The old saying is right – “No man is bigger than the team.” Look at Guns N’ Roses. Over its 20-year history, the rock group may have had more player changes than a football game, but the name lives on in the hearts of seedy bar jukeboxes.

Morgan Morel
Tommy Stinson hold it down. (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)
Morgan Morel
Axl himself, going easy on the bad back. (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)

GNR visited The Palace at Auburn Hills on Saturday to promote their long-awaited and still unreleased 10th album Chinese Democracy. Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach opened to a lukewarm response from the still-unfilled arena, but by the time GNR stepped in (20 minutes late), the near-sellout crowd shook The Palace. But though fans rocked away to classics like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Knocking On Heaven’s Door,” many looked unmotivated by GNR’s less familiar songs.

Internet speculation has it that such a chilly reception will probably greet the overdue release of Chinese Democracy. Without a new album in 10 years, the band’s popularity has been steadily on the wane (thus the Palace’s older crowd), and GNR has been digging its own grave with the disc’s constant delays. Their last album, 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident?, consisted solely of punk covers – not what pure GNR fans (or even first-timers) wanted to hear.

It’s probably the colorful GNR backstory that’s kept them afloat – drugs, alcohol, lawsuits, violence, bandmember dramatics and an ever-increasing image of volatility. Drummer Steven Adler quit the band to recover from cocaine and heroin addictions, and popular lead guitarist Slash and original bassist Duff McKagen left following Spaghetti. Singer Axl Rose carries the flag as the last original member. Even the band’s fans have been unpredictable: rewind to ’91, when a riot broke out after a show was canceled. A year later two fans were actually trampled to death.

At least one member of Saturday’s crowd seemed willing to keep up with tradition. A man on the floor got rowdy with other fans and officers quickly cut through the intoxicated mob to cuff him and drag him away – all before GNR even took the stage.

The rest of the regularly scheduled show was spectacular (if not totally original) with a two-level stage, plenty of pyrotechnics and the standard rockstar attire of tight jeans and unzipped leather jackets. More than 20 songs were belted out, including a few encore pieces, most to satisfying effect.

But for fans who knew what was going on, Rose blatantly screwed up the second verse of “Chinese Democracy,” which invites more skepticism as to his own longevity. Rose is perhaps the biggest threat to GNR’s brand, for though the band would have folded a decade ago without him, he’s also been a huge factor in the quick removal of band members. Depending on your source, he’s either the band’s driving soul or its stubborn antihero.

Is Rose the brand itself? Fans clearly acknowledged his presence and patented stage vigor with the loudest cheers, although the timbre of his voice is fast deteriorating. Many times during the performance it sounded like his throat was at its shatter point. Rose might have realized this, because the show’s repertoire included many solos from the rest of the team, Robin Finck on guitar and Dizzy Reed on keys.

Get fans more acquainted with the new members, and when Rose croaks, the survivors will still have a boat to salvage. He may share the same name as the band, but no man is bigger than the team.

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