After waiting a full 17 years for a new album of Guns N’ Roses originals, it’s fitting that the pop metal stars took their time to take the stage in Saskatoon Tuesday night.
If Axl Rose has struggled at mastering the fine art of suspense he clearly understands tension, waiting until 10:20 p.m. to enter to funeral themed organ music and a rousing standing ovation from the crowd in a show that lasted close to three hours.
The band — 47-year-old Rose (the only original gunner), bassist Tommy Stinson, guitarists Richard Fortus, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thai and DJ Ashba, keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman, and drummer Frank Ferrer — treated 6,000 or so fans at Credit Union Centre with a fiery, over-the-top rock show that, by my count, requires 14 semi trucks full of gear and equipment and eight buses for the crew.
Wearing a white dress shirt and a black fedora, Rose was looking his age but sounding and acting every bit his 1990s self, flying around the five-runway platform with vigour and letting loose several high-flying rock and roll kicks.
“The relationships in this band is based on faith and trust,” Rose said. “They don’t have faith in me and I don’t trust them for s***.”
Massive fireworks along with a bay of video screens and a lighting rig were unveiled to start their set and Rose, sporting a handle-bar moustache and dark shades with his trademark red microphone fit for a 1980s sportscaster, appeared to several blasts of green and red fireworks.
He opened with the album’s title track, Chinese Democracy, circling the seven-piece band, as he blasted out the lyrics with his distinctive, growly, nasal-infused and rangy voice.
From there, it was the unmistakable guitar riff opening to Welcome to the Jungle that brought much of the crowd, many dressed in vintage leather and old school G n’ R T-shirts and bunny hugs, out of their seats for good.
“Welcome to the jungle babyyyyyy,” Rose screeched. “You’re gonnnnnaaa diieeee.”
Massive flames that quickly heated the arena led into the band’s cover of Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die.
It was an extravagant arena-anthem romp that whipped back and forth on Tuesday night from depression and despair to upbeat and soulful, new and old, all to the off-kilter tune and raspy voice of Rose.
The band moved effortlessly between old classics and tracks from their new album in a show that lasted well past midnight and covered almost all of their well-known hits, from November Rain through Paradise City.
It was late for much of the crowd, young and old, some of whom left early, but what’s another hour or two when you’ve waited almost two decades?
It was their fourth show of a three-week tour, following dates in Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg.
Danko Jones opened around 7:30 p.m. to a small crowd of fans who arrived early to see the Toronto rocker take the stage.
Jones and his self-named hard rock trio cruised through eight or so fast-paced songs bringing the energy he’s shown Saskatoon fans when he opened for party rocker Andrew W.K. in a classic concert eight years ago or when he ripped up Ryly’s in 2008.
“Is everybody here to see the rock and roll show or is everbody here to go to bed?” Jones said, loosening the crowd up for the long night.
“I was ready to rock and roll at 8 a.m.”
Jones was followed by Peterborough, Ont.’s Sebastian Bach, the former front man for Skid Row and, my wife tells me, a recurring character in TV drama Gilmore Girls.
Old school rocker Bach, who seems to have somehow remained in 1989, led fans through a headbanging-filled and microphone-swinging one-hour set kicked off with Aerosmith cover Back in the Saddle, an apt theme song for the time-warp rock night. He followed it with a handful of Skid Row originals along with a few ballads from his new album, Angel Down, that did well to whet the appetite for the main act.
At one point, Bach lassoed his microphone around wildly while headbanging for 15 seconds before punting a water bottle into the middle of the floor then slowing things down for Skid Row classic, 18 and Life.
The set ended with a sweat-drenched Bach screaming out the ear-ringing lyrics to Youth Gone Wild, unfazed when his microphone stopped working part-way through, one of several mic mishaps on the night.