As enigmatic a frontman as we’ve seen in rock ’n’ roll, Axl Rose has spent the last few years making up for lost time. Oh, he’s still full of question marks—rarely giving interviews, always a threat to show up late (or not at all) to gigs, interchanging band members seemingly at will—but for once he’s letting the music do the talking. Guns N’ Roses’ New Year’s Eve performances at the Hard Rock Hotel were three-hour epics spanning the band’s entire sporadic recorded output, from the landmark Appetite for Destruction in 1987 to the long-delayed Chinese Democracy, which emerged in 2008 after a decade of rumor and intrigue over its impending release.
Those concerts ended up being the unofficial dry run for Appetite for Democracy (“November Reign”), the band’s current three-and-a-half week engagement at the Hard Rock. Rose, now 50, is supported by an army of musicians, most of whom will seem unfamiliar if you last checked in with the band sometime during the George H.W. Bush administration. Matt Kelemen caught up with bassist Tommy Stinson, now the second-longest tenured GNR-er, having spent nearly 14 years alongside Rose. Stinson is best known for his work with the groundbreaking Minneapolis rockers The Replacements in the ’80s and early ’90s and fills the shoes of Duff McKagan from the “classic” GNR lineup. It’s hard to say what GNR can pull out to surprise its fans, but Rose and Las Vegas together seems like a wild adventure, a must-visit for anyone who’s followed the band’s Hall of Fame career.
A long way from Guns N’ Roses is Alabama-born Taylor Hicks (“Hicksville USA”), who recently returned to his residency at Bally’s after taking the end of the summer off. Hicks doesn’t mess around during his gigs—it’s all gritty, sweaty blues, soul and blues-and-soul-influenced rock. At heart, Hicks has always been this type of performer and now, years removed from his American Idol triumph, he’s back to his roots in an big way, and it’s exciting to see.