It’s Guns N’ Roses at the Joint, so it’s New Year’s rockin’ eve

Scott Harrison/Retna/

Guns ‘n’ Roses at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Dec. 30, 2011.

By John Katsilometes
Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012

Photos by Erik Kabik/Retna/

Guns 'n' Roses at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Dec. 30, 2011.He was graying, his hair neatly combed. He stood silently in the line at the bar on the balcony level of the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel, the muted yelping of opening act Sebastian Bach serving as a musical backdrop.

It was not this gent’s first rock concert, not by a lot. The T-shirt logo visible through his white satin jacket was evidence of that: the iconic tongue-and-lips design of the Rolling Stones, the image faded and weather-beaten by decades of rock concerts.

The veteran rock fan’s white satin jacket filled out a look that was nostalgically appropriate for the night’s event, as it bore the logo of the Maxim Hotel Casino.

You really don’t see Maxim Hotel Casino jackets these days, especially at rock concerts.

That hotel closed amid scant fanfare in 2001, to be reopened two years later as the Westin Casuarina. But there was a time when the Maxim thrived, in the mid-to-late-1980s, and the night hearkened to those high and heady times for the evening’s headliners, Guns N’ Roses. The turning of the clock at the Hard Rock Hotel was indeed a rowdy trip through time as Axl Rose and his robust, nine-piece band roared through a 3-hour set that was at once epic, disjointed, inspired and wearying.

Rose has not been the busiest touring performer over the years, but when he does hit the road, he makes it count. This version of Guns N’ Roses has performed live 116 times, typically striding onstage after 11 p.m. (it was 11:15 on New Year’s Eve) and playing past 2 a.m. Hundreds of fans at the jammed Joint showed up to watch the night’s opening act, Adelitas Way (one of the hardest-rocking bands in Vegas as 2012 dawns) at 8 p.m., meaning they would have spent 6 hours at the Joint under a wave of hard rock and partying.

Rose’s appearance, at least from a distance, is largely unchanged from the band’s peak more than 20 years ago. At nearly 50 years old (he hits that mark Feb. 6), Rose still dresses as a young punk, donning the bandana, the sunglasses, the multi-zippered black jacket with matching hat and the trimmed mustache. He sill performs his familiar dance moves, which is a version of the serpentine he sings about in “Welcome to the Jungle,” the occasional cross-stage sprint and the mini-Twist routine in which it seems his feet are locked by unseen manacles.

But attire and choreography can only carry a frontman so far, and Rose pushed his voice to its limits throughout the show. He sounded fine on “Rocket Queen” and “It’s So Easy,” but croaked out during songs fans were fairly dying to hear, like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” The results were often uneven. The cover of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” was great, but the vocals were overwhelmed by “Mr. Brownstone.”

But experiencing the band live is to have you mind tricked -- you know these songs so well, your brain hears Rose’s original vocals rather than what is being produced onstage. The power of the band frequently cascaded over the vocals anyway, as the three-headed monster of Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, DJ Ashba and Richard Fortus supplanting Slash as the band’s guitar hero.

Thal is every bit the guitar maniac that Hard Rock Hotel Vice President of Entertainment Paul Davis gushed about after signing the band to play NYE weekend back in November. During the performance, Davis texted an eyebrow-raising remark that Thal was by far the best musician to set foot on the Joint stage in 2011. This, during a year that Carlos Santana performed at the Joint to close out his residency at the venue.

Certainly, Thal was a fascinating figure to observe, often playing his double-necked instrument grinning slyly and with his eyes closed, appearing cheerily affected by some of the herbal fragrance hanging in the air.

As for the NYE celebration, Rose treated the demarcation as something as a necessary inconvenience. As the clock crept toward midnight, he announced -- at 11:56 p.m. -- “We’re going to start this next song, but cut it short so we can have a countdown.” Then it was race against time, as the band finished "Live and Let Die" and picked up the countdown at 15 seconds to midnight. When it reached 2012, Rose called out, “Happy effing New Year!” And the band played a bit of “Auld Lang Syne,” or, as Rose would call it, “Ault Lang Effing Syne!”

Otherwise, the crowd was insulated from the NYE celebration being uncorked across the hotel, and the city. It’s just as well, as Hard Rock is hard-focused on reminding the public that it is a rock-and-roll destination year-round. The GNR shows lead into a 12-show residency by Motley Crue from Feb. 3-19. Even in the Lounge, rock ’n’ roll was evident, as Vegas’ own Sin City Sinners end a three-night stint this evening.

Conceivably, the band that is today’s Guns N’ Roses could make repeated appearances at the Joint, which has matched the old Joint’s well-earned reputation as one of the country’s hardest-rocking music venues and is far superior in sight, sound and amenities to its predecessor. Such a residency-in-Vegas concept largely depends on Rose, of course, the band’s lone remaining torch carrier and holder of the keys to the kingdom.

The show that played out Saturday night was certainly musically satisfying, exhausting, even. In terms of staging and duration, it was performed at a scope that compares well with Santana’s “Supernatural” showcase and the Crue performances in both the old and new Joint.

Certainly, Guns N’ Roses has the music catalog and fan base that would make such a venture worth considering. Eight-thousand fans and 6 hours of music over two nights. They rocked it, there is no doubt of that.

At 2:10 a.m., Rose finally got around to “Paradise City." For the GNR devotees, it was thrilling to the max.

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