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Guns n' Roses rock Madison Square Garden

By Jon Ringel
On December 9, 2002

When Axl Rose brought his latest version of Guns n' Roses to New York's Madison Square Garden Thursday night, even bitter cold and freezing rain couldn't keep the place from filling up. The show was one of the most highly-anticipated stops on the band's Chinese Democracy Tour - with so many fans scrambling for their first look at the band in years; tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes.

All concerns that the new band members couldn't fill the shoes of their predecessors were immediately dispelled, as the band exploded onstage to the opening notes of "Welcome to the Jungle." The crowd jumped to their feet and began shouting the lyrics en masse, as Axl screamed along. He didn't miss a note all night (which may come as a surprise to anyone who watched the band's recent performance at the MTV Video Music Awards).

Lead guitarists Robin Finck and Buckethead did such a good job recreating Slash's melodic guitar lines that his absence was almost tolerable (all that was missing was the top hat and dangling cigarette). Most of the original guitar solos were played note-for-note, with occasional embellishments here and there. Even the equipment was the same - both guitarists played Slash's trademark Les Paul guitars on nearly every song.

Fans were treated to nearly every song from 1986's "Appetite for Destruction," including kick-ass versions of "It's So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone," "My Michelle" and "Rocket Queen." Former Primus drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia did a great job with these harder rock songs, playing with all the energy and proficiency of former drummers Steven Adler and Matt Sorum.

The band also delved into some material from their more mature "Use Your Illusions" albums. Predictable choices like "November Rain" and "Knocking on Heaven's Door" were complimented by slightly more obscure hits like the cover of "Live and Let Die" and "You Could Be Mine." At one point, the crowd began the infamous "Guns and Roses" cheer from the introduction to "Get in the Ring," but the band failed to take the hint.

Throughout the night, Rose sported the jerseys of such New York sports teams as the Rangers, Giants, Yankees and Liberty (at Tuesday night's show at the Hartford Civic Center, he donned first a UConn basketball, then a UConn football jersey). He was every bit as energetic as the Axl Rose of ten years ago, stopping only to change jerseys and distribute donuts to the audience, a concept he described as "Axl's white-trash bistro catering."

The ever-eccentric Buckethead (named for his habit of wearing overturned KFC buckets over his head) was given a chance to shine when the rest of the band left the stage for an extended guitar solo. But before he even picked up a guitar, Buckethead chose to demonstrate his mastery of the nunchakus in an unusual kind of martial-arts-dance. He then wandered the stage for several minutes handing out toys to fans in the front rows. When he finally made it over to his guitar, he played an astonishing solo that included several Star Wars themes and an elaborate slap-guitar section. The audience was silent throughout, half amazed and half confused.

The band also played three new songs off the forthcoming "Chinese Democracy" album, for which Rose has reportedly written between 60 and 70 songs. Though a release date has not yet been set, several of the songs have already been leaked to fans over the Internet. The crowd responded enthusiastically to "Chinese Democracy," which sounds like it could have come straight off "Appetite for Destruction," and the slower, "Use Your Illusions" style ballads, "Madagascar" and "The Blues."

The band finished their set with an incredible version of "Nightrain," but came back out minutes later to play perhaps their biggest hit to date, "Paradise City." The three guitarists (Buckethead, Finck, and rhythm player Richard Fortus) traded solos over the frantic jam-out at the end, as confetti was shot over the audience from huge sprayers. The entire audience was on its feet for the finale, and by the time the band walked offstage, the crowd seemed to have forgotten all about the original members. Only with the release of the "Chinese Democracy" album will we know for sure, but based on the live show, Guns n' Roses seem to be everything they were in 1992, despite the absence of all but two original members.

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