Niagara Gazette

June 6, 2013

GNR delivers in visit to Buffalo's Outer Harbor

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — March 12, 1993. 

Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont.

Before Wednesday, that was the last time I saw Axl Rose perform live. 

It was a memorable show for many right, and one wrong, reasons. 

Rose, known to be an irascible sort at times, stormed off the stage during the closing number — "Paradise City" — after he got hit in the head by a flashlight thrown at him by some clown in the audience.

His old Guns n' Roses bandmates — former guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan — stepped in and finished the tune, performing it well enough to prevent the disappointed crowd from breaking into a full on riot. 

Wednesday's GNR concert at Buffalo's Outer Harbor was an entirely different experience. 

Yes, the show started late. It was announced beforehand that the 8 p.m. start time for GNR had been pushed back to 10 p.m., with opening band "Monster Truck" — a solid sounding group of hard rockers in their own right — taking the stage at 9 p.m.

Fans in the crowd speculated about whether the notoriously tardy Rose might not go on stage until 10:30 p.m. at the earliest. 

My thought: "It's Axl Rose people. Deal." 

The band kicked in with the title track off their last studio album - 2008's "Chinese Democracy" - at 10:04 p.m. by my cell phone clock. 

Not bad at all, actually. 

It appeared to me right from the start that despite several references to the chill in the air brought on by the unseasonably cool breeze coming off the water, Rose was very much interested in giving his fans the type of performance they paid to see. He cracked a few jokes about the Buffalo weather and even smiled a couple of times. 

Axl's new bandmates gave him, and the crowd, reason to be happy. While Slash, Duff and all of the other members of the original lineup are long gone, Rose did a smart thing by bringing in new guys with talent who add a tremendous amount of energy to the old GNR standards while giving the newer material real, raw rock power. 

Rose, now 51, strained at times as he attempted to achieve the vocal heights of his earlier days. He still delivered, offering fans the trademark sway and serpentine moves they know and love. And, yes, when necessary, he still has the voice to hit those screechy high notes. 

While Rose was, is and will always be the star of a GNR show, some of the evening's most memorable moments came courtesy of the rest of the band, in particular GNR's three guitarists — D.J. Ashba, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Richard Fortus.  

Slash is, of course, Slash and there's really no replacing him. What's interesting about the band's new trio is how each guy alone can wow with an extended solo but as a whole makeups the sort of high-volume, wall of sound you'd expect from a hard rock act of this type. 

The best of the band's older radio hits were here - "Welcome to the Jungle," "So Easy," "Rocket Queen," "Used to Love Her," "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Don't Cry," "Civil War" and "Nightrain." The new guys did them all justice. Big crowd pops came during the bittersweet "November Rain" and the band's cover of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." In homage to what was traditionally one of the original band's setlist mainstays, the crew pulled out the acoustic guitars as part of the sing-a-long friendly "Patience," another crowd pleaser. 

A few newer songs off "Chinese Democracy" were sprinkled in between the better-known stuff. 

As an aside, I recently picked up a copy of "Democracy" in a clearance bin at a local music store for $3. The album - which drew both critical praise and criticism - became notorious for taking 13 years and millions of dollars to create. 

I'm appreciating it more and more with every listen. Hearing the album's title track, plus "Better," "This I Love," and "Catcher in the Rye" was a pleasure for me, although I'm not sure the rest of the more traditional radio friendly listeners appreciated them quite as much. 

Of course, the live experience with any band is often made by the unexpected moments - the parts that weren't produced in a studio. Here, the audience got a cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," led by keyboardist Dizzy Reed, Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2," with Axl on piano and - one the real highlights of the evening for me - a cover The Who's "The Seeker." Axl also did a brief medley of Elton John's best during a turn at the piano. No lyrics. Just music.  

The band closed, as expected, with "Paradise City." Fireworks went off. Confetti flew up from the stage and over the crowd. Axl ran around in full throat while his band mates cranked up the volume to near dizzying heights. 

Right on, boys. 

Axl is in his 50s now. I'm pushing 40 myself. We're both older, not quite what we used to be maybe. But, for one night at least, I felt at a little like that 19-year-old kid who watched Guns n' Roses play in Hamilton some 20 years ago. 

Only this time, Axl actually finished the set and when it was over came back to center stage with the rest of the band to take a bow. 

I don't know if this was a band thing or a Buffalo Outer Harbor concert thing, but after they left the stage Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen" serenaded fans as they exited the venue off Fuhrman Boulevard at just after 1 a.m.

It made me smile. 

"Danke Schoen" GNR, I thought. 

"Danke Schoen."

A few thoughts on the Buffalo Outer Harbor concert experience: • This was my first show at the venue off Fuhrman Boulevard. It won't be my last. Although Axl Rose had a point about it being a little bit colder than anyone would have liked Wednesday night, I can imagine the venue being a stellar place to see a band on a mild, summer evening in Western New York. • Parking was far less of a headache than I imagined. There was a bit of a wait as vehicles curved around Fuhrman into the venue parking lot, but it wasn't too bad. Early birds can find free parking along the strip, provided they don't mind a bit of a walk. • The parking rate is reasonable. It's hard to complain at $10 per car. Memo to Outer Harbor folks: Western New Yorkers will pay this and strong consideration should be given to maintaining this rate for the foreseeable future. • Leaving went quick. The GNR show ended at 1:04 a.m., I sat in the car for about 10 minutes or so before getting in the long line to exit. To my surprise, within minutes, I was out of the lot, on the Skyway and heading for home in the Falls where I arrived at around 1:40 a.m. • There's always the taxi. Queen City Ferry and Brawler's Back-Alley Deli on Pearl Street offer a water taxi service to the Outer Harbor. Trips are available on concert nights starting at 5 p.m. and are made back and forth every half hour until 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 a piece and can be purchased from both Brawler's and Queen City Ferry or by calling (716) 796-4556. • There are more high-profile acts to come. The rocking continues next week at the Outer Harbor when Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson take the stage on June 14. The Tragically Hip, The Black Keys, Mac Miller and Flogging Molly round out the 2013 series. For more information, visit www.outerharborconcerts.com.