It was over seven years in the making, but the general consensus is that it was well worth waiting for.
Axl Rose debuted his new Guns N' Roses lineup at Las Vegas' House of Blues in the wee small hours of New Year's Day, belting out an array of old favorites and introducing a handful of new tunes to a capacity crowd of 1,800 ecstatic patrons.
GN'R kicked off the show with "Welcome to the Jungle" (RealAudio excerpt) and finished with an equally rousing "Paradise City," delivering other GN'R classics such as "Mr. Brownstone," "Sweet Child o' Mine," "November Rain," "Patience" (RealAudio excerpt), "My Michelle" and "Think About You" in between.
The band also rolled out a handful of previously unheard songs, including "Chinese Democracy" the title track off the band's long-long-long-awaited album and "The Blues," "Silk Worms" and one untitled track, GN'R management confirmed.
GN'R also offered up a version of 1999's "Oh My God" (RealAudio excerpt), their contribution to the "End of Days" soundtrack.
Rose was "a little emotional" at the event, according to his longtime manager, Doug Goldstein, who added that the singer hugged his close friends in attendance and thanked them for their support.
The concert featured the expected lineup: guitarists Buckethead, Robin Finck and Paul Tobias (a.k.a. Paul Huge); keyboardist Dizzy Reed; former Primus drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia; and former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, who inspired Rose to joke, "'The Replacements' would be a good name for this band."
Keyboardist Chris Pittman, perhaps best known as a member of the Replicants and for his work on Tool's Aenima, also joined the group onstage.
"Axl really looked happy to be playing with those guys," said LeAnne Eden, a GN'R fan who flew in from Los Angeles for the show. "That's something that didn't seem to be happening with the old band during their last tour, anyway."
Onstage, Rose alluded to how he had begun rehearsals with his new bandmates a few days prior to the show, another situation that rarely happened in days gone by. (The band usually rehearsed without Rose in attendance.)
"[Rose] looked young and healthy. He was slimmer than when I saw him sit in with Gilby last summer," Eden said, referring to Rose's only other outing in seven years: an impromptu performance with former guitarist Gilby Clarke in June.
The two-hour show got underway at 3:30 a.m., after the club cleared the house following a performance by the Goo Goo Dolls. GN'R started an hour later than expected, although the club's publicist said the group never intended to go on much earlier than 3:30 and that Rose's fabled tardiness was not a factor.
Rose was "awesome" and totally at ease with the HOB staff as well as with the audience, the publicist said.
Concertgoer Jeff Sheldon, who flew from Chicago for the show, said that Rose made a point of crediting guitarist Tobias with getting him through the past seven years, conveying that the two had played together since they were 12 years old.
Tobias described alternately as a Kurt Cobain lookalike and as a paler, nondescript version of Rose himself stuck to rhythm duties, concertgoers said, while ex-Nine Inch Nails member Finck, sporting eyeliner and black lipstick, faithfully revisited ex-GN'R member Slash's guitar parts. New twists and turns were added to the sonic texture by Buckethead, who wore his customary white facemask and Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket atop his head.
Even though the audience was positioned directly before the stage, the band's backdrop was a JumboTron-style, 25-foot, floor-to-ceiling video screen augmented by a number of smaller monitors.
"It looked like they fit an arena-sized show into this club," Eden observed.
Security was incredibly tight, so fans may be hard-pressed to find live MP3s or photos on the Web. "Not only were they confiscating cameras," Eden said, "they were even going after cell phones."
The band's performance was preceded by an animated feature that poked fun at Rose's media-perpetuated persona. The mercurial frontman was depicted in bed presumably having spent the last seven years in Brian Wilson-like seclusion carrying on conversations with Buddha and the odd alien, with a music magazine used in lieu of toilet paper following a bedpan sequence. Footage depicting a journey through a birth canal was also presented, among other esoteric endeavors.
Next up, the band heads to South America, where it will play the gigantic Rock in Rio festival on January 14.