Photos & Story by Scott A. Smith
To the Guns N’ Roses fans who fear Axl Rose might collapse into an emotional whirlwind and unleash a barking, profanity-riddled rant into a microphone.
To the Guns N’ Roses fans who fear Axl Rose might throw fists at concert-goers who are deemed too rowdy.
To the Guns N’ Roses fans who fear Guns N’ Roses might start a concert four hours late, only to pull the plug six songs into the night’s set.
To the Guns N’ Roses fans who fear Guns N’ Roses won’t show up at all for a gig.
To those who harbor an uncertainty about the popular rock group these days because of 20-year-old reports about Rose’s alleged behavior, there’s a new, responsible Guns N’ Roses in town.
Led by co-founder-singer Rose, G N’ R plugged in and whipped out an impressive, headlining set for the first night of the three-day Rocklahoma festival on May 24 in Pryor, Okla. Donning black sunglasses, ripped jeans, a white shirt, red bandana, a hat and leather jacket, Rose immediately seemed rock-star confident, yet he remained free of snarkiness and ungratefulness.
The front-man was in good spirits, and in good voice. Although his vocal sounds have lowered just a pinch with age – outside of Paul Rodgers, what veteran rock star doesn’t sing in a slightly lower register now compared to his/her 25-year-old self? – Rose sounded inspired.
Not to be overshadowed by Rose, G N’ R’s musicians stepped up to the musical plate and delivered muscular, worthy sonics that did the group’s hard-rock legacy justice. Guitarists Richard Fortus, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and DJ Ashba wove grit-filled, intoxicating guitar lines that helped keep edge in the set, which included lively takes of "Paradise City," "Welcome to the Jungle," "Don’t Cry," "Chinese Democracy," "It’s So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone," "Rocket Queen," "Catcher in the Rye," "You Could Be Mine," "Patience," "Nighttrain" and "Objectify."
A G N’ R member since 1998, former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson kept the low-end notes coming while giving strength to the group’s backing-vocals department. For the first bass notes of "Sweet Child O’ Mine," Stinson’s left hand raced up the bass neck, fingering out the four-string pattern that is every bit as terrific – and as vital – as the song’s guitar introduction.
Perched high on a large platform, Guns N’ Roses drummer Frank Ferrer bashed out the songs’ rhythms with eye-popping stamina, flanked by gifted keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman. A stroll through Paul McCartney’s "Live and Let Die" packed punch (and noisy, fun pyros), and the snippets of Led Zeppelin’s "No Quarter" and Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2" formed a winning, surprising touch.
When "November Rain" arrived in the lengthy, varied show, Rose sat at the piano, showcasing his rust-free keyboard abilities. Like the song, G N’ R’s entire concert was epic in sound and scope, acting as a Cinemascope-esque journey full of themes such as pain, love, lost opportunities and personal triumphs.
Opening for G N’ R were Bush, Papa Roach and Ratt, with each band dishing up their unique collection of songs for the sea of smiling, dancing fans of all ages. Ratt’s songs "Back for More," "Round and Round" and "Wanted Man" took viewers back to the seemingly care-free days of early MTV, and Papa Roach’s numbers were catchy,up-tempo snapshots of fast living and good-time experiences.
As the sun dipped into the western sky, Bush dug deep for a slightly darker sound. The British quartet’s "Machinehead," "Comedown" and Grammy Award-winning "Glycerine" were home-run moments, naturally; "Glycerine" was dedicated to the victims and others affected by the recent, fatal tornado in Moore, Okla.
"I just wanted to say something about the tornado and acknowledge that,” Bush lead singer-guitarist Gavin Rossdale told the audience. “The people of Oklahoma have shown strength. This song is for you."
Rocklahoma also benefitted from memorable appearances by Alice In Chains, Cheap Trick, Thousand Foot Krutch, Skillet, Korn, Bullet for My Valentine, Dokken, Halestorm, Steel Panther, Hollywood Undead, The Sword, Clutch, Device, We As Human, Big Wreck and Escape the Fate, and a recording of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock was piped through the festival’s vast P.A. system as Oklahoma military personnel silently saluted to honor every U.S. service member and citizen.