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October 10, 2017

Guns N' Roses: the last of the rock stars?

Excess was followed by success; i.e. Guns 'N' Roses

Guns N' Roses, who played Sunday at a packed Wells Fargo Center, happen to be one of the last, larger-than-life acts in rock.

When Axl Rose smiled Sunday at the capacity crowd packing the venue, the audience roared.

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It doesn’t take much for Rose to elicit a reaction from his fans. A wave from his bejeweled fingers or a sustained wail titillates his middle-aged fan base. The enigmatic vocalist is arguably the last of the rock stars. It’s well documented that Rose is demanding, unforgiving and intense.

“There is no one like him,” bassist Tommy Stinson said.

Stinson should know. He was part of Guns N' Roses from 1998 to 2016. 

“Axl has so much presence,” Stinson said.

”He also has written some great songs and he is just exactly what a rock star is. Who else is a rock star out there? It’s a dying breed. If you want to see what a rock star is, go see Axl.”

Rose was commanding throughout the long evening Sunday. It helps to have a pair of bandmates like guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagen.

Both are fine, lurking in the background.

The former emerges from the darkness, only to deliver guitar solos, and the latter helps hold up the bottom end, while standing still watching Rose belt out tunes.

Rock stardom sells. Even though Guns N' Roses hasn’t released an album featuring Rose, Slash and MaKagan in a quarter century, GNR sold more tickets – 2 million-plus – in the third quarter than any other band, including U2.

Alice Cooper, who was one of the pioneering rock stars during the early '70s, understands why fans can't get enough of GNR.

“People want to see rock stars,” Alice Cooper recently told PhillyVoice

Who else is a rock star out there? It’s a dying breed. If you want to see what a rock star is, go see Axl.”

“But rock stars are becoming extinct. They want to see a show. I can see why fans would want to see Guns N' Roses. They have the songs and they put on a show.”

Guns N' Roses delivered the hits this past weekend, with “Sweet Child of Mine,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” and “Don’t Cry,” while pyro exploded and flames shot toward the arena ceiling.

“It’s an event,” Stinson said. “When I played with Axl, it was a great time. You looked out at the faces of the fans and they’re having a blast.”

Many in the scene would say that excess and rock stardom go hand-in-hand.

Guns N' Roses delivered an epic, three-hour and 30-minute set in Philly. When Rose belted out “November Rain” while playing the piano, the camera focused on his fingers, which feature Liberace-sized rocks.

Who knows about backstage excessiveness, since, unlike most of their peers, GNR is relatively private. Rose’s tweets are few. Much like its heroes – Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd – there is mystique within Guns N' Roses. The band realizes that less is more.

So, who are the young rock stars? 

“I don’t know,” Cooper said. 

“I thought The Darkness was going to be the next rock star band, but it didn’t work out that way. It’s not easy to become a rock star."