Guns n' Roses

Frontman Axl Rose delivers more pantomime than power-rock

Frontman Axl Rose has done his best to hammer the once mighty US rockers’ name into the dirt. Beginning with 1994’s wretched cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ – the final straw for guitarist Slash, who objected to Axl hiring childhood friend Paul Tobias to overdub the solo – it has been a long and lamentable downward spiral, all the way to the latest, woefully received leg of the Chinese Democracy tour.

Tonight’s show at the Odyssey Arena is Guns n’ Roses’ debut Northern Ireland performance, and their first ever indoor Irish date. Such a shame it is without Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and the rest of the classic line-up. Even the early-2000s crew featuring guitarist Buckethead, who played wearing a KFC bucket on his head, seems like a golden era compared to this pantomime.

Still, that they have bothered to come here at all should be applauded. It may be the done thing for fading musicians to head off the beaten track when their fame dries up in the major markets (see Uriah Heep’s tours of Russia, Smokie in China and so on), but the nightliners and stage trucks parked outside the Odyssey is an undeniably thrilling sight – a throwback to when rock bands meant something.

With Slash, Duff and even ex-drummer Steven Adler having played storming Belfast gigs in recent years, tonight is Rose’s turn to show Ulster fans what he is made of. The flame-haired singer, who made headlines last weekend with late appearances and onstage outbursts at the Reading and Leeds festivals, eventually makes his entrance a mere 47 minutes overdue.

Sporting a beer gut, jowls and the ill effects of too much Botox, he looks like a cross between Mickey Rourke and Rip Taylor, and sounds like a cat trying to get out of a wheelie bin. The 48-year-old cuts a tragic figure as he lurches and pants across the stage. Rose is the weak link in his own ridiculous band.

The eight-piece – yes, eight, including a 'programmer', Chris Pitman, who mostly just stands around in sunglasses – begin the two-hour-20-minute set with the title track of 2008’s 15-years-in-the-making Chinese Democracy. The wait endured for this album is nothing compared to having to sit through the stuff.

Few in the audience seem familiar with the new material, and, judging by the lukewarm reception, fewer still want to hear it. Perhaps sensing the antipathy, Rose and Co follow with three classics from Appetite for Destruction – ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘It’s So Easy’ and ‘Mr Brownstone’. Musically, it ticks all the boxes, but Rose’s voice is shot and is kept low in the mix.

The sidemen do a serviceable job. Former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson – who has now been in Guns n’ Roses longer than Duff was – is cool, but must surely be doing this for some kind of bet. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed, Rose’s longest serving ally, is still there, but few even cared about him in 1990.

As for the guitarists, well, no one here has forked out over £49 to watch Richard Fortus, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and the ludicrous, top hat-wearing DJ Ashba play solo after solo while Rose runs on and offstage.

The arrogant, ignorant prima donna spends half the show sucking oxygen or changing costumes. The man is so out of touch with what made him great. Here’s a clue: it wasn’t sitting at a grand piano, wailing ‘November Rain’ in a sparkling silver jacket and a brown fedora. This isn’t Guns n’ Roses. It’s not even rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just dire.