Monday, August 13, 2012

Paradise City Comes to Sin City

Las Vegas has become Florida for rock icons: it's where they spend their golden years in relative comfort (except for the 110 degree plus heat) before their careers wither away and die.

In the past, resident Vegas performers could generally be grouped under the "adult contemporary" banner in hopes of bringing the biggest possible audience of old people from the midwest looking for inoffensive entertainment. But news broke today that Guns N Roses would become the next nostalgia act to headline a Sin City residency starting on Halloween night at The Joint in The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The announcement comes on the heels of Motley Crue's decently successful run at the same venue earlier this year, which means that hard rock bands playing Las Vegas residencies is officially a trend.

The news no doubt has caused existential panic amongst former Sunset Strip headbangers, reminding them of their advancing age and mortality even more than their wild party days being turned into the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages (a version of which is also opening soon in Las Vegas at The Venetian, despite the fact that the movie adaptation was a box office dud), as the formerly dangerous band who sexily welcomed so many to the jungle is now joining the ranks of Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, and Donny & Marie.

Some (including myself) may argue that the band playing in Las Vegas isn't the true Guns N Roses, as legendary frontman/ asshole Axl Rose is the only remaining original member of the original member lineup. GNR isn't truly GNR without Slash, a figure who is nearly as iconic as the band's singer. Plus Axl's seen better days, as snarky bloggers are quick to point out that the formerly lithe rockstar has put on weight, tied his hair into ugly cornrows, and lost much of the edge to his famous falsetto.

With all of that said, GNR's (or what's left of the band's) Appetite for Democracy month long stand at The Hard Rock is actually one of the smartest choices for a Vegas residency act I've heard in a long time (with Bette Midler's ill-fated run at Caesars Palace a few years back being the absolute dumbest). Slash or no, the band is still an internationally known brand name with huge appeal and a deep back-catalog of memorable hits (most of which came from their first album, but it's a helluva first album).

At the height of their fame (and I know that the height of their fame is about four presidential administrations ago, but still), they were able to release two separate albums on the same day, bill them as Part 1 and 2 (instead of packaging them as one double album, like a sane band), and debut simultaneously on the top two spots on the Billboard charts.

Chinese Democracy, their decade in the making, $13.5 million dollar mega-record didn't fare nearly as well when it finally came out in 2008. But the record's release was a seismic cultural event nonetheless, covered religiously by indie music blogs and big media outlets alike. How many bands still draw this much speculation and attention? Sure, the fact that the record took so long and cost so much just to produce are a major reason it was so closely observed... but Axl Rose still knows how to draw attention as a bigger than life rock star. And his weight, stupid hairdo, and less than peak era vocals are secondary to that fact at this point in his career.

Axl and his current version of Guns N Roses will pack the crowds in at The Joint because he's one of the few people left who actually has the swagger to pull off being a rock star. A legendary narcissist,  Rose's most recent outrageous act was to write an open letter declining an invitation to perform at GNR's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony because he didn't want to share the stage with his former band members. Rose has a history of unpredictable to straight up bad behavior, causing a riot in Montreal back in the early 90's when he refused to play after Metallica frontman James Hetfield was nearly killed by onstage pyrotechnics. That's right, Axl Rose is such a volatile dude he caused the only known incident of Canadians acting violently in any capacity.

All of which means that these upcoming GNR shows in Las Vegas will bring a welcome unpredictability to the proceedings. The best and worst Vegas residency shows are precisely planned events. Elton John's awesome Million Dollar Piano show (his followup to his mega successful Red Piano residency which ran for five years) features a locked setlist in order to feature the incredible stagecraft and video elements. The Motley Crue shows earlier this year featured elements of giant, precisely timed spectacle as well, including a flying apparatus for Vince Neil to ride over the crowd and Cirque Du Soleil-like aerialists. These elements ensure that the shows will deliver plenty of bang for the many bucks one has to pay for the cost of a ticket, but they also mean there is a bit less spontaneity in the performances.

I'm not saying that the Guns N Roses shows won't feature plenty of highly planned special effects elements... but adding Axl Rose to the equation automatically makes things a little more volatile, which is something the Las Vegas entertainment scene sorely needs.

Axl Rose is that rare breed at this point in musical history, a guy who (as James Murphy said in Shut Up and Play the Hits, in reference to Kanye West) is actually "doing the job of being a rock star." Axl is ego given human form, an outrageous and stupid and sometimes brilliant man convinced of his own brilliance even though the music industry has tried to move on from his brand of rock-stardom. And his personality can still lead to amazing concert experiences.

Axl might embarrass himself during some of the shows at The Joint. He might jerkishly decide to half ass it a few nights. He might go onstage, imagine ways that the audience has abused him, and spend the evening battling the crowd, swearing at them even though they've paid good money to be there. He might even decide not to come out and perform just because he doesn't feel like it. Or he might prove that he's still got a few unforgettable and mind blowing performances left in the tank yet.

It's a gamble, but so is everything in Las Vegas. Welcome to the Jungle. 


  1. Actually I was working for the Colosseum when Bette Midler had her run, and it sold out with just as much success as Celine Dion. It was meant for a small run, as she didn't want anything really long term.

    Also, I can't look Axl Rose in the face since all that horrible plastic surgery. I won't be going to this.

  2. Didn't know that about Bette Midler's run. I read a piece in the Sun that analyzed why her show "didn't work." But speculation by columnists and actual true facts are often very different things.

    I'm with you that Axl's face is freaky strange, but I think that will just add to the freak-show element of the GNR residency.