GUNS N’ ROSES – Live in Paradise City (2011 Access All Areas DVD, from a television broadcast source)
Rock In Rio 4, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 2, 2011. Guns N’ Roses headlining the final night.
Rio loves Guns N’ Roses! Always did, still do. It’s pouring rain, but the fans are present and accounted for. Good thing they are able to see the huge stage through three massive video screens, otherwise I don’t know how they’d tell one member from another. Well, Axl’s blinding yellow Paddington Bear coat makes him easy enough to see.
“Chinese Democracy” opens the set, with bassist Tommy Stinson handling the backup vocals on the chorus. Ron Thal’s playing a double neck (the top one is fretless) and is rocking the samurai hair. The solo is played by DJ Ashba, with Thal handling the outro shredding. “Good evening! Good morning!” says Axl after the first song, before asking, “Do you know where the fuck you are?” Of course that means “Jungle” is next. Axl’s voice just sounds shredded, as he struggles high and thin through the hard notes, no grit left intact. Once in a while the old Axl wails, but he was really off in Rio.
One thing about Guns N’ Roses new vs. old: The old band looked unified in image. All of them looked like Hollywood dirtbags. In this band, you have the glam looking DJ Ashba, Frank Ferrer who looks like a trucker, Axl with his pimpstache, and a guy in a Stormtrooper helmet. Admittedly though, Tommy Stinson looks the part as the punk rock bass player, and he also fills Duff’s role as backup singer.
“It’s So Easy” is up third, top loading the setlist with some serious Appetite heavy hitters. Ashba doesn’t quite nail the solo, but the band are as tight as the originals. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed looks weird as hell just hitting a tamborine to this sledgehammer tune. As for rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus (a dead ringer for Izzy Stradlin), he seems to literally attack his instrument with every strum; looks more like he’s punching them! Another Appetite classic, “Mr. Brownstone” follows. It is here that I miss Slash for the first time. His playing on “Brownstone” was always so greasy; so perfect. Ashba’s playing is a bit too sophisticated.
A bloated looking Axl is accompanied by Ron Thal for the opening to “Sorry”, a slow grinder from Chinese Democracy. This changes the pace of the set. The song fails to connect. It’s more expressive live, but not interesting enough. Time to pee. Axl then introduces Richard Fortus on guitar who plays some blazing fast licks. It makes me wonder why the hell this guy doesn’t play more leads. He’s insanely fast. This turns into a bit of a band jam, including the James Bond theme. That strategically merges into “Live and Let Die”, the McCartney original of which was of course the theme of the same titled Bond movie. The stage has flame throwers blasting, and the crowd goes wild. Axl’s changed out of the raincoat, now sporting black leather and doing his trademark spinny-spinny dance.
After a brief pause, Frank Ferrer begins the familiar drum beat that opens “Rocket Queen”. The fans know it and scream in anticipation. Unfortunately Axl’s thin voice fails to impress. Fortus does impress, handling the slide guitar solo himself. “This I Love” is the next song, and the first ballad of the evening. Axl struggles a bit with the vocal before he finds his stride part way in. The dual keyboard concept can be best heard here. Dizzy plays the piano, while second keyboardist Chris Pitman plays the orchestral arrangement. But let’s face it: “This I Love” will never replace “November Rain” or “Estranged” as a concert favourite. It fills that same epic ballad role, but it just ain’t classic.
DJ Ashba takes the opening lead guitar on the next Guns N’ Roses jam. I don’t recognize the tune, but it sounds like another soundtrack piece. I’ve heard some journalists complain that Guns play too many solos from band members that nobody cares about. They couldn’t be more wrong. These players are good; very very good. These instrumental sections, apart from giving Axl a chance to rest his voice, are a showcase for the guys in the band that, like it or not, happen to be Guns N’ Roses. The fans in Rio treat the members as if they were the originals.
Ashba breaks into the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” intro, and the fans lose their collective minds. Rose dons a tan fedora, now looking a bit like René Belloq. Thal nails that unforgettable wah-wah solo, no mean feat. But then it’s time for “Estranged”, and Axl just can’t find the key. He pulls it together on the first verse, but this isn’t an easy song. It does eventually fall into place with the help of some epic soloing.
I would say that the song “Better” from Chinese Democracy is well overdue in the set. While undoubtedly modern sounding, I think it’s one of the best tunes. It gives the band a chance to play around with a different kind of heavy. Bumblefoot Thal plays the fast shreddy guitar part and does backing vocals.
Axl then introduces the band, aside from Bumblefoot and Ashba:
- Chris “Mothergoose” Pitman
- Frank “Thunderchucker” Ferrer (“I can never say that last name right. It’s like Ferarri, only different.” — Axl)
- Mr. Richard Fortus (no nickname)
- Mr. Tommy Stinson (also no nickname)
- Mr. Dizzy Reed (I guess his nickname is Dizzy?)
This leads into a Dizzy piano segue on The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”, as an intro to “Street of Dreams”. I had made no secret of my love for this song. I first heard it back in 2001, when Guns played Rio that year. It was known as “The Blues” at the time. It’s a concise version of the “epic Guns ballad” and it stands up on its own. Then it’s time for “You Could Be Mine”. Ferrer impressively nails the drum intro, and Thal plays the opening guitar moans on his fretless neck. This great version is followed by Axl sitting at the piano himself, for…you got it…”November Rain”. There are some sour moments, not least of which is Axl forgetting some of the words!
Finally it’s time for one of my favourite moments of the set: Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal’s rendition of the “Pink Panther” theme (Henry Mancini) on double neck guitar. It’s familiar melodies like this that keep the solo spots interesting to fans who don’t know the players all that well. It’s easier for them to swallow. It’s not like Axl is leaving the stage for some guy to go wheedle-wheedle-wheedle for four and a half minutes. Guns give you quality for your time.
“Pink Panther” turns into a space age blues jam and back again, merging into “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. Axl sings this annoyingly nasal. I will take this moment to point out the irritating habit of the camera to focus on a guitar player who is not the current soloist. It’s Ashba playing these solos, but half the time the camera is on Fortus, as if they are not sure who is playing, so they guess. Fortus does get to blaze a solo at the end, thankfully with the camera on him. Axl playfully quotes Elmer Fudd: “Be vewy vewy quiet! I’m hunting wabbits!” Why, I don’t know. Maybe he was watching cartoons on the plane. It’s as good an answer as any.
The main set closes with “Nightrain”, bringing it all back full circle to Appetite again. In a cool moment, Ashba walks (with security personnel by his side) through a barricaded and secured pathway within the crowd. “Nightrain” is a strong finish for a band that plays as long and hard as Guns N’ Roses play. And soon they’re back on stage, acoustic guitars in hand, to play “Patience”. The quiet tune is all but drowned out by thousands of screaming Brazilians, but even they cannot drown out “Paradise City”. It’s a natural epic closer, and it’s perfectly awesome, right up until Axl leaves the stage…then the video and audio abruptly fade and that’s the end! Was the broadcast cut off? I don’t know, but the end jam is cut out, as is the final bow. That’s it that’s all.
Shoddy. You can tell it’s not an official release.