Guns N' Roses, Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield

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He's ginger, he's round, he was big in the Eighties, and he's back for another bite. But enough about Garfield 2.

Something calling itself "Guns N' Roses" - the original members, in a massive breach of metal etiquette which states that vocalists are the most disposable element in any band, signed the rights to the name over to their lead singer in return for a wad of dollars - is back for the first British tour in a dozen years.

Why is there still an appetite for this band? Simple: everyone loves a bad guy. And they don't get much badder than Axl Rose. Guns N' Roses were the last hurrah of badass, unrepentant, sexist Old Metal, before grunge and nu-metal wiped them away/spoilt the fun (delete according to taste). They were, legend has it, genuine street scum pre-fame, surviving by thieving and dealing drugs.

It starts with a bang. Literally. The GNR show involves the most shameless, cynical use of pyros I've ever seen. It's probably a good thing: the constant threat of a coronary from the bangs will, at least, keep us awake.

Axl Rose, you see, is the Pete Doherty of hair metal. The signs outside the Hallam FM arena, warning us that "This show may run past midnight", are a worrying omen. The latest GNR comeback has already featured shows so late that local authorities have sued venues who in turn sued the band.

When Axl finally strolls out, a mere one hour 15 mins late, the dramatic intro to "Welcome to the Jungle" is played by a guitarist in a tall hat with a shock of curly hair. No, not that one. It's Robin Finck, formerly of Nine Inch Nails, whose studied resemblance to Slash is more than a little sad.

This is a band in the most perfunctory sense. These men are Axl's chattels, his villeins. They dutifully throw legs-apart backing-band shapes, and place the hits with accuracy. Axl himself, in his goatee, shades and braids is looking every second of his 44 years. But nobody is expecting the 1987 version. Everyone knows they've paid for a freakshow.

And it's a freakshow that blows its biggest attractions early. "Jungle" is a thrilling opener, but following it with "It's So Easy" and "Mr Brownstone" makes you wonder how they can maintain the tempo, and where they can go from here.

One Bond theme later, we get the answer: offstage. "We're having technical difficulties," he explains from the wings to muted boos. "We'll be right back."

After five minutes, one of the hired hands walks on and plays one of the most iconic intros known to man. As a DJ, I've seen what "Sweet Child O' Mine" can do to human beings, and the idea that this isn't the encore seems unconscionable. For a brief moment, Axl attempts that snake-hipped dance from the video, daring us to remember the days when he was actually stunningly pretty, but it isn't the same.

"The monitor system is fucked," Rose complains. "I don't know what's coming out of my mouth. I feel like I'm singing through a fuckin' kazoo." Here's what's coming out of his mouth: a voice which, over a two-hour stretch, seriously grates. Axl's "oooohs" are not the "oooohs" of passion, but the shiver of relief when you've been dying for a wee for an hour and you finally let it out.

At which point Dizzy Reed sits down at a piano and plays a superfluous solo version of "Ziggy Stardust", and you realise that this show is descending into a mess.

When Axl returns, it's for "The Blues", one of the 32 songs he's written for his long-threatened, quasi-mythical album Chinese Democracy. Immediately afterwards, he's offstage again, while Thal plays a solo guitar version of one of GNR's greatest songs. "Don't Cry" is the sound of the unrepentant bad guy repenting, and Rose's failure/refusal to actually sing it is baffling.

Skid Row muppet Sebastian Bach is wheeled out for a guest turn, but then there's a real surprise. Izzy Stradlin, Axl's oldest friend, fellow Indiana escapee, and one of the few members of the classic GNR line-up who hasn't thrown his lot in with Velvet Revolver, joins Rose for the Rolling Stones' "You Gotta Move", and stays to lend legitimacy to "Patience", "Night Train" and "Paradise City".

Squint your eyes and it's almost like watching the real thing, but with midnight approaching, enough is enough. Take. Me. Hoah-woahm.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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