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LATE BUT STILL GREAT; Axl proves he's one in a million at gig: REVIEW GUNS N' ROSES, LG Arena, Birmingham.

IT'S 9.15pm, half an hour after the band is due onstage - and flamboyant frontman Axl Rose has yet to touch down in his helicopter.

Nothing changes on planet Guns N' Roses.

It's close on 10pm when the LG Arena house lights are cut, and the opening strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra boom out. The slashed guitar chords of Chinese Democracy cut through a haze of muddy sound, a chubby Axl bounds to the front of the stage and the faithful are prepared to forgive and forget.

The two-hour set that follows answers the big questions. How can it be Guns N' Roses without guitar guru Slash? It can't. How can Slash's solo career match his Guns glories without Axl? It can't.

Like Daltrey and Townshend; Plant and Page; Jagger and Richards; Tyler and Perry, it was the synergy of the two talents that made the original Hollywood hellraisers what they once were.

And yes, there were those who grumbled through last Sunday's gig; those who adopted a pose of studied indifference. But purists be damned. That was then; this is now.

Take Guns and Slash for what they are - two incendiary acts who just happen to share a back catalogue of rock classics.

Although Rose has piled on the pounds and looks like a villain from Miami Vice, he still has that throatshredding vocal. It's not always there on demand, but it's still a weapon of mass seduction.

Axl has addressed the absence of Slash by replacing him with three axemen: Richard Fortus, DJ Ashba and Rom 'Bumblefoot' Thal.

If Marvel Comics did guitar heroes, these three would fit the bill. Fortus and Ashba, in particular, are primary colour cartoon rock idols. Thal is more the old-fashioned rocker.

But the set. Welcome To The Jungle, It's So Easy and Mr Brownstone follow in quick succession, crowd pleasers all.

Then comes the first real surprise of the night. The dramatic, bluesy Sorry - a bit-part player in Chinese Democracy Fireworks - is a smouldering sensation, dwarfing all that has gone before.

Then he blows it with the messy Shackler's Revenge, the sheer number of participants (this is an eight-piece band) getting in the way of each other.

Musically, it's like a crowded Premiership penalty box.

Cue a clich. Fortus cranks up the amps for the James Bond theme, leading in to McCartney's Live And Let Die, complete with flame guns and pyrotechnics, just the way Wings used to do it.

A lame This I Love is forgiven as the band race through Rocket Queen. Dizzy Reed serves up an instrumental piano play on Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, easing in to Street Of Dreams.

Next up is a barnstorming You Could Be Mine. It's here that Guns N' Roses finally shift up into top gear, and take the gig by the scruff of the neck. Whatever else follows, it's the moment they live up to the hype.

So what do they do? Sweet Child O' Mine. The arena explodes.

This is the moment thousands of rock star wannabes have been waiting for.

Yes, Slash did a great version at Download, but this is better.

A bizarre, but oddly affecting, foray into Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall follows, leading into November Rain - the holy grail for diehard devotion building to the searing signature solos of the fiery final.

Thal gets a solo showcase, turning the Pink Panther theme into a Satriani-style rock-out, then Dylan's Knocking On Heaven's Door has the faithful in full voice, mobiles in the air.

The set proper ends with Nightrain, during which Guns briefly reaches the heights of the earlier You Could Be Mine. A mixed encore bag includes the Zeppelin-like Madagascar and a celebratory cover of AC/DC anthem Whole Lotta Rosie.

The night ends inevitably in Paradise City, fitting midnight stop for the runaway train that is Guns N' Roses, complete with confetti cannons, flame and fireworks.

Classic Guns N' Roses they are not. But there's more than enough here to suggest that Axl is starting to get it right and, besides, it's a damn good rock and roll night out in its own right.

PAUL COLE FOR AN EXTENDED VERSION OF THIS REVIEW, GO TO WWW.

SUNDAYMERCURY.NET

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WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE: Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses on stage
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 24, 2010
Words:716
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