What can be the most frustrating thing about a Guns N’ Roses gig is the very same thing that can make it great.
You don’t know when the show is going to start.
You don’t know what the band is going to play — even if you’ve seen a set list from another city.
You don’t know what kind of mood frontman Axl Rose will be in.
You have no idea, because neither do the band members themselves.
“That’s what I’ve always loved about playing in the band: You just never know what’s going to happen from song to song,” says guitarist DJ Ashba.
“We don’t have set lists onstage,” he notes. “We might have a rough idea of the way the show will go, but Axl’s great at feeling out the crowd. I always get the next song right after we finish (the previous song), it’s like, ‘OK, “Brownstone.” ’ And then the whole crew switches — lighting, pyro, everybody switches from song to song. That’s what makes it so exciting. I don’t know many bands who really run their ship that way.”
In less than a month from the time of this interview, Guns N’ Roses will return to The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel for a second residency following a 12-show run at the venue beginning in October 2012. Still, Ashba still doesn’t have many details about what the band has planned this time around.
“I’m excited to see what it is myself,” he says of the band’s nine-show engagement at The Joint, dubbed “Guns N’ Roses — An Evening of Destruction. No Trickery!” “There’s a lot of talk of really exciting stuff to be done this time.”
The band’s previous run at The Joint, titled “Appetite for Democracy,” satiated those hungering for gluttonous portions of fire, boobs and bombast in a show that stretched nearly three hours.
As pyrotechnics flashed and boomed like man-made thunder, dancers jiggled and gyrated with equally seductive and gelatinous movements and Axl Rose played piano on a riser suspended from the ceiling, the band did its best to match the willful overindulgence of the city in which they were performing.
Songwise, they mixed things up by dusting off a snarling “Out Ta Get Me” and winking sing-along “Used to Love Her,” both of which had been absent from the band’s set list at the time, and performing a brooding cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” in addition to playing their many jukebox staples.
Former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin even joined the band at some shows, taking the mic for “14 Years,” which he sang on “Use Your Illusion II.”
The production was a hit: According to Billboard magazine, the first two weeks alone grossed more than $1.6 million, drawing more than 17,000 fans over six shows with the venue at 88 percent of total capacity for the combined performances.
Now, for the encore.
“Our goal is to do a show that’s completely different than the last one we did there,” Ashba says. “And obviously, we know we’re there for three-four weeks straight, so the other obstacle is how do we make the show different from night to night?”
Ashba says that he had to learn around 60 songs upon joining the band five years ago, so there’s a pretty big pool of tunes for the group to choose from when picking songs for a given show.
Ashba’s lived in Las Vegas for several years now, and he says he occasionally takes his bandmates to some of his favorite haunts in town, recounting a time when he took Rose to Irish pub Molly Malones.
“We had a really good time out there,” he chuckles.
Despite living here, Ashba stays at the Hard Rock during the band’s residency there along with the rest of the group.
The hotel becomes a home away from home — for the band and their fans alike.
“After the shows there’s nights where we throw parties and you get a chance to run into fans all over the hotel, at the center bar and different restaurants,” he says. “It’s just a really cool, closed environment, a little more intimate setting where you get a chance to meet some of the people who are coming out. That’s the fun part for me.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.