Interview with Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal


Following a last Parisian concert in 2006 at Bercy, Guns n' Roses are back on French grounds for three dates, the first ones since they released the so-talked-about (for both good and bad reasons) « Chinese Democracy ». What has this band become after all these years and a few more or less successful comebacks ? Metalchroniques went to their gig in Amnéville on Sepember 10 to answer this question. And since we wanted to tell you everything about it, we also managed to have Ron « Bumblefoot » Thal kindly answering some of our questions.
The American guitarist, who's been part of the band since 2006, is now sharing his work with Richard Fortus and DJ Ashba, freshly recruited into Nikki Sixx' solo band Sixx AM. So it was completely natural for us to wonder, even before the concert, what was each guitarist's work and what changes were implied by the arrival of a new member in the band :
« We started working together in early 2009, working out guitar parts that would compliment each other, experimenting with different guitars and amps for sounds that worked well together. DJ, Rich & I did that for a few months out in LA, then we took a break over the Summer, I toured as a guest guitarist with Lita Ford for festivals in the US and Europe, then we started up again in September and GNR hit the road in December. We've been having a blast....! »
The venue's doors were opened early in front of a not-so crowded audience during this late summer evening, and it was only 6pm when the first fans entered a Galaxie d'Amnéville which wasn't, that night, in a fully opened, 12,000 seats configuration, some of the seating parts remaining closed during the whole night. 
Joey Jordison and Wednesday 13's Murderdolls were the opening act on 6 of the European dates and it's in a motivated but still curious way that the audience welcomed the band who's been freshly out of hiatus. A new album is out and it was tough to forget it since nearly half of the songs played that night were taken out of « Women And Children Last » with among many others : « Chapel of Blood », « Summertime Suicide » and « My Dark Place Alone » while the older tracks were gathering around some classics like « I Love To Say Fuck » or « Kill Miss America ».
We have to admit that the band was in great shape, the session musicians from Gunfire 76 and Bourbon Crow were doing pretty well, even if everyone's eyes were staring intensely at the two leaders. The band, suspected to wait for a sign from the GNR clan to leave the stage, kept the audience entertained for a whole hour, with basic lights but really efficient hits and a state of the art sound. They left the stage at 9.15pm with a crowded venue (at least for the open parts) clapping and screaming.
Given the legend about Guns n' Roses and more particularly about its eccentric leader Axl, it's was then fear which spread around the audience : « How much time are the fans going to wait ? ». Bets were open on Axl's potential lateness. Hence an understandable surprise when the lights were turned out at 10pm sharp.
An understandable surprise, because after incidents and late shows in places like Dublin, Reading and Leeds, it was all but natural to expect the worst. Questioned on the issue of fans reacting violently to these incidents, Ron quietly answered :
« Thank you for not pelting us with crepes. »
The band bounced on stage in an explosion of sound and lights, fireworks and other flames-related device being a full part of the show on this tour. They began the party with the now common « Chinese Democracy » and continued with the usual trilogy « Welcome to The Jungle », « It's So Easy » and « Mr Brownstone ». From then on the old fan's tickets would be worth the money invested with old hits like « Sweet Child O' Mine » and « You Could Be Mine » as the new songs will be well represented through tracks like « Madagascar » and « Sorry ». A set list which still leaves some place to improvisation as Bumblefoot puts it :
« We have a list of songs that's the foundation of the set, and we fluctuate a little here n' there, usually spontaneously. As long as we don't leave out the big hits, Jungle, Sweet Child, November, Paradise, Nightrain, I'm fine with adding anything and everything. I'm full of ideas, haha... one time for a tour of my own in France, I had people vote for what they wanted to hear out of 75 songs – I picked the most popular 25 and that was the set list. Would love it if GNR did something like that, would be pretty fkn cool. »
Despise the show's quality, and even if the songs are still covering a broad panel, the good old debate about the band's historic validity keeps coming up since Axl and Dizzy Reed are the only members who've been through the Use Your Illusion Tour. This won't be an issue we'll talk about here, apart from Bumblefoot giving his opinion about the band being called more and more « Axl's cover band » on the internet these days :
« Those opinions matter to me about as much as a vegetarian's opinion matters to the owner of a steakhouse. With the new music, I *do* cover the guitar parts I wrote and recorded, in songs written and recorded by the people in the band I'm playing in. So yeah, there ya go. A lot of the issues are about the name – there are those who take offense to keeping the name with all the line-up changes, I get it. That's why I call this band "GNR". I acknowledge the changes, and also think the current band deserves to be recognized as its own band and not be in the shadow of the past. But really, aren't there bigger things in life to worry about? This kind of stuff is so trivial. Go to a show, and have fun. Or cry into a pillow and try and build a time machine. Your choice how ya wanna spend your day. This band, any band, exists for those that like it – if you don't like it that's totally ok, it's simply not for you, the world is full of music, listen to something else. But complaining about it is pointless. If you don't like meat, shut up and eat your vegetables. »
Still, what we saw on stage that night was a band both efficient and straightforward, Axl's not a 30 years old sex symbol anymore and rather looks like a flamboyant, dressed in haute couture guy but his voice is still impressive. The guitarists are doing their job brilliantly and are playing a massive show to a young audience (yes, people were rather young in the pit that day) who never saw Slash, Duff and co on stage. But we're left with a band who seems unable to occupy a larger than life stage set, sound problems implying Axl's voice being covered by lead guitars and solos which are somehow too long, as Axl has got used to leave the stage as often as possible this decade...
Ron Thal comments the way he sees the whole solo issue, since each guitar player gets to be in the spotlights for a moment during the show :
« I started off playing an instrumental version of Don't Cry with the audience singing along, and after a point Axl started singing it with me... for this run I've been doing the 'Pink Panther' theme, it's been fun. Every time we play it, we're playing it for the first time for most of the people in the audience. Most of the audience members don't go to multiple shows or follow the band on YouTube, they go to a show without any research on the current tour. It's a first time for them. If we come back in a future tour, we'd change it up." 

Rather long, these solos which end up to seem like over-present ; but which actually can't darken the two hour and a half set list that the band is offering. An exhaustive set list it is, hurt by the afore mentioned sound problems lowering the potential of some classics the public was expecting to hear... And new tracks suffer from that too, because we have to say that a track like “Better” can't stand to be played live when its intro is so messy and bridges are so heavily furnished that it doesn't go nowhere, trying to be everywhere...
We'll have to admit that even after a bigger than life encore including a « Whole Lotta Rosie » cover and the legendary « Paradise City » with fireworks and the whole petticoat thing, this concert might leave some people with the bitter taste of some unfinished task, even if they'll be able to keep some great memories like a magistral « November Rain » orchestrated by an Axl still capable of showing us his best side...
Two shows will follow this first one on French grounds... Two ? Let's say three since our capital city surprisingly welcomed a second surprise show the night after the first one, this one taking place in a club. Ron Thal told us more details about this event :
« Woke up one day and got an email sayin' we were gonna do an acoustic show, something came together quickly... cool, love those. I mean, they're usually chaotic and the gear isn't always the best, but ya can't beat playin' a show while putting your hat on someone's head, grabbin' another person's hand, being able to talk to each other, just having a great time, the band and audience experiencing it the same way, sharing the perspective. »
A Parisian concert looking like a come back to small venues for Bumblefoot who's kind of used to these places, but who still can hardly tell us which one of these or of the stadiums he prefers :
« If I only did one, I'd miss the other. There's a thrill to looking out to a sea of 100,000 heads blending into the horizon, but there's a personal connection that you only get from a small show, where everyone is right in each others faces. I actually like the personal stuff best, for that reason. It's real, it's an undeniable connection. »
This time the band spent in our country will leave its trace on the fans' minds, but also on the band, Ron confessing his not-that-secret love for Paris :
« This was my 15th time in Paris, I think...? Been making music in France since 1997, it's always great to be back, to see old friends... after all these years I finally had a chance to take my wife to see the sites. She's been in France with me many times, but this was the first time we had a chance to do this, and it was fantastic. The shows are always great, love seeing mosh pits at the shows, that rules...!  »
A Guns n' Roses comeback that we won't be able to see objectively as a complete success, but which would have left, like the latest album, a deep impression, and which arrives just in time to bring all the debates back, as if they never stop starting again...

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