Remembering GNR’s last local show: A review of the 2002 “Chinese Democracy World Tour” show at the Tacoma Dome

Okay, so I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little high on the GNR juice (and maybe a few other things) when I wrote this.

It’s a review of the “Chinese Democracy World Tour” that hit the Tacoma Dome in 2002 that I wrote for the UW Daily while in college. It is one of my earliest concert reviews and I almost stand by everything I said six years ago when it was written.

I will say that Axl Rose is possibly the best rock frontman I have ever seen perform. He put on an amazing show six years ago and to this day it is still in my top 10 favorite shows I have seen (and I’ve seen hundreds of shows throughout my career as a music critic). Here’s what college me had to say about the show (from the UW Daily archives):

Welcome back to the jungle: Axl Rose returns

By Travis Hay
November 14, 2002

In its first North American tour in nine years, estranged metal rockers Guns N’ Roses rocked the Tacoma Dome last Friday with an explosive performance in front of thousands of eager fans.

However, the night’s festivities were not intended to begin the tour. The Nov. 8 Tacoma show was originally scheduled to be the group’s second show on the tour, but the first show never happened.

In typical Axl Rose style, the tour’s first show scheduled for the night before in Vancouver, B.C., got cancelled after event promoters said Rose was a no-show. The cancellation led to rioting concertgoers, the second Canadian riot caused by the band in a decade, making the Tacoma show the impromptu first performance of the North American tour.

During the band’s near decade-long hiatus, Rose rebuilt Guns N’ Roses from scratch, creating another rock tour de force, making the band bigger, louder and more powerful. After Rose felt comfortable with his creation, the band resurfaced for its first major public appearance earlier this year at the MTV Video Music Awards. There, the transfigured GN’R played a well-received three-song set. This resurrection of a rock n’ roll giant set the stage for what possibly was the biggest night in Tacoma Dome history. After a 45-minute wait between opening acts, Guns N’ Roses took the stage with a powerful, energy-filled version of “Welcome to the Jungle.” The crowd, filled with the usual suspects — women in fishnet stockings with bangs teased high as heaven, and guys with mullets wearing wifebeaters and torn acid-washed jeans — roared with approval.

The band kept the classics coming, with a crowd-pleasing set list filled with GN’R staples like: “It’s So Easy,” “Live and Let Die,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “My Michelle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “You Could Be Mine, “November Rain,” “Nightrain,” “Rocket Queen” and others filling out the performance.

Three new songs appeared in the middle of the two-and-a-half hour set, including “Madagascar,” “Rhiad” and “Chinese Democracy,” the latter of the three being the loudest and heaviest song, definitely reminiscent of material from 1987’s Appetite For Destruction. “Madagascar,” is a softer, more harmonious ballad, which brought out the lighters in force. All three songs show great potential for the highly anticipated Chinese Democracy, expected to be released sometime early next year.

In his return to the stage, Rose brought seven band mates to fill the shoes of his old Guns buddies. He hand-picked a cast of musicians with varying musical experiences to form a lineup that includes Richard Fortus, Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails) and Buckethead on guitars, Tommy Stinson (the Replacements) on bass, Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman playing keyboards, and Brian Mantia (Primus) drumming.

This method of addition by subtraction, replacing the four original members with seven new ones, worked out masterfully in Rose’s favor, matching, if not bettering, the technical prowess the old lineup was famous for.

The three guitarists did their best to make fans forget about ex-guitarist Slash’s sonic brilliance, nailing their solos perfectly while adding their own touches in the process.

However, the show didn’t go off without its share of glitches. Microphone feedback issues plagued what would have otherwise been a perfect start to a welcome-back tour. After the show, a spokesperson from the band’s management group said Rose blew out his vocal cords during the performance trying to compensate for the mic difficulties. However, the blown vocal cords were not apparent in the set, as he bellowed, screeched and wailed lyrics in his famous high-pitched, screaming-banshee style.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the evening wasn’t that Rose showed up, or that the new band almost sounded better than the classic lineup, the most surprising aspect of the night was the crowd. Rose’s new band’s coming-out party took place before a sparsely filled T-Dome crowd of slightly more than 6,000.

While GN’R’s glory days are long past and primadonna antics were at a minimum in Tacoma, the triumphant return of one of rock’s original bad boys coupled with rioting Canadians proves one thing: It’s Axl’s jungle, we just live in it.

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