Guns N' Roses at the House of Blues | Photos and full review

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

  • Photograph: Brendan Shanely

    Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19

Photograph: Brendan Shanely

Guns N' Roses - House of Blues, Chicago - Feb. 19


Guns N’ Roses is calling its current club jaunt its “Up Close and Personal” tour, but is there anyone less likely to get up close and personal, in any context, than Axl Rose? The guy’s spent so much of the past couple of decades extricating himself from the standard rules of social engagement that just getting him in a room—whether it seats 1,000 or 100,000—is often trouble enough. To ask much more beyond that, that’s just asking for, well, more trouble.

That’s not to say, however, that Guns N' Roses is nearly the erratic dictatorship many make it out to be. In fact, under Rose’s leadership, the group in its current incarnation has been relatively stable, all things considered, with only modest turnover and refinements to its lineup over the years. And it has been a while: Bassist Tommy Stinson, for example, has held his GNR position for longer than the entire lifespan of the Replacements. So whether or not it’s the original lineup of Guns N' Roses on stage together is by now pretty much irrelevant. Rumors of an imminent reunion at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame aside, that band is done. If Axl’s GNR were not a well-functioning rock and roll machine, built to spec, he certainly wouldn’t be taking it on the road, let alone to venues as small as the House of Blues, where the band played Sunday night.

And that’s the problem: The current GNR may be packed with a motley crew of colorful characters, each more than adept musically, but when it comes to personality, Axl’s outsized presence alone isn’t enough to carry his capable ciphers. Bizarro world Guns N’ Roses works well as a simulacrum of its former self, but the reckless personality of the original GNR is missed.

That said, Guns N’ Roses c. 2012 is at least playing more like a band than it seemed in the past; it’s still a clusterfuck, sure, but it’s a more collaborative clusterfuck. Taking the stage at a reasonable quarter to midnight, Rose and his rogue’s gallery of weird haircuts and mismatched fashions delivered pretty much the setlist any fan would want, playing nearly all of Appetite for Destruction, a couple of choice Lies nuggets (“Patience,” “Used to Love Her”), a smattering of the Use Your Illusion singles and, of course, an inevitable taste of the inertia-killing bombast of Chinese Democracy (hard to believe, but it’s been three and a half years since that album’s anticlimactic release, and Rose still hasn’t given up hope).

Unfortunately, it couldn’t be left to that. Instead the set was larded up with kitschy solo showcases, teases of other songs and so-called “jams” whose glaring lack of spontaneity merely underscored their role as place-holders while Axl ran off stage for who knows what. In fact, the still-mustachioed Rose (who just turned 50, believe it or not) regularly vanished off-stage, whether to change a hat or jacket  or simply to catch his breath, admittedly to everyone’s benefit, given the relative strength of his still-strange caterwaul. But the tomfoolery combined with the band’s own indulgences certainly dragged on the set, and when the final barrage of “Paradise City” ended nearly three hours after the show’s start, you could feel the crowd’s exhilaration shift to outright relief.

That’s ultimately the biggest problem with this all-Id version of Guns N' Roses: It’s exhausting. Not the epic concerts, not the occasional waits for Axl, but the music itself. Lacking in subtly and stifling in stimulation, it’s like getting stuck in an engine for three hours, getting pounded and pummeled by pistons. But like doing high-speed laps around a track, the night ended basically where it began. The Guns N’ Roses race isn’t over yet, but neither does it seem to be going anywhere. And Axl, as is his enigmatic wont, isn’t in any hurry to get there.


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)

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