Dizzy Reed

REVIEW Round-up: Guns N’ Roses “Not In This Lifetime” Tour (Guest editorial)

GUNS N’ ROSES “Not In This Lifetime” Tour

By David Martin

A little while ago we reached back to the late-‘80s with a review of a Guns N’ Roses live session in New York. It wasn’t a perfect recording, but it’s a nice glance back to the early days of a band that’s become one of rock’s truly iconic groups. Another interesting thing about looking back at this time is that Guns N’ Roses has, against the odds, become something of a modern sensation.

Our first hints ought to have been when GNR started showing up anew in non-music pop culture. The band put out a vague teaser trailer before screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens for instance, and also partnered with an online developer to produce a video game in 2016. The latter was particularly random, though it makes sense when you look at the industry. An Australian gaming resource site states simply that presentation is a huge factor on betting and gaming sites, and part of that means introducing visually and sonically interesting games – like a slot reel based on an iconic rock band, in this case.

Neither a teaser trailer nor a video game tipped us off to what would actually start in the spring of 2016 – one of the most surprising tours, arguably in all of musical history. The band took the stage at Coachella – with Axl Rose and Slash sharing the stage for the first time in years – and kicked off an international slate of shows that ultimately extended into 2018. The tour, dubbed “Not In This Lifetime,” has become one of the most successful in modern history from a financial standpoint. And while reviewing it in its entirety isn’t easy (or necessarily possible) we can look at a roundup of reviews for particular shows along the way.

Coachella (April ’16) – “The magic was absent.” This was a take from Vice, building on a headline suggesting that Guns N’ Roses had shown its age at the Coachella show. The review noted hints of pleasure when the band played the hits, as well as Slash’s enduring skill, but ultimately pointed to a lack of chemistry and the simple ravages of time as reasons for an underwhelming reunion.

Detroit (June ’16) – “This was history being made.” This comment came from none other than Rolling Stone, in a piece that directly refuted some of the earlier reviews. Citing a straightened out lineup and an Axl Rose out of the foot cast he’d appeared in for Coachella, it painted the picture of a reunion tour that had found its groove.

London (June ’17) – “You can’t blow the roof off a stadium that doesn’t have one, but they damn well tried.” So said The Guardian after one of GNR’s European shows, painting a picture not only of an electric performance, but of the thrill for an original fan seeing the band back in action again.

Cleveland (October ’17) – “Guns N’ Roses have no intention of coasting to the finish line.” This was a take offered on one of the tour’s later dates. Not only was it yet another positive review, but it was one with the perspective to mention the almost universally positive response to the tour – as well as growing hopes of fresh material from the group.

All in all the impression left by the “Not In This Lifetime” tour is that while there are occasional frustrations stemming from the simple fact that the band’s members have aged, it’s been good to have them back. And on some occasions, they’ve absolutely wowed all their old fans.

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II (1991)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II (1991 Geffen)

In my review for Guns N’ Roses’ smashing debut Appetite For Destruction, I stated that “Appetite is great, but Illusions are better”.  A strong and controversial statement.  How could I say such a thing?

Use Your Illusion I and II are a case of “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!”  Consider:

1. “Bigger”

Certainly in terms of length, Illusions are far bigger:  2 hours and 32 minutes compared to 53 minutes for Appetite.  I concede that the Illusions albums have far more filler than Appetite.  Given that the grand total of awesome material on Illusions still exceeds the length of Appetite, I think “Bigger” is a given.  They made us wait and wait and wait, but they made it worth our while.  You can’t always say that for Guns N’ Roses.

2. “Better”

Guns N’ Roses’ lineup was “new and improved!” in 1991.  Original drummer Steven Adler was given the boot due to severe issues with substances, replaced by Matt Sorum, who they knew from The Cult.  I won’t argue that Matt Sorum is a “better” drummer than Steven Adler, because they are too different.  Regardless of this, Sorum was able to expand Guns’ rhythmical pallette.  He could play things Adler could not at the time, such as “You Could Me Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive”.  As for the core members, each of them expanded their own talents on these albums.  Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin were now lead vocalists on a few tracks.  Slash’s guitar playing grew exponentially.  Izzy blossomed as a songwriter with some of Guns’ most diverse material.  And Axl Rose really got into the piano, contributing a ton of it, and even the techno influence that would later evolve into Chinese Democracy.  His vocal stylings also expanded, with more use of his lower voice.  Everybody had gotten…better.

3. “Faster”

It’s possible that “Right Next Door to Hell” is the fastest Guns track ever recorded.  “Perfect Crime” and “Garden of Eden” also qualify.

4. “More!”

Guns expanded their official lineup to a six piece with the arrival of keyboardist Dizzy Reed.  They also had plenty of special guests:  Alice Cooper*, Michael Monroe, and a guy named Shannon Hoon from the then-unknown Blind Melon.  Hoon appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video.  Steven Adler was even on “Civil War”, one of the earliest tracks finished.  How’s that for more?  Not enough?  Throw on some orchestras, then.

Of course the weakness to this argument is the old saying that “less is more”, and that theory holds water.  Ultimately, it comes down to taste.  Do you prefer the nuclear assault of Appetite, or the complex stew of Illusions?  Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.  You can buy and love them all.

We reviewers, however, are not afforded such luxury.  We are expected to rate these things and answer tough questions about why.  I cannot deny how I feel about the Illusions albums.  I think II tops I, but from first listen, these albums were very special.  The ambition, the indulgence, and the time paid off on these albums.

Breaking it down, there are numerous top tier bonafide classics on Use Your Illusion I and II.  I think if you boiled the album down to these basic original tracks (colour coded by original album), you’d have a hard time beating it.

Proposal:

  1. Dust N’ Bones
  2. Don’t Cry
  3. Bad Obsession
  4. Double Talkin’ Jive
  5. November Rain
  6. The Garden
  7. Coma
  8. Civil War
  9. 14 Years
  10. Breakdown
  11. Pretty Tied Up
  12. Locomotive
  13. Estranged
  14. You Could Be Mine

And look…that’s enough for a perfectly awesome single CD.  It doesn’t even include the excellent covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, both hit singles for Guns.  It also excludes dumb but fun stuff like “Get in the Ring”.  You know you and your buddies have recited the words.  Don’t lie to me!

I always choose to listen to these albums in full, in sequence.  I find that to be the best way to go, as they intended it to be.

Appetite showed the world that rock and roll could still be dangerous and loud.  The Illusions albums immediately proved that Axl was a hell of a tortured genius.  However it’s not a one man show.  The dominant songwriter is Izzy Stradlin, with 11 credits on most of the best material.  His singing added a Keith Richards rasp to the band’s repertoire as well.

You don’t have to agree with my rating, but I feel that all of the above really overshadows the filler on Use Your Illusion.  Some of the material I consider filler were singles.  “Dead Horse” and “Garden of Eden” were both hit music videos.  The sheer bloat and indulgence of this set was a sharp and delightful contrast to the first waves of back-to-basics grunge bands.  It kept Guns on the charts for years.

In a 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, Slash stated that after Appetite, every band in the world copied their style.  He challenged bands to try and copy them this time.  “To copy us, you’d have to be us.”  Slash was correct.  Nobody could touch Illusions.

5/5 stars

 

* The story behind the Cooper cameo is that Axl has originally sung all of “The Garden” himself. He sang it in a very Alice Cooper voice, and there was concern it was too close for comfort. So they called up Alice (who they worked with before on “Under My Wheels”) and Alice just nailed “The Garden”.

REVIEW: Duff McKagan – Believe In Me (1993)

scan_20170213DUFF McKAGAN – Believe In Me (1993 Geffen)

In 1993 Duff McKagan was not clean yet, at least not for good.  It would take a critical medical emergency for him to get close enough to death and stop drinking.  The cover of Believe in Me, a skeletal Duff bathing in a martini glass, reflects the last of the old Duff.  It was his solo debut, following Izzy but before Slash.  Guns’ own Spaghetti Incident? hit the shelves two months later, as the end of the original band creeped on the horizon.

Fans were probably experiencing a bit of Guns overload.  Two albums, two live concert video tapes, loads of touring and music videos…Guns were everywhere from 1991-1993 and then it was the dawn of Guns solo albums.

Duff’s solo debut was a grab bag of different styles:  punk, rock, funk, jazz and ballads.  It was also loaded with rock star guest shots:  Lenny Kravitz and Sebastian Bach sang one song a piece.  Dave Sabo and Rob Affuso from Skid Row joined Baz on the album while Slash laid down a couple trademark dirty guitar solos.  Jeff Beck dropped by, and just about every Guns member except Axl himself contributed.

Despite Duff’s ambition, the best tracks tend to be the rockers.  Opener “Believe in Me” was a very Guns-like single:  short, sweet, catchy and with a Slash guitar solo to hit it home.  “I Love You” isn’t a ballad despite the title, in fact it’s a rocker and perhaps the best tune on the album. “Just Not There” also rides the GN’R train, normally bound for hitsville.  Sebastian Bach’s “Trouble” is plenty of fun, and Lenny Kravitz gets angry on “The Majority”.  These songs would have made a fine basis for a Guns album, but Axl wasn’t looking for songs that sounded like Guns N’ Roses.

An angry “(Fucked Up) Beyond Belief” (a song birthed from GN’R rehearsals) is noisy punk-rap, while “Fuck You” itself is basically a rock rap song featuring a guy named Doc.  “Punk Rock Song” is exactly what it claims to be, but isn’t particularly memorable.  The biggest mis-step is the muted trumpet jazz number, “Lonely Tonight”.  At least Duff was trying something different, but his vocals and lyrics leave a lot to be desired.

During the period that Guns N’ Roses were inactive or just working behind closed doors, a lot of these solo albums really represented an alternate universe.  “What if the original members didn’t leave and instead recorded a new album?”  It’s possible these songs or songs like them could have been on that hypothetical album.  Instead, Believe in Me was a launch pad for plenty of Duff projects and albums:  Neurotic Outsides, 10 Minute Warning, Loaded, Velvet Revolver and many more.  Duff has proven that clean and sober, he can be one hell of a prolific songwriter.  Believe in Me is a good introduction to the many stylings of Duff McKagan.

3/5 stars

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#516: Use Your Illusion

GETTING MORE TALE #516: Use Your Illusion

25 years ago on this day, millions of fans used their illusions.

1991:  First year of university, and I was hard at work on some reading.  My sister and my mom were out shopping at the mall.  The record store I eventually worked at opened up just that summer.  Unbeknownst to me, they popped in on my behalf and returned with a present.

“Mike!” yelled my sister excitedly as they returned home.  The dog barked loudly in shrill Schnauzer barks as she talked.  “Did you know Guns N’ Roses have TWO NEW ALBUMS OUT?”

I sure did!  Use Your Illusion I and II were the long-awaited true followups to Appetite for Destruction.  With 30 brand new songs, Guns released the music as two separate but complimentary albums.  My sister eagerly handed me a gift:  a new cassette copy of Use Your Illusion II!

Why she chose II, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.  For this fan, II was the first.  I had it a whole week before I caught up and bought Illusion I (again, at the same store I would work at only three years later).  It was $10.99.  Perhaps because I had the second album a week ahead of the first, I still really prefer II over I.  Songs such as “Breakdown”, “Pretty Tied Up”, and “Locomotive” are three of the strongest and most ambitious rock songs on an already strong set.  They stand up today as my personal favourites.

The Use Your Illusion albums spawned a combined eight singles:  “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, “Civil War”, “You Could Be Mine”, “Don’t Cry”, “Live and Let Die”, “November Rain”, “Yesterdays” and “Estranged”.  Additionally, music videos were made for the tracks “Garden of Eden”, “The Garden”, and “Dead Horse”.  Guns N’ Roses assaulted all formats as they trounced the world in a two year long world tour, with acts such as Skid Row, Metallica and Faith No More.  They even suffered their most devastating lineup change right at the very start of it.  Chief songwriter Izzy Stradlin departed in November of 1991, to be replaced shortly after by Gilby Clarke.  Although he has made numerous guest appearances since, Izzy has never rejoined Guns N’ Roses.

Did you buy Use Your Illusion I and II 25 years ago today?  Do you have a favourite?

 

#460: Appetite for Reunions

GETTING MORE TALE #460: Appetite for Reunions

Unless you have been living under a pile of rock (and roll), then you know that the hype machine for a 2016 Guns N’ Roses “reunion” has already begun.

But this is not a reunion.  This is not Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, and Steven.  Matt Sorum is not involved, nor is Gilby Clarke.  The new lineup is supposed to consist of:  W. Axl Rose, Slash, Duff “Rose” McKagan, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, Dizzy Reed, and Chris Pittman, with new member Dave Kushner (Velvet Revolver) in the third guitar slot.

Of course, many lineups labelled as “reunions” in the past were not.  Van Halen’s current “reunited” lineup consists of three classic members and one new guy, Wolfgang Van Halen.  Any time The Who go out there for a tour, there are only two original members.  Not much can be done about that, with Keith and John both gone.  Not that it matters since both bands have made millions on these tours, and both bands even managed to put out new albums, without the full original lineups.  New music always trumps a tour.

Few bands seem to reunite with all the beloved members intact, either due to death or stubbornness.  There are exceptions, obviously.  The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac came together with their most beloved lineups, and a tremendous amount of success, but even they couldn’t make it last.  Don Felder was fired from the Eagles years ago.  Christine McVie only recently returned to the Mac after being gone for ages, and meanwhile the band did a new album without her.   And Black Sabbath?  Their farewell tour only has ¾ of the original lineup!  Meanwhile Bill Ward sits at home, having alienated the band and Sharon Osbourne.  The chances of Ward ever playing drums again in the band he co-founded are slim to none.  One does not piss off the Osbourne camp without consequences.  Regardless of his reasons, justified or not, a Black Sabbath farewell tour without its still capable original drummer is a hollow thing indeed.

Even when you do get the full original lineup of a band that you wanted, that doesn’t necessarily mean the band is returning to full functionality.  When Kiss reunited in 1996 with the full original band, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were hired hands.  They didn’t get a say, they didn’t get a vote.  They got a contract stating their responsibilities and compensation.  As if Paul and Gene would ever give up any control in their band, now!  So what we saw live was Kiss, but what we got behind the scenes and on the album Psycho-Circus was just “more of the same”.  Ace and Peter didn’t even appear on many of the songs, even though they were on the album cover.  But that’s nothing new for Kiss!

What band has had the most successful reunion?  I’m not talking in terms of numbers; then we would probably have to include Spice Girls and New Kids on the Block.  Who has had the most success in terms of quality?  That would have to be Iron Maiden.

Steve Harris did something very creative when he reunited with Bruce Dickinson.  Instead of just bringing Bruce back into the band, he also brought in Bruce’s guitarist and former Maiden member Adrian Smith.  But Adrian was not cool with coming in to replace somebody else.  “What about Janick Gers?” he asked.  Janick had been in Maiden for a successful decade, and Adrian didn’t want him out of a job.  Steve always envisioned a three-guitar Iron Maiden, and Adrian Smith coming back gave him that opportunity.  It worked out brilliantly, especially live, when it could have been a train wreck.  Technically, what Iron Maiden did is the same thing Guns N’ Roses are said to be doing:  a new version of the band, with both classic and current members.  Maiden made it last, too.  Harris was very clear with Bruce:  nobody was coming back to Maiden just to hang around a while and leave again.  Anybody coming back to Maiden was coming back for life, and that is exactly what happened.  Five more studio albums later, Maiden rule absolutely.

What will happen with Guns N’ Roses?  That is harder to predict.  It is unlikely their most talented member, Izzy Stradlin, would want to return to the circus of insanity that is a GN’R tour.  As for Slash, he has always preferred a stripped down band.  It’s hard to imagine how he will be happy playing in a band with two keyboardists, but that’s what they say is happening.  How long will it last?  A few shows?  Coachella and gone?  Much like Ace Frehley, Slash will probably be a contracted musician.

A band of Guns’ stature all but had to reunite.  The fans have been loudly demanding something like this for over a decade.  The fans hoped Izzy and Steven Adler or Matt Sorum would be a part of it, but that has always seemed unlikely.  Slash couldn’t even get Izzy into Velvet Revolver.  What they are doing is probably the closest to a reunion that is likely.  Perhaps Izzy will show up to guest as he has in the past, but fans shouldn’t get their hopes up of seeing Adler on stage.

Perhaps this, the most anticipated “reunion” since Led Zeppelin (also a new lineup with Jason Bonham), will stop the constant questions from the media and fans.  “Will you ever get back together?”  It must be tiring answering that question daily, when you have new music out there to play.  Sometimes a band just has to give in and take a step backwards.  Sometimes, as in the case of Iron Maiden, the way forward is to go backwards.

Will it work?  The only way to find out is to stay tuned.  You know where you are?  You in the jungle, baby.

Let’s see if the bad boys of rock and roll can still survive the jungle.

GNR

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

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993)

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GUNS N’ ROSES – “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993 Geffen)

The hype surrounding this album was palpable. The disappointment was legendary. When I began working in a record store in July 1994, less than a year after the release of “The Spaghetti Incident?”, we couldn’t give these away, no matter how low we marked them down. This disc effectively ended Guns N’ Roses domination and ushered in an era of a new wave of bands, the post-grunge onslaught. GN’R survived grunge only to be put to bed with this terrible album!

The reason is, while most of these songs are great in their own rights, these versions are not. The recording is sparse and basic, a far cry from the layered intricacy of the Illusions albums. While Slash’s goal was to get the production back to basics (read: Appetite), this album was an ugly beast and not even close to the shiny black gleam of Destruction. Some songs are just plain boring. “Since I Don’t Have You” was an odd choice for a single, and “Black Leather” just plain sucked. I think there were quite a few fans who were baffled by the number of Duff lead vocals too.

The best song (which wasn’t even recorded by GN’R), is Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”. This is actually a Duff McKagan solo track, an outtake recorded for his first solo album, Believe In Me. Other standouts include Axl’s raging “I Don’t Care About You”, Duff’s “Attitude”, and “Down On The Farm” which had been played live way way back when Izzy was still in the band. A lot of fans were off-put by Axl’s faux-English accent on “Down On The Farm”, but that’s the way it was played live and I don’t mind. The New York Dolls’ “Human Being” is a great Guns cover.  “Ain’t It Fun” is also an angry standout.

Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog” is underwhelming although Axl does nail the lead vocal. Why GN’R covered a Soundgarden song (“Big Dumb Sex”) is beyond me, and of course there’s the worst track on the album, and most legendary — Charles Manson’s “Look At Your Game, Girl”. Axl’s obsession with Manson was just another nail in the coffin for GN’R, as most fans couldn’t wrap their heads around it. It didn’t help that Slash publicly said that the song “sucked” and that he refused to play on it.*

“The Spaghetti Incident?” will go down in history as the last music of the Illusions sessions to be released, and also is the only album of the Rose/Slash/McKagan/Sorum/Clarke/Reed lineup. By the time Guns N’ Roses released their next single (another cover, the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”), Gilby Clarke was fired by Axl and replaced by Axl’s hometown bud Paul Huge. And that was the last straw for Slash, and the beginning of what would later be known as Chinese Democracy. And that was it. “The Spaghetti Incident?” is the last album to feature Slash, Duff, and Matt, and I think that is just sad and kind of weird too.

If you love Guns N’ Roses, then you already have this, because you have everything by the band. If you only “like” Guns N’ Roses, you don’t need this. You’ll play it a few times and then file it away, never to be heard again.

Instead of this, pick up:

All three would have been great GN’R albums, but sadly none were.

2.5/5 stars

* In 2000, Axl Rose stated that “Look At Your Game, Girl” would be removed from future printings of the album.  That never happend.

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy (2008)

By request of reader Johnny Sixx: A review of Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy so long that I split it into two installments. For the first part, click here.

GUNS N’ ROSES – Chinese Democracy (2008 Geffen)

Chinese Democracy, over a decade in the making, became both the biggest joke in rock and the most anticipated album of all time. It polarized music fans as expected. Was it worth the wait? That’s a pretty hard question to quantify. Ultimately it’s up to the individual. Did I expect more, personally?

No. I didn’t expect more. I got what I expected. I did hope for more, but by and large I was very happy with Chinese Democracy.

My first exposure to these songs came in 2001, after the Rock In Rio concert. I downloaded all the new tunes from Limewire. (Remember Limewire?) My favourite of the new tunes was “The Blues” (later renamed “Street of Dreams”) but I also loved “Chinese Democracy”, “Madagascar” and a track called “Silkworms”. Those of us who had heard the songs in advance of the album release were much more likely to enjoy the new GN’R for what it is: Axl attempting to keep the GN’R name going, and stay current. For better or for worse.

For Axl, staying current meant incorporating more electronics. It also meant replacing feel-based guitar players like Slash with shredders.  No, this does not sound like the dirty, blues-based majesty of Appetite. Yet, it does rock. Hard. Add in some samples, lush ballads and some cool lyrics and we have a modern followup to Use Your Illusion I and II. It has the same diversity and experimental bent, even if it sounds nothing like those two albums.

I won’t sit here and defend Axl’s decision to keep going with the name, that’s a dead horse that’s been flogged over and over again. It is what it is, and at least Axl has chosen musicians that are at the top of their fields. The Rock In Rio lineup was already long gone by the time of this album release, but all those guys contributed to Chinese Democracy. That means you will hear guitar solos by ex-members Robin Finck (an underrated player) and the incredible Buckethead. You will also hear drums by Brain, and Frank Ferrer too. You will have contributions from everybody. Hell, you will even get one song that dates back to the Slash n’ Duff years called “This I Love”, another epic ballad. It was written way back in 1993; it’s most likely the oldest song here.

The album is chock full of riffage. The title track itself (written by Axl and ex-drummer Josh Freese, yes that Josh Freese) is a monster. That riff is infectious, as are the verses. Axl loads the whole album full of vocal hooks, piano hooks, guitar hooks — this album may pack more hooks per minute than any other in history, who knows? He certainly had time to come up with and perfect them.

This is an even more dramatic Guns N’ Roses than anything before. Some might say over-dramatic. You thought “Estranged” was epic? This is even more so. Yet, boiled down, “Street of Dreams”, “Madagascar”, and “Better” are all emotion-drenched tunes and extremely well written and executed. The production, as expected, is thick and sweet. Maybe too sweet. A tune like “If The World” for example might have been better served with more basic guitar oriented production? Who knows? I’m sure Axl has done a thousand mixes of each of these songs, before selecting these final versions.

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Highlights: “Better” for its angry, awesome riffage. “Street of Dreams” as the natural successor to “November Rain”. The title track, for anger and aggression. “Madagascar” as the next “Civil War”.

Lowlights: Wasn’t much into “Scraped”, “If The World”, and the overly-techno “Shackler’s Revenge”. Illusions had filler too, y’know.

Most of all I love the playing. These are some of the best players in the world, bar none. Plus a guy like Tommy Stinson is a rock veteran with a history longer than Axl’s. With these kinds of experienced rockers on board, Chinese Democracy was bound to be impressive. What Chinese Democracy lacks are two things:

1. Band chemistry. You can’t fake it.

2. A suitable predecessor. If Guns had even one interim album to bridge the sounds and introduce new members gradually, Chinese Democracy wouldn’t sound like such a shock to the old-time fans.

It may turn out that Chinese Democracy is as close to a “bridge” record as we will get. Axl claims the next two albums that he’s written are even more extreme departure from the Guns sound.

Hopefully, those next two Guns N’ Roses records will eventually materialize.  They should include “Silkworms” a great punky synth-rocker, and a song that Sebastian Bach raves about called “The General”. Whenever Axl feels motivated enough to finish them.

4/5 stars

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Part 285: Chinese Democracy

By request: A review of Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy so long that I split it into two parts. Part Two comes tomorrow. Read on!

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 285: Chinese Democracy

The story goes like this:

In late 1994/early 1995, T-Rev and I would update the store’s “new releases board” every few weeks. This board advertised what new releases were coming in the weeks and months ahead. When I was given my own store, T-Rev took over the original as manager, and continued on diligently with the new releases board.

Of course, one of the most anticipated releases even back in 1994 and 1995 was the “new” Guns N’ Roses. We’d sat through solo albums from Izzy, Duff, Gilby and finally Slash himself. While Izzy and Gilby came close to the mark, none of these were a substitute for a real Guns N’ Roses album. The only official new Guns N’ Roses CD that we had for sale was the CD single for “Sympathy For the Devil”. Little did we know back then that “Sympathy” was like the straw that broke the Guns’ backs! (Axl had secretly brought in Paul Huge as Gilby Clarke’s replacement, and had him overdub “answer” solos to go with Slash’s. Slash was furious, especially since Axl fired Gilby without telling anyone.)

The rumours were always buzzing, so T-Rev would periodically call me. “Mikey! Do you know any more new releases I can add to the board?” I was always checking out M.E.A.T Magazine, and inside a recent issue (March/April 1994), Slash himself said he was mixing the new album himself, and that it would be out by summer.  He actually went into quite a bit of detail regarding the new Guns N’ Roses album in this article.  He offered no song titles, but it’s easy to tell from his descriptions that many of the songs ended up on his and Gilby’s solo albums.  He downplays Axl Rose’s contribution to the project considerably.

An excerpt:

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Flush with cryptic updates such as these, I would always be able to help T-Rev keep the new release board up to date.

“Yeah man, I got a Guns N’ Roses update for you,” I would tell him on the phone.  “The new album’s coming out next quarter.”  After M.E.A.T Magazine went bust in 1995, I would have kept up with the latest Hit Parader or RIP Magazine.   The release dates kept getting pushed back.

Every month, T-Rev would dutifully change the board. Guns N’ Roses – spring 1995. Then the next month, he’d call me again. “Anything new?” And I’d let him know whatever I’d read. “The album’s scheduled for summer. This is according to Metal Edge,” or whatever.

And the board changed again. Fall 1995. Christmas 1995. Spring 1996. It became a running gag. Even if there was no GN’R news, T-Rev kept that album on the board dutifully. He’d just bump it ahead a couple months. He kept doing that until the store moved and changed formats at the end of ’96.  Even if no customers got the joke, the two of us thought it was freakin’ hilarious.  Trevor always predicted it would never come out.

I don’t think we would have laughed if we knew how long it would really be before Chinese Democracy was finally released to the public!  We waited through lineup change after lineup change, and the release of the new track “Oh My God” in 1999.  It would be almost a decade more before the final release.  Would it be worth the wait?  Find out tomorrow. 

 

REVIEW: Gilby Clarke – Pawnshop Guitars (1994)

GILBY CLARKE – Pawnshop Guitars (1994 Virgin)

I cannot believe that this album came out 20 years ago.  We’d been inundated with GN’R solo albums in recent years, and I had no interest in yet another.  It was T-Rev who urged me to check it out.  T-Rev was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan.  Gilby Clarke was in GN’R for a few years, long enough to make some friends in high places and record this amazing debut solo record before being kicked out by Axl himself. (He was replaced by Axl’s childhood friend and co-writer Paul Tobias.)  Pawnshop Guitars is, of all the solo material recorded by all the ex-GN’R members, the very best of the bunch.

Every single member of the GN’R lineup circa 1994 makes an appearance here: Slash, Duff, Matt, Dizzy, and even the reclusive Axl himself, on a cover of “Dead Flowers”. Rob Affuso of Skid Row, Frank Black, Ryan Roxie and more show up for the party, and it sounds like one hell of a party. The Slash solos are unmistakable on “Tijuana Jail” (a “Radar Love”-esque smoker) and “Cure Me…Or Kill Me…”.  Indeed one wonders why they didn’t just release a bunch of these songs, a bunch of Slash’s songs, and call it the next Guns N’ Roses album.  Alas that never happened.

On this side of the border 20 pesos gets you dead

I don’t think there are any weak songs on Pawnshop Guitars. The influences are varied, but there is a strong vintage flavour.  Whereas Izzy Stradlin tended to channel the Rolling Stones via Keith Richards on his own solo debut, Gilby draws from the Beatles and Stones in equal measure. A song like “Black” sounds like a John Lennon outtake, but mixed with a batch of Joe Perry’s Boneyard Brew hot sauce.  I like Gilby’s lead vocals.  He’s not a power singer but his voice has character that suits the music.  It lends it a glam rock slant.

Other standout songs include the swampy “Skin & Bones” (an acoustic number that would have worked great as a GN’R tune), “Hunting Dogs”, “Jail Guitar Doors”, “Shut Up”…hell they’re all great.   T-Rev talked me into buying this album and it was a great purchase.  I liked it immediately.  Any serious Guns N’ Roses fan would do well to own this, one of the missing links between Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy.

5/5 stars