Appetite For Destruction. When's the last time you heard "Think About You" live? Imagine the feeling, imagine the emotions that run through your mind. It took me back to that time and that place, yet the songs still stand strong today. There aren't very many songs that can stand the test of time like GN'R songs --- 14 years (and a huge lineup change) later and they still sounded like they were breaking ground with a new revolution in rock history. The whole band played so intensely, you could feel the vibe --- You felt like you were connecting to Axl, to the new band, and to the person standing next to you.

They added a couple of tracks from Use Your Illusion I and II, including the covers "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and "Live and Let Die," as well as "Don't Cry" and the infamous "November Rain." They also threw in a little "Patience" from GN'R Lies. They broke out four new tunes, plus they're previously released "Oh My God." The new songs included the title track to "Chinese Democracy," "Silkworms," an untitled song, and "The Blues," a song that made you feel like you did the first time you listened to Appetite. Let the anticipation for the long awaited new album begin…

Axl's still got the attitude and edge we've all grown to love, but that was also different. There were no rants, no raves, no bashing, no real threat of not knowing when he was going to fly off the handle. There was a sense of lightheartedness on the stage that made you feel comfortable and at ease. When the piano didn't work at the beginning of a new song they were about to expose to the crowd, there was a moment of tension in the audience --- for a minute, you almost expected him to explode and thought that heads would be rolling. But to everyone's surprise (including Axl's), he chose to move onto a different song while the problem was fixed, opting to practice a little " Patience" (the song they chose to play). With a great sense of humor, he mocked his notorious outbursts.

As he sat at the piano, the room burst into a chant "Welcome Back… Welcome Back…" It was a time for goosebumps and welled up eyes. The room exploded with love and an invitation for Axl back into their hearts. The smile on his face was absolutely indescribable. He thanked the audience with a genuine show of pride, pleased to be right back where he belongs. He admitted that he was beginning to blush, and said with a shyness that rarely comes out on a stage that he's always in complete control of, "Now you're embarrassing me." Then he sang the words to that song we've all whistled a thousand times before, "Just a little patience… Yeah, yeah, some more patience…" It was as if Axl was thanking us for waiting for him to come back. Deep inside, it felt like he was connecting, unveiling a bit of an autobiography. And when he roared his final line to that song ---- "Oooohhhh I need you, ooohh, I need you, this time" ---- you almost felt like screaming back, "We need you too!" The show was an emotionally draining experience that was flabbergasting, breathtaking and exhilarating, all at the same time. "It's a feeling that I know, I know I'll never forget."

The show ended at 5:30am, and Axl slammed his red foam mike onto the ground after an amazing performance and a show stopping encore of "Paradise City." Not out of anger though, kind of like a feeling of accomplishment, that sigh of relief that comes afterward. He wished everyone a Happy New Year and walked offstage, but then ran back on to tell the audience and crew that whoever got the mic, can keep it.

Axl Rose chose a city full of gaudiness and bright lights as the venue for his return to performing, the complete opposite of the straight up, raw rock n' roll that he brought with him. But on the Eve of the New Year 2001, Axl Rose was the only light on the Strip. He shined brighter than all the glitz and glamour, and he packed more of a punch than the fireworks that exploded atop the hotel rooftops just a few hours before. When the show ended, I was floored and my adrenaline was pumping just as hard as it was before the show.

Lately, everyone's been peaking around the corner, trying to figure out what the hell will change the face of rock, what will bring it back into the forefront… Perhaps, Axl is the man to lead the change.

Thanks to Chindem