Who is Currently Singing for Guns N’ Roses, and What Have They Done with Axl Rose?

  • Axl Rosenberg

Axl Rose has changed. And I don’t just mean he’s put on weight.

When you think of Rose, the first thing you think of — besides his voice, obviously — is his notoriously, er, prickly temperament. He takes the stage whenever the hell he feels like it, if at all; he often devotes set time to long, angry rants against those he feels have wronged him, be it former bandmates, rival rockstars and other celebrities, or members of the media; he is an unkind employer and a demanding diva. The words “Axl Rose seems like a pretty chill bruh” have never been uttered by anyone ever.

But since reuniting with classic-era bandmates Slash and Duff McKagan last year, those descriptions no longer apply. Never mind that he goes on on time now; on the most recent leg of the band’s reunion tour, they’ve been almost comically early, with support-act-free shows beginning between 7:30 and 8 p.m. The shows last a little over three hours. During that time, Rose smiles, laughs, waves to the crowd, and takes a small bow after almost every song. He does not spend very much time speaking in-between numbers, and when he does take a moment to address the crowd, his comments are never hostile and are generally brief. Who knows what goes on backstage — maybe Rose is just as much of a handful as ever — but publicly, the guy has completely gotten his shit together (and it certainly seems earnest — he could pull off a reformation act without whispering apparently-humorous-musings to Slash and Duff in-between songs, which he does not-infrequently).

In other words, Axl Rose has finally become the rock star everyone always wanted him to be.

I’m not complaining. I do not miss standing around until Christ knows when waiting for Rose to show up (assuming he showed up at all) and hoping against hope that he’s in a good mood and actually finishes the show.

Still, “jarring” is the only word I can think of describe Rose’s upbeat demeanor. Granted, the non-Slash version of Guns N’ Roses played their final show almost two years before the reunion began, and I personally hadn’t seen the band since 2012. But from an outsider’s perspective, the alteration seems abrupt. In my experience, men in their fifties don’t change so very much in such a relatively short space of time. It’s not like Rose was kind of a hothead who only occasionally found himself in the throes of some big drama. Up until this point, he has lived his entire adult life a certain way.

So what happened? Rumor has it that Rose was basically broke when he kissed and made-up with Slash and Duff, which certainly seems plausible. There have also been some rumors that there’s a clause in Rose’s contract with Slash and Duff that seriously punishes his bank account if he can’t make the show on time. But is it just the money and contractual obligations that are making Rose such an unusually joyful presence?

There are other possibilities in a wide range of likelihoods. Medications could be involved. Rose could have had a legitimate therapeutic breakthrough that somehow changed his entire worldview; maybe being broke was his “rock bottom” that led to some sort of epiphany. He and the other founding members of GN’R wasted some prime years (basically all of their thirties and forties) being apart, so maybe it’s only now that Rose realizes how good they have it (it seems worth mentioning that Slash and McKagan also seem to be in very good spirits onstage). Maybe he has just mellowed with age. Or maybe — just maybe — Slash and Duff had Axl Rose whacked and the man currently performing under his name is a pod person or a life-model decoy or something like that.

I don’t have an answer. Hell, I don’t even really have a point. But if Rose’s reputation and/or personal experience has held you back from checking out the reunion, you should buy a ticket with full confidence that Rose is gonna show up on time and put on the best possible performance he can.

And, hey, if nothing else, it’s nice to see the guy happy after years of being patently miserable.

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