Guns N’ Roses Better Late Than Provoking Riots

Axl Rose

Axl Rose

LIVE: Guns N’ Roses with Sebastian Bach
November 15, 2006
Air Canada Centre
Toronto, Ontario

Going to see the Guns N’ Roses in ’06 is like a strange rock ‘n’ roll chess match. If you’re Portland, Maine, Axl Rose simply tips the game board over and decides not to play. Vancouver or Montreal — if the past is any indication — have the riot squad on standby.

Toronto’s a different game. This show was a near-sellout, and forthcoming GN’R dates across Canada are also expected to tickle capacity, so the thinking was that GN’R’s leader would be predisposed to putting on a good show. What time that show would actually start, though, was the first move of the match.

The doors opened at 8 p.m. and camera call for working photographers was 10:45 p.m. But some advanced scouting had revealed that GN’R had regularly not been taking the stage until midnight. For my first play, I decided to split the difference, aiming for a 10 p.m. arrival.

The timing seemed alright, though a GO Station employee duct-taping the cracked glass on a kicked-in Union Station door near the ACC made for potentially uncomfortable foreshadowing.

Arriving at 9:52 p.m., my ears were quickly assaulted by what appeared to be a Tourettesian loop of “fuckin’ fuck yeah, fucky fuck, yeah, Toronto-OOO!” followed by timed, ear-curdling screams courtesy of hometowner and former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach.

It was time for a defensive dodge and parry. Wandering the hallways of the ACC seemed like a more fitting option than taking in Bach. My decision was fortified by a bellowing “Like it or not Toronto, you’re responsible for Sebastian Bach,” screamed by the former Gilmore Girls actor. “It’s all your fuckin’ fault, man!”

Indeed. And my penance would be to hang around in the hallway drinking beer instead of watching him.

At 10:14, the beer taps were closed. By 10:30 there was nothing else going on, so it was finally off to the seats to see the end of Bach’s set. Bach, it seemed, had achieved a sly small advantage.

Mid-“Monkey Business,” he invited a pack of barrel-chested gomers onto the stage. Turns out it was the Trailer Park Boys, sending the crowd (and core TPB demo) into a tizzy. Bubbles played his audience-defining hit “Liquor And Whores,” while Baz declared this the “greatest night of his life” before bringing the whole thing home with “18 And Life” and “Youth Gone Wild.”

The ACC crowd was genuinely going wild, with fist-pump salutes and a response shocking to jaded rock crit ears and eyes. Sebastian Bach made a successful and triumphant return as a hometown hero.

That was 10:49.

Then, came the wait.

The cries for the beer stalls to open were funny and pitiful. I even watched a woman try to break into one. If anything, the lengthy changeover served more to pacify the crowd rather than rile them up.

By 11:38, the lights were down and Robin Finck’s guitar spasms came out from out of the darkness getting everyone up from their seats. With a blast, the band broke into “Welcome To The Jungle” and the game was on. Rose was all presence and, incidentally, not nearly the wobbling bag of bloat his naysayers like to claim he is.

“It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” kept the hit machine rolling and a high-production, pyro ‘n’ explosions take on “Live And Let Die” was amazing. Rose’s screams on this were positively Halfordian in the their power, and the cover would prove to be his vocal highlight of the night.

From there it was “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” — another cover and fan singalong — and then, inexplicably, into what would be the first of four lengthy solo musical interludes.

Guitarists Finck, Richard Fortus and Ron Thal and keyboardist Dizzy Reed were all given ample time to show off their prowess, doing takes on everything from Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” to Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” to “O, Canada” to the Gunners’ “Don’t Cry” in solo form. But all these instrumentals jammed into a mid-section — that included moderately received, though solid new songs “The Blues” and “Better” and the high school dance dreck of “November Rain” — brought Rose precariously close to being checkmated.

The unlikely combination of Bubbles and Sebastian Bach brought the show and audience back from the brink, though, as they bounded on stage to signal the beginning of the set’s end. Baz yelled and swore some more. Rose referred to Bubbles as “Mike,” no doubt flustering the pathologically-always-in-character cat aficionado, and the head Gunner warned that he was “watching you people like a shithawk.” Whether Rose was referring to Baz and Bubbles or the audience was moot. That quaint bit of underground Canadianna had just enough homestyle awareness to tip things back into GN’R’s favour.

From there it was a fiery duet with Bach on “My Michelle,” then a run of “Used To Love Her,” “Patience,” “Nighttrain,” an entirely acceptable “Chinese Democracy” and a gloried “Paradise City.”

At 1:54 a.m., it was all over. Rose and his crew managed to squeeze out a close victory. The only losers, it would seem, would be the thousands milling about outside Union Station without a way home because Guns N’ Roses played so late that the subway station was closed.

This story was originally published Nov. 16, 2006 via Chart Communications.

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