Axl Rose is nothing if not temperamental, but on a damp October night in a downpour of rain, he and his legacy, Guns N’ Roses returned to Rio de Janeiro for Rock In Rio IV, and he was in an exceptional mood. Despite the inclement weather and a very poor job by the sound man early on (you couldn’t hear his vocals to start the show, and yet he never once threw his mic), Axl took it all in stride.
The band opened with “Chinese Democracy”, arguably a poor choice to kick off the show, but the crowd responded loudly and warmly. Axl took the stage in a massive yellow coat that looked more like a Gucci raincoat. With cowboy hat and sunglasses in place the band continued on into “Welcome To The Jungle”. Guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal wore a Star Wars storm-trooper helmet for this one, which caused him to jack the solo. He later apologized to fans via Twitter: “Apologies for f’ing up the Jungle solo tonight, I couldn’t see through that stormtrooper helmet and was trying to get it off my head, haha!!”
Sticking with the band’s debut album they tore through “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” before returning to their 2008 release, Chinese Democracy for “Sorry”. The track was one of the worst of the night. Performance-wise it felt a little sloppy, particularly Axl’s vocals. Still, it’s splitting hairs to tear down a somewhat solid show over one or two weak tracks.
“Live & Let Die” came next preceded by a Richard Fortus solo over the James Bond Theme. This was followed by “Rocket Queen” and “This I Love”, with a nice guitar solo performance by DJ Ashba. Ashba kicked off the trademark guitar intro for “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” and the already stoked crowd came unhinged.
One of the show’s highlights came in the form of “Estranged” from Use Your Illusion II, which Axl announced the band hadn’t played live in 18 years.
The band returned to Chinese Democracy again for the tracks “Better” and “Street of Dreams” which bookended a band jam of The Who‘s “Baba O’Riley” led by pianist Dizzy Reed. While the band as a whole did a great job, Reed’s piano work was often marred by sloppy mistakes.
“You Could Be Mine” and “November Rain” went back to back, and it was during the latter when Axl seemed to see something in the crowd that both distracted and irritated him. For the remainder of the show his mood seemed to change.
Bumblefoot got his own chance to shine on a band jam of the “Theme from the Pink Panther”, where Thal lit the fretboard up to the delight of everyone. Fellow guitarist Richard Fortus came out with an acoustic guitar for “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” where Axl found a moment of levity, with a self-deprecating mimic of Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits.
In all it was a very engaging and exciting performance despite a few less than stellar moments. Axl may be the lone member of the original band, but Ashba, Fortus and Thal add their own unique style, as well as the rhythm section of bassist Tommy Stinson and drummer Frank Ferrer.
It’s good to see the band performing again, but one hopes that by the time they do their U.S. shows they have kicked off the rust and sound more like a cohesive unit rather than 8 individual musicians somewhat out of sync. Of all the performances, it was Axl’s that was hardest to take at times with his higher register vocals sounding like a self-parody.
View entire live broadcast HERE.
Check out our interview with DJ Ashba.