Access all Areas

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – New Jersey (Super Deluxe, part 2)

Concluding an in-depth review of the Bon Jovi New Jersey Super Deluxe edition. Previous reading:

BON JOVI – New Jersey (2014 Universal Super Deluxe edition, part 2)

Of all the Bon Jovi albums, New Jersey certainly deserved the Super Deluxe treatment.  New Jersey‘s promotional cycle included two VHS releases, both present on this DVD: The old Wayne Isham tour documentary Access All Area, and New Jersey: The Videos.  Isham was responsible for virtually every cool larger-than-life video Bon Jovi made.  In 1988, trendy grainy black and white footage was all the rage, and so Access All Areas, where we will begin, has an over-abundance of it.

In a piece of incidental pre-show rehearsal footage, Richie Sambora sings “Purple Rain”, proving who the talent in the band always was.  It is nice though to see everybody in the band hanging out, having a good time, and seeming like genuine friends.  As for the audience, it’s amusing to see the giant hair from the perspective of today.

The sound of “Bang” by Russian metal band Gorky Park indicates we’re off to the Soviet Union.  Bon Jovi were pioneering in being one of the only hard rock bands to play behind the Iron Curtain (they were officially sanctioned by the government), and this part of the show is certainly the most interesting.  Bon Jovi even have a ten-man blues jam with the Russian band, building bridges at the end of the Cold War.  The blues is universal.  This visit leads to the massive Moscow Music Peace Festival, which I had on tape from MTV, and wore completely out.  (Not shown: the backstage moment when Tommy Lee rips the shirt off Bon Jovi manager Doc McGhee’s back, for allegedly upstaging Motley Crue by using fireworks in Bon Jovi’s show, against prior agreement.  It’s a long he-said she-said story involving McGhee who was managing both Motley and Bon Jovi at the time.  Motley felt McGhee had prioritized Bon Jovi, and fired him immediately after.)

The boys have a blast in the warmth of Rio de Janeiro, quite a contrast with snowy Moscow.   In Tokyo they are chased by a swarm of screaming girls.  Through it all, even though they’ve been on the road forever and can’t wait to get home, they maintain themselves with a lot of joking around.  Fortunately Isham captured this endearing footage.  The live rehearsal stuff is also excellent, up close and in the faces of the band.

In a very cool moment backstage at Wembley, Bon Jovi, Cinderella and the Scorpions work on covers together for a big jam.  “Travelling Band”…holy shit, is that Elton John on piano?  Sure looks like it.  Rick Allen, Brian May, Lita Ford!  “I am the happiest kid on Earth!” shouts an excited David Bryan.  Another gig features Bon Jovi with the late comedian Sam Kinison on “Wild Thing”.  At Tower Records, they are threatened with arrest by the riot squad if they perform, so naturally Jon and Richie break out the acoustics and do “Ride Cowboy Ride”.  In swoop the fuzz, who had nothing to worry about.  Alec John Such’s birthday is celebrated in West Berlin, where they visit the wall.  (In a shivery moment, Jon is eyeballed by an East German soldier on the other side.)  Their cover of “The Boys Are Back in Town” is performed, and Jon takes a chip out of the wall.

Jimmy Page is present at a three hour charity gig at Hammersmith, and they jam on “Train Kept a Rolling”.  (Best moment: when Jon sings a Steven Tyler “wha-ga-ga-ga” in it near the end, just like Tyler did in Aerosmith’s version.)  It’s clear that even then Jon was the boss — he alone makes the setlist, and says if something goes wrong he’ll call the shots.  He comments he has “never been so nervous.”  Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” is a duet with Richie Sambora, who had been playing it long before Bon Jovi formed.  It’s a stunning version and it’s hard to imagine Bon Jovi ever doing anything this big again, both in terms of success and quality.

Australia!  “Bon Jovi: We go everywhere, but we live nowhere!” says Sambora.  “Love For Sale” is played at HMV for swarms of long-hairs both male and female (but mostly female).  Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” is another incredible cover selection, and you have to give Jon credit for that.  The final show is a big multi-gig stand in Guadalajara, Mexico that almost never happened due to “politics” (money) and a riot!  The first gig is postponed to the next day forcing Bon Jovi to play a double-header starting at 11 am!  “We should go on stage in riot gear,” jokes (?) Jon.  (They don’t.)

Access All Areas was a good rock doc for the time.  It feels whitewashed and scrubbed clean of blemishes, but that was music in general in the late 80’s.  The real pleasure is getting to see the other band members hanging out.  Alec John Such seems a funny, talented guy with a great voice.  David Bryan is clearly a lot more gifted than he gets to show off in the band.

The music videos (only mixed in stereo, unfortunately) are all you remember them to be: more mixtures of black & white, and colour footage, golly!  Both versions of “Bad Medicine” are included.  (More Sam Kinison!)  There are funny interludes with the band in between the songs, joking around back stage.  (Special guest: Skip Rope Skid Row’s Dave “Snake” Sabo.)  “Me, if I wasn’t a musician, I’d be a drummer!” says Jon. Of the music videos, “I’ll Be There For You” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” are the coolest, just no-nonsense stage performance clips.  “Blood on Blood”, which I’d never seen before, is a live version.

The DVD portion of this box set is a nice supplement, but you won’t be in a hurry to sit down and watch again.  The black & white/colour back and forth is very tiring.  Fortunately Bon Jovi seem(ed) like a nice bunch of guys from the neighborhood that have loads of talent, and fun to watch in any setting.

DVD: 3/5 stars
Bonus tracks: 4.5/5 stars
Album: 4.5/5 stars

Overall rating:  4/5 stars

Thanks for joining us for this massive review! Back to something else tomorrow.

DVD REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Live in Paradise City (2011)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Live in Paradise City (2011 Access All Areas DVD, from a television broadcast source)

Rock In Rio 4, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 2, 2011.  Guns N’ Roses headlining the final night.

Paddington Rose

Paddington Rose

Rio loves Guns N’ Roses!  Always did, still do.  It’s pouring rain, but the fans are present and accounted for.  Good thing they are able to see the huge stage through three massive video screens, otherwise I don’t know how they’d tell one member from another.  Well, Axl’s blinding yellow Paddington Bear coat makes him easy enough to see.

“Chinese Democracy” opens the set, with bassist Tommy Stinson handling the backup vocals on the chorus.  Ron Thal’s playing a double neck (the top one is fretless)  and is rocking the samurai hair.  The solo is played by DJ Ashba, with Thal handling the outro shredding.  “Good evening! Good morning!” says Axl after the first song, before asking, “Do you know where the fuck you are?”  Of course that means “Jungle” is next.  Axl’s voice just sounds shredded, as he struggles high and thin through the hard notes, no grit left intact.  Once in a while the old Axl wails, but he was really off in Rio.

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THAL-1138

One thing about Guns N’ Roses new vs. old:  The old band looked unified in image.  All of them looked like Hollywood dirtbags.  In this band, you have the glam looking DJ Ashba, Frank Ferrer who looks like a trucker, Axl with his pimpstache, and a guy in a Stormtrooper helmet.  Admittedly though, Tommy Stinson looks the part as the punk rock bass player, and he also fills Duff’s role as backup singer.

“It’s So Easy” is up third, top loading the setlist with some serious Appetite heavy hitters.  Ashba doesn’t quite nail the solo, but the band are as tight as the originals.  Keyboardist Dizzy Reed looks weird as hell just hitting a tamborine to this sledgehammer tune.  As for rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus (a dead ringer for Izzy Stradlin), he seems to literally attack his instrument with every strum; looks more like he’s punching them!   Another Appetite classic, “Mr. Brownstone” follows.  It is here that I miss Slash for the first time.  His playing on “Brownstone” was always so greasy; so perfect.  Ashba’s playing is a bit too sophisticated.

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Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal

A bloated looking Axl is accompanied by Ron Thal for the opening to “Sorry”, a slow grinder from Chinese Democracy.  This changes the pace of the set.  The song fails to connect.  It’s more expressive live, but not interesting enough.  Time to pee.  Axl then introduces Richard Fortus on guitar who plays some blazing fast licks.  It makes me wonder why the hell this guy doesn’t play more leads.  He’s insanely fast.  This turns into a bit of a band jam, including the James Bond theme.  That strategically merges into “Live and Let Die”, the McCartney original of which was of course the theme of the same titled Bond movie.  The stage has flame throwers blasting, and the crowd goes wild.  Axl’s changed out of the raincoat, now sporting black leather and doing his trademark spinny-spinny dance.

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Frank Ferrer

After a brief pause, Frank Ferrer begins the familiar drum beat that opens “Rocket Queen”.  The fans know it and scream in anticipation.  Unfortunately Axl’s thin voice fails to impress.  Fortus does impress, handling the slide guitar solo himself.  “This I Love” is the next song, and the first ballad of the evening.  Axl struggles a bit with the vocal before he finds his stride part way in.  The dual keyboard concept can be best heard here.  Dizzy plays the piano, while second keyboardist Chris Pitman plays the orchestral arrangement.  But let’s face it: “This I Love” will never replace “November Rain” or “Estranged” as a concert favourite.  It fills that same epic ballad role,  but it just ain’t classic.

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DJ Ashba

DJ Ashba takes the opening lead guitar on the next Guns N’ Roses jam.  I don’t recognize the tune, but it sounds like another soundtrack piece.  I’ve heard some journalists complain that Guns play too many solos from band members that nobody cares about.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  These players are good; very very good.  These instrumental sections, apart from giving Axl a chance to rest his voice, are a showcase for the guys in the band that, like it or not, happen to be Guns N’ Roses.  The fans in Rio treat the members as if they were the originals.

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So once again, Jones, what was briefly yours is now mine.

Ashba breaks into the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” intro, and the fans lose their collective minds.  Rose dons a tan fedora, now looking a bit like René Belloq.  Thal nails that unforgettable wah-wah solo, no mean feat.  But then it’s time for “Estranged”, and Axl just can’t find the key. He pulls it together on the first verse, but this isn’t an easy song.  It does eventually fall into place with the help of some epic soloing.

I would say that the song “Better” from Chinese Democracy is well overdue in the set.  While undoubtedly modern sounding, I think it’s one of the best tunes.  It gives the band a chance to play around with a different kind of heavy.  Bumblefoot Thal plays the fast shreddy guitar part and does backing vocals.

Axl then introduces the band, aside from Bumblefoot and Ashba:

  • Chris “Mothergoose” Pitman
  • Frank “Thunderchucker” Ferrer (“I can never say that last name right. It’s like Ferarri, only different.” — Axl)
  • Mr. Richard Fortus (no nickname)
  • Mr. Tommy Stinson (also no nickname)
  • Mr. Dizzy Reed (I guess his nickname is Dizzy?)

This leads into a Dizzy piano segue on The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”, as an intro to “Street of Dreams”.  I had made no secret of my love for this song.  I first heard it back in 2001, when Guns played Rio that year.  It was known as “The Blues” at the time.  It’s a concise version of the “epic Guns ballad” and it stands up on its own.  Then it’s time for “You Could Be Mine”.  Ferrer impressively nails the drum intro, and Thal plays the opening guitar moans on his fretless neck.  This great version is followed by Axl sitting at the piano himself, for…you got it…”November Rain”.  There are some sour moments, not least of which is Axl forgetting some of the words!

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Bumblefoot

Finally it’s time for one of my favourite moments of the set: Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal’s rendition of the “Pink Panther” theme (Henry Mancini) on double neck guitar.  It’s familiar melodies like this that keep the solo spots interesting to fans who don’t know the players all that well.  It’s easier for them to swallow.  It’s not like Axl is leaving the stage for some guy to go wheedle-wheedle-wheedle for four and a half minutes.  Guns give you quality for your time.

“Pink Panther” turns into a space age blues jam and back again, merging into “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.  Axl sings this annoyingly nasal.  I will take this moment to point out the irritating habit of the camera to focus on a guitar player who is not the current soloist.  It’s Ashba playing these solos, but half the time the camera is on Fortus, as if they are not sure who is playing, so they guess.  Fortus does get to blaze a solo at the end, thankfully with the camera on him.  Axl playfully quotes Elmer Fudd:  “Be vewy vewy quiet!  I’m hunting wabbits!”  Why, I don’t know.  Maybe he was watching cartoons on the plane.  It’s as good an answer as any.

The main set closes with “Nightrain”, bringing it all back full circle to Appetite again.  In a cool moment, Ashba walks (with security personnel by his side) through a barricaded and secured pathway within the crowd.  “Nightrain” is a strong finish for a band that plays as long and hard as Guns N’ Roses play.  And soon they’re back on stage, acoustic guitars in hand, to play “Patience”.  The quiet tune is all but drowned out by thousands of screaming Brazilians, but even they cannot drown out “Paradise City”.  It’s a natural epic closer, and it’s perfectly awesome, right up until Axl leaves the stage…then the video and audio abruptly fade and that’s the end! Was the broadcast cut off?  I don’t know, but the end jam is cut out, as is the final bow.  That’s it that’s all.

Shoddy.  You can tell it’s not an official release.

3/5 stars