Guns and Roses
It's often been said that the worst thing about Guns and Roses is Axl Rose. This was definitely the case then, when he was working with the "classic" line up of Slash, Duff, Izzy and Steven. It's perhaps even more the case now, and given that he's backed up by several competent but anonymous session geezers, it's a bit sad, really.
The first impressions of the GnR live circus are good - he's only an hour late, and while the band choose to kick off with the mediocre Chinese Democracy there's enough running around, fire and goodwill to carry us through an otherwise dull song.
Then, just so you know this isn't going to be the "new" album in its entirety, there's a run of classics - after a teasing intro we rip into Welcome to the Jungle, It's So Easy and Mr Brownstone. Only we don't really rip into it. More wheeze and grump into it.
We're three songs into the set and it's become clear that Axl is just mentally toting up the take from tonight's gig as opposed to actually engaging with the audience in any way. Then word comes from backstage that he's actually got an oxygen tank hooked up stage left and he's coming off stage, at every opportunity to have a wee gasp, a rest and maybe a boke or two.
Then it becomes clear: the pyro, the endless solos from various session geezers (every member of the band gets a go), the video screens - all just a huge collection of smoke and mirrors to distract you from just how little time Axl appears on stage. And once you've seen past the Emperor's new clothes then the gig is over. As far as enjoyment is concerned anyway.
Even the big set pieces suffer as the gig turns into a big game of "where's Axl?" If he isn't running away as a bank of fireworks explode during Live And Let Die, he's fleeing the stage as one of the guitarists walks along the hockey rink's barrier. If he's not shamefully hiding behind a big screen projection of Martin Luther King then he's lurking off stage as the "help" run through a dull rendition of Brick in the Wall (Part 2).
Towards the end of each song he's visibly put out, clearly struggling with the high octane show's demands. When he comes back on he's temporarily revived, but the moves are cliched (he must have thrown his mic stand behind him three times over the course of the show) and the patter is non-existent. Given that this is Guns and Roses first ever Belfast date and many of the fans have waited decades for tonight, that's pretty shabby treatment all round.
While his contemporaries and erstwhile bandmates are currently riding a wave of goodwill and firing out world beating shows (*cough* Slash *cough*), Axl seems to be floundering in the shallow end. Perhaps it's time for the old studio dodger to make some serious readjustments to the GnR brand and hit the gym.