guns n’ roses

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 Nightrain club clear 7″)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Geffen 7″ Nightrain club clear vinyl EP)

Back in February, Guns N’ Roses released the Hard Skool EP (or single, or whatever!), containing the first two new Guns songs since 2008’s Chinese Democracy.  With five tracks total (two studio, three live) over three separate formats (CD, cassette, 7″), it was already a pretty good listen.  Axl’s voice has adapted to singing these demanding songs, 35 years after.  But there was always the promise of more in June 2022, and now it has come.

Members of the Guns N’ Roses Nightrain club received a brand new Hard Skool release on clear vinyl, with one exclusive live track added.  The cover art colour has been changed from red to dark charcoal grey, and a “Nightrain Limited-Edition Clear” notation has been added to the front.  This wasn’t cheap, costing $60 Canadian ($45 US) dollars to join.  There are other perks but really, the truth of the matter is I paid $60 for one song.

They had better not reissue this track!

The new exclusive song is “Shadow Of Your Love”, a recent live version recorded with Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, and Melissa Reese.  If you cast your minds back to the recent Appetite For Destruction super deluxe edition, “Shadow Of Your Love” was released as a single and it got a bit of airplay.  Live with the new version of the band, it does recapture that Appetite vibe and let’s face it, the song was possibly superior to a couple tunes that did make the final album.  You can hear Melissa on backing vocals, a touch that isn’t on early live versions of the song.  That backing vocal part is present on the studio version from the third disc on the Appetite box, but not the others included.  It’s cool that they’ve brought it back.  This version is just as fast as the old ones too.  It’s awesome to hear Frank Ferrer playing the drum part originally recorded by Steven Adler.  As for Axl, he adapts.  This is one of the most high and raspy of the original Guns repertoire.  Axl delivers it smooth without the rasp and still manages to get his voice way, way up there.  Say what you want about Axl Rose, he’s sounding better than many of his contemporaries.  Of course the real treat is just hearing Slash wail on it, as he should.

As for the other songs on the single; we’ve discussed them before so we won’t spend much more time on them.  “Hard Skool” is a Chinese Democracy outtake that has been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.  The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live after a 20 year absence last year as a surprise.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

Both vinyl releases came with a sticker.  This fan club edition also comes with a Nightrain 2022 pin.  The pin comes packaged in a little mini-folder.  It is made of metal and heavy for a pin.  Made for a jacket, not a shirt.  For a higher tier, you could sign up for four pins and a hoodie.  But I really only wanted to shell out for the exclusive track.

You can’t blame Axl for wanting to get some of these old songs out since he laboured for years over them.  It’s fitting that only now with Slash and Duff back in the band, the songs are “finished”.  Keep the releases coming guys.  It doesn’t have to be an album.  It just has to be Guns.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Universal CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl EP)

The first new physical music from Guns N’ Roses since 2008’s Chinese Democracy has finally arrived in the form of an EP!  Good enough; we’ll take it.  Beggars (and hangers-on) cannot be choosers.  Considering how scarce new Guns music has been since the early 90s, the new Hard Skool EP almost feels like manna from the gods.

There are six tracks in total spread over multiple formats:  two new studio songs, and four live.  The last of the live songs, “Shadow Of Your Love”, shipped in June 2022 on a club-only clear 7″.  The other five tracks are all here.

To the disappointment of some, the two new songs are slightly old:  Chinese Democracy outtakes that have been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.

The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, it was largely enjoyed by those who knew it from live bootlegs but thought it should have been on the album.  The keyboard intro has been axed, the riff emphasized and the lyrics slightly modified.  The main hook “What can I do, with a bitch like you?” has been replaced with a refrain of “Absurd!” The words are otherwise just as angry.  “Listen motherfuckers to the song that should be heard!” bellows Axl on the opening line.  “Parasitic demons sucking acid through your heart!”  I wonder who this was written about?  Vocally, Axl’s in the faux accent he utilized on “Down on the Farm” and you’ll love it or hate it.  Interestingly former keyboardist Chris Pitman, who was credited with songwriting on the original “Silkworms” version, no longer has a credit.  It is now credited to Axl, Slash, Duff and Dizzy.  Presumably the Pitman parts were chopped.  At the time of its writing, Pitman said: “It ended up being this incredible track that sounded like Guns N’ Roses 10 or 15 years in the future. It was so far removed from our other songs that we had to put it in this other place. Concept-wise, it didn’t fit with Chinese Democracy. We hope we will have other songs that match that kind of futuristic sound. It’s a really exciting track because it morphs into this crazy sound, but it was out so much in the other direction that we have to let time catch up with it.”  While that was true of “Silkworms”, the version known as “ABSUЯD” is more guitar-oriented.

The live songs commence with “Don’t Cry”.  Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus sound great together on this, but Axl struggles when the singing gets high at the end.  It’s a demanding song, and 1991 was a long time ago.  “You’re Crazy” on the other hand is really good.  Using the slower Lies arrangement, but played on electric, this version is like brand new.  A real cool addition to your GN’R library.

The third live track is exclusive to the 7″ vinyl:  “ABSUЯD”.  Not only do we get new songs on this EP, but we already get one in a live version.  Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live in 2021 as a surprise before it was released on iTunes.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

The 7″ vinyl came with a sticker while the cassette and CD versions come with no extras.  The CD is packed in a slipcase, and the cassette in a cassingle cardboard sleeve.  This got crushed a bit in the mail; a jewel case would have been better.

Completing this tracklist is “Shadow Of Your Love (Live)” on an additional 7″ single, available only by joining a “Nightrain” membership on the official site.  The cheaper of the pricey packages gives you access to the usual online perks such as pre-sale tickets, but your only physical merchandise is the vinyl, a sticker, and a pin.

The cover artwork includes an interesting visual clue.  On a school locker door, the classic Guns N’ Roses logo is stickered overtop a graffiti style logo reminiscent of Chinese Democracy.  Almost a metaphor for what these new songs are.

It’s encouraging that Guns N’ Roses have finally released something new, even if the songs are just reworked tunes from 20+ years ago.  Perhaps they’re clearing the decks before working on truly new material.  It’s all but certain that we will see more, and hopefully a longer release next time.  While some moments on the live tunes are shaky, and the new tunes were not as warmly received by some, the Hard Skool EP is wonderful to hold in hand.  New physical music from GN’R!  About time.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

VHS Archives #104: MuchMusic ads for the Pepsi Power Hour, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, U2 and GN’R

Here’s a grab bag of ads from MuchMusic from 1988 and 1992. They are:

  • A bumper for the Pepsi Power Hour (Molten Mondays!) featuring Metal Tim (the blonde guy).
  • Bruce Springsteen’s “only televised concert ever”!
  • Guns N’ Roses Live at the Ritz on the Miller Big Ticket, a legendary concert.
  • Michael Jackson’s Dangerous tour
  • U2’s Zoo TV tour.

A fun little collection of ads that bring back the memories.

REVIEW: Slash’s Snakepit – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995)

SLASH’S SNAKEPIT – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995 Geffen)

Somewhere in the multiverse is an alternate reality where Axl Rose did not reject Slash’s songs for the next Guns album.  In that version of history, the new Guns N’ Roses was not titled Chinese Democracy; perhaps it was called Back and Forth Again.  And it would have sounded a lot like It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, the debut album by Slash’s Snakepit that we received in our reality’s year 1995.

As it went down, Axl said “no” to the songs Slash had finished, so Slash put them out as his first solo album.  And then Axl wanted them back.  In 1994, on the VHS The Making of Estranged: Part 4 of Trilogy, you can hear Guns working on one of these songs.  In the background, the music that would eventually become Slash’s “Back and Forth Again” is playing with Axl whistling overtop.  In the alternate reality, somebody’s listening to it right now as a Guns N’ Roses song.  In ours, it will only be Slash’s Snakepit.

Although Slash was enthused about his new music, and was eager to make a raw bluesy rock n’ roll album, Axl had other plans.  Who was right in the end?  It’s hard not to see Axl’s point of view.  Slash’s 14 songs had just one hit and 13 fillers.  Most of the best GN’R tracks were not written by Slash; they were written by Izzy Stradlin.  Left to his own devices, Slash’s batch of songs here lack memorable hooks.

Let’s start on a positive note at least — the lead single “Beggars & Hangers-On”.  Written by Slash n’ Duff with lead singer Eric Dover, this is a song that any band from Skynyrd to the Crowes to Zeppelin to Guns N’ Roses would have been proud to play.  Check out that riff — it’s as regal as the blues gets.   Powerful and soulful aching vocals from Dover.  The chorus roars, bright and bold, and you could only imagine what Axl could have done with it.  Matt Sorum’s drums splash at all the right moments, in his trademark fashion.  It’s a damn perfect song.  And it made people really excited for the album that was to come, Guns or no Guns.

Well, there were some Guns.  Slash had been working with Matt Sorum and the recently fired Gilby Clarke.  On bass was Mike Inez from Alice in Chains.  Though not in the Snakepit lineup, Slash also imported Dizzy Reed and Ted “Zig Zag” Andreadis from GN’R.  With those players, it sure sounded like Guns.  Only Dover really differentiates them.  Dover…and the songs.

There are fragments of brilliance through the whole record.  The acoustic intro to “Neither Can I” for example.  The circular snaky riff to the manic “Be the Ball” (not to mention Slash’s lyrics, which seem to be his personal life philosophy).  The boogie-woogie of instrumental “Jizz Da Pit”.  The wicked Inez bass on on Gilby Clarke’s “Monkey Chow”.  The Aerosmith vibe to “I Hate Everybody (But You)”.

And it’s a long album.  70 minutes of solid rock without a lot of variation.  Which is one reason why Slash’s 14 songs wouldn’t have cut it for Guns in 1995.  Appetite for Destruction had a variety of different songs on it, even if all shared a go-for-the-throat ferocity.  Slash did get the straightforward live sounding rock album he desired.  The guitars sound absolutely thick and offer a hint of what Slash and Gilby would have sounded like together on an original Guns studio album (like naturals).

It’s just a damn shame Slash’s solo debut is so disappointing.  It bears witness that Axl might not have been wrong.  You could make a hell of a GN’R album* out of the best tracks its members came up with.  But this isn’t it.

2/5 stars

* Alternate 1995 Chinese Democracy:

  1. Chinese Democracy (GN’R)
  2. Beggars and Hangers-On (Slash)
  3. Better (GN’R)
  4. Dead Flowers (Gilby/Axl – Stones cover)
  5. I.R.S. (GN’R)
  6. Street of Dreams (GN’R)
  7. Tijuana Jail (Gilby/Slash/Matt)
  8. Madagascar (GN’R)
  9. Absurd (GN’R)
  10. Six Feet Under (Duff/Matt – Neurotic Outsiders)
  11. This I Love (GN’R)
  12. Back and Forth Again (Slash)

#927: Red Sun, Red Meat, Ready to Rock

RECORD STORE TALES #927: Red Sun, Red Meat, Ready to Rock

When the city traffic finally abated and we were on our way, only then did we begin to enjoy the music.

We had an historic soundtrack for both the trips to and from the lake.  On Thursday night for the drive up we enjoyed:

2021’s musical selections are strong.  Lee Aaron proved she has the album necessary for a good-time summer, and Polychuck played well in the car.  ZZ Top was obviously spun in tribute to the late great Dusty Hill.  When Afterburner concluded, we played “I Got the Six”, and “Sharp Dressed Man”.

On the Sunday drive home, Jen slept while I got nostalgic for the year 1989 with:

  • Aerosmith – Pump
  • Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood

My feelings this time out were that Dr. Feelgood is tremendously overrated while Pump is not.  Pump is solid and probably the last time Aerosmith nailed it front to back.

On the front deck this weekend, I spun a lot of music.  Most notably Guns N’ Roses’ new song “Absurd” about six times in a row.  I also listened to a new album by group out of Halifax called War & Sin that you will be hearing about.  The album is called The War Within and it hits all the bases, like good heavy metal with diverse influences.  The singer reminds me of Blaze Bayley, but in a good way.  You can check out the album on iTunes.

I had a couple good fires this weekend, and the soundtrack of Kiss went well in that setting.  A cottage weekend without Kiss just isn’t right for my soul.  This weekend I chose Dressed to Kill and Destroyer.  I brought the laptop over to the fireplace and let Kiss do the rest.

It was a solid three day weekend anchored by music, fire, food and swimming.  On Saturday I believe I went for five swims total.  The last was a sunset swim and we got some pretty cool video footage that you can now enjoy with me.

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – “ABSUЯD” (2021 single)

GUNS N’ ROSES – “ABSUЯD” (2021 single)

“Listen motherfuckers to the song that should be heard!” bellows W. Axl Rose, cocky as ever.

Guns N’ Roses like to drop bombshells and they did this week when “Silkworms” returned to the setlist after an absence of almost two decades.  It had been reworked and retitled “Absurd”, now augmented with Slash n’ Duff’s involvement.  In another surprise bombshell, they just released a studio version.  The first new Guns N’ Roses music since Chinese Democracy and first with Slash and Duff since 1994.

“Silkworms” is am interesting choice to release as the first new song with the old legends back in the band.  It’s always going to be associated with the Chi-Dem era.  The version I knew had Robin Finck and Buckethead on guitar.  Brain on drums.  Tommy Stinson on bass.  A lot has changed!  Slash is audible but more Slash-y sounds would be have appreciated.  Duff sounds brilliant.  Why not an actual new song?  I don’t know…but at the same time, I’m glad “Silkworms” finally got a release as “Absurd”.  It was always deserving of a proper studio release.

Axl sings in that punky “Down on the Farm” character, and the lyrics are as venomous as they were in 2001.  “Parasitic demons sucking acid through your heart!”  He sounds quite good; better than the concert versions we’ve heard thus far.  The vocal is mixed to sound like a megaphone because, hey, it was the Chi-Dem era.  There’s a disorienting quiet section in the middle that also hearkens back to that quaint time.

Good tune, but those of us who have craved “Silkworms” for 20 years are biased to a good impression.  Those who didn’t like it won’t be turned, and those who want something more like Appetite and Illusions won’t get it this time.  If you love Chinese Democracy, add a mark to my score.  If you hate it, subtract one or two based on your level of venom.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Slash – Live in Manchester 3 July 2010

SLASH featuring Myles Kennedy – Live in Manchester 3 July 2010 (2010 Abbey Road Live Events)

When Slash went on tour for his awesome 2010 solo album, he could practically only bring one singer with him.  That singer was Myles Kennedy who was more than capable of singing the songs from all the vocalists he had to cover.  The July 3 date in Manchester produced an “instant live” album.  This is as real as it gets.  In fact the set list on the back cover does not match what they actually ended up playing that night.  You could download and print off a replacement instead.

“Ghost” (originally with Ian Astbury) opened the Slash album and also opens the set.  The raw live performance is a contrast to the polished album.  Kennedy’s version of the track is awesome.  He makes no attempt to imitate Ian Astbury and just belts it as he should.  The second track is a largely forgotten tune:  “Mean Bone” from the second Slash’s Snakepit album (Rod Jackson on lead vocals).  This version seems to have more life, but it’s not as exceptional as the other songs, hook for hook.  “Nightrain” is the first of five Guns tunes.  All that needs to said here is that Kennedy can go toe-to-toe with a vintage Guns track, no problem.  Bullseye.

Velvet Revolver next, with “Dirty Little Thing”.  Suddenly Kennedy has to do Weiland and nails it once again.  Four tracks in, from four different bands and singers, he has all the bases covered.  The next singer he has to cover is an easy one — it’s himself on “Back From Cali” from the Slash album.  Myles had two of the best tunes on that album, and “Back From Cali” is received with applause and clapping.  It was clearly a hit with this crowd.

Eric Dover is the next singer covered, and yes that means we’re talking about 1995’s epic “Beggars and Hangers-On” from the first Snakepit CD.  This timeless song always needed more exposure.  It is preceded by some cool slippy-slide from Slash, before he breaks into that riff.  Kennedy’s delivery lacks the rasp of the original, but makes it bluesier.  Now it sounds like an electric prayer from the deep south.  It might be the biggest divergence from an original version in this set.  This is the epic part of that setlist, with “Civil War” and “Rocket Queen” forming a solid 15 minute wall of Guns.  Bassist Todd Kerns backs up Myles, thickening those high notes, but Kennedy needs no help on the difficult “Rocket Queen”.

Velvet Revolver is paid some more respect with “Fall to Pieces” and “Sucker Train Blues”.  “Fall to Pieces” is the only ballad of the set, earning a singalong from the crowd.  “Sucker Train Blues” shifts back into top gear.  You can’t top Weiland at his own game, but Myles turns in some respectable versions.

Back to the Slash album, “Nothing to Say” (with M. Shadows) was one of the heaviest tunes.  Live, it is not as sharply polished, but it is a banger.  Myles’ own “Starlight” follows, the second of the two excellent tunes he had on the Slash album.  Not quite a ballad, but it slows pace and brings an eerie quiet to the stage, before completely exploding on the skyrocketing chorus.

The instrumentals “Watch This” and “Godfather Theme” give Kennedy a chance to rest up the voice, while Slash gets to do what he likes to do, including lengthy a blues jam.  Then it’s a bright burst of light on “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, and a surprise:  Alter Bridge’s “Rise Today”.  Very cool, after covering all these songs, that Slash then covers a Myles Kennedy song.  It’s quite different from Alter Bridge, more snakey.

The show ends on some classic tunes:  “Slither” by Velvet Revolver, Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” and of course “Paradise City”.  By this time Myles’ voice has been through hell and back, a full setlist of very demanding material.  You can tell, but only barely.  The guy has had to sing songs by everybody from Axl Rose to Robert Plant!  He doesn’t cheat notes, he just barrels on through.

Not played at this show but appearing on the back cover is “By the Sword”, originally with Andrew Stockdale.  Slash’s live band included two Canucks:  Todd Kerns and Brent Fitz, with Bobby Schneck on second guitar.  They nailed it, every song, and had the foresight to be putting out an album that night.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Dramas & Traumas (5/29/91 bootleg)

“November Rain” was played live for the first time by Guns N’ Roses on this day in 1991.

GUNS N’ ROSES – Dramas & Traumas (Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN, May 29 1991 – Deep Records bootleg CD)

The market is littered with live Guns N’ Roses bootlegs from the Use Your Illusion tour.  The band’s own official Use Your Illusion World Tour Live in Tokyo VHS tapes are an ideal source of live music from their biggest tour.  But what many fans seek is an earlier show, before Izzy Stradlin went his own way and was replaced by Gilby Clarke.  Nothing against Gilby, but Izzy only lasted about six months and has been missed ever since.  This bootleg is from the seventh show on the tour, when the material was new, unheard, and rough.  Some of the songs were dropped or rarely played later on.

Audio is average as far as bootlegs go; it’s an audience tape job with some occasional issues.  The set is complete.  “Double Talkin’ Jive” is unlisted, hidden within the larger “Patience” track.  It is also the historic live debut of “November Rain”.  Opening with “Right Next Door to Hell”, which was dropped by the start of ’92, the energy is high.  Axl takes no mercy on the demanding song, giving 100%, especially on the obligatory “fuck you”!

Guns wisely played familiar songs mixed in with the new stuff.  The albums would not be out for over three months.  Axl asks if the audience wants to go dancin’, which means “Mr. Brownstone” is up next, a low energy version comparatively.  It might be too easy to blame the new guy Matt Sorum, but you do notice the lack of Steven Adler when you think about it.  Back to new tracks, it’s the bluesy “Bad Obsession” which Axl explains was written long before “Brownstone”.   Slash rips out the slide guitar and Axl gets distracted by a hottie.  It’s the first audible appearance of another new member — keyboardist Dizzy Reed on piano.  Later on, Axl makes a big point of announcing that Dizzy is, contrary to some media reports, “a goddamn a-fuckin’ official member of the band!”

Regarding live debut of “November Rain”, Guns didn’t have a setlist.  Axl just called out the songs, feeling out the crowd.  According to Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan in a later interview by Dan Gallagher of MuchMusic:

Matt “Axl said ‘November Rain’, and we hadn’t played it since we recorded it…in July!  In front of 20,000 people, we’re going, ‘Uh, do you remember how that goes?’  Damn near a year ago we cut this track.”

Duff“And he has this grand piano, that raises up out of the stage.  And all of a sudden the piano raises up and we’re going, ‘What the hell is that…’

You can almost hear the fear.  Sorum tentatively taps the cymbals, but doesn’t miss his cue when it’s time to come crashing in.  Axl mentions he can barely remember the words, but only flubs a couple.  Slash’s first solo nails most of the big hooks, while the second is more improvisational.  They all struggle a bit on the outro, but damn — they did it!

After “November Rain”, a microphone catches Slash saying, “A fucking curve ball, man!”

The two most significant tracks are the two sung by Izzy that were necessarily dropped when he left:  “Dust N’ Bones”, and “14 Years”.  Both feature raspy, Keef-like lead vocals from the guitarist.  These two tracks are very good reasons to want an early set like this.

There are long solos, intros and outros, and all the stuff you expect from a Guns N’ Roses show.  The solos had yet to evolve into the forms they would take by the time they hit Tokyo, though the “Godfather” theme has its place.  They play a bit of Rod Stewart’s “I Was Only Joking” as part of the “Patience” intro, and of course “Only Women Bleed” before “Heaven’s Door”.  The “Voodoo Chile” lick always works well going into “Civil War”.  It’s also interesting to hear how the songs started out early on tour.  “Civil War” seems a bit shaky in the start, but goes nuclear by the end.

The main set ends on “Perfect Crime” and the encores consist of “Estranged”, “Sweet Child”, “Jungle” and “Paradise”.  A pretty slam-dunk way to send ’em home.  Unlike “November Rain”, “Estranged” was already humming like a well-tuned car by this time.

The two bonus tracks are interesting curiosities from the 1989 MTV music video awards.  Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers performed “Free Falling” and “Heartbreak Hotel” with Axl Rose.  They are here as a little bit of added value, but make no mistake — it’s just Axl from the band, nobody else.

As mentioned earlier, there are some sonic anomalies of the type that usually come with bootlegs.  The disc goes silent for very brief moments during “Right Next Door to Hell”.  Not a deal breaker considering the rest is very listenable.

4/5 stars

#883: Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

A prequel to Record Store Tales #286: Live! Bootlegs

 

RECORD STORE TALES #883:  Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

 

I didn’t discover “bootlegs” right away.  But inevitably, I had my first encounter and was confused by what I saw.

The setting:  Dr. Disc, 1988 or ’89.  Downtown Kitchener.  In the store with best friend Bob and one of his friends.  Browsing in the cassettes, I had worked my way over to Guns N’ Roses, a band I was still learning about.  Something about an EP that came before Appetite?  But what I saw was not that.  In fact, there multiple Guns bootlegs in their cassette section, only I didn’t know they were called “bootlegs”, or what that even meant.  Each one seemed to have a different member on the front.  One had Slash, one had Axl, one even had Izzy.  They were printed on different coloured paper.  They had songs I never heard, like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.  Live shows from the last few years.

Were they official releases?  They had to be if they were sitting there in a store, right?  But A&A Records at the mall didn’t have these.

I didn’t get of the Guns tapes.  I didn’t have the money, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have taken a chance.

My knowledge of bootlegs was limited.  In my mind, I associated the word with the kind of bootleg records they had to buy in communist Russia.  Since you could not buy American music in the Soviet Union in the time of the Iron Curtain, fans got creative.  There is a famous series of Beatles bootleg records, etched into X-ray photographs.  It was the right kind of material to cut the music on.  Like a flexi-disc.  When I heard the word “bootleg album”, I associated it with an album that was illegal to own, but somehow you got a copy of a copy.  Not live recordings smuggled out of a gig and sold for profit.

I finally put the pieces together when I bought the book Kiss On Fire on December 27, 1990.  In the back:  a massive list of live Kiss bootlegs, from Wicked Lester to the Asylum tour.  Tracklists, cover art, the works.  Suddenly, it clicked.

“These must be bootlegs!” I whispered to myself in awe.

“We must have them,” said my OCD to my unconscious self.


I acquired my first live bootleg from Rob Vuckovich in 1992.  It was David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour with Steve Vai.  It was just a taped copy on a Maxell UR 90, but it was my first.  My sister got an early Barenaked Ladies gig on tape shortly after, including the rare “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl”.  Then in 1994 she bootlegged her own Barenaked Ladies show on the Maybe You Should Drive tour!

Around this time, my sister and I also started attending record shows a couple times a year.  Bootlegs were now available on CD.  And there were many.  Who to choose?

Black Sabbath with Ozzy, or with Dio?  Def Leppard before Rick Allen was even in the band?  Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue’s final gig with Vince Neil…so many to choose from!

Interestingly enough, the idea of one band member being on the cover art carried into the CD age.  By my side at one show was Bob once again.  I flipped through the Kiss.  There were so many!  I picked one out with Gene on the cover.  Not knowing what bootlegs were himself, Bob thought they were solo albums.  “Don’t get one with just Gene!” he advised.  It wasn’t something I wanted anyway — it was from the Animalize tour, which I already had represented on VHS at home.  I wanted something I didn’t have anything from yet.  There it was!  The Revenge club tour!  Unholy Kisses, they called the disc.  Stupid name, great setlist.  I only hoped it sounded good when I got it home.  They used to let you listen to it before you bought it, but I think I was too shy and just bought it.  As it turns out, I loved it.  Every thump and every shout.

That’s the thing about bootlegs.  You really never knew what the sound was going to be like.  Or even if the gig advertised was the gig you were buying.  Or just because it sounded good at the start, will it still sound good at the end?  Or did the guy recording it have to move to a different seat next to a loud dude?  A soundboard recording was almost a too-good-to-be-true find.  One thing you were certain not to hear:  overdubs.  No overdubs on a bootleg!  They were raw and authentic.

I had made a good “first bootleg” purchase.  A whole new world opened before me.  There were not just live bootlegs, no!  Also demos, remixes, even B-sides.  And among them, some great, and some dreadfully bad choices!


Hear about some of the great ones this Friday, February 26 on the LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

 

 

 

 

#878: Building Empires

GETTING MORE TALE #878: Building Empires

On multiple occasions I’ve said the best years working at the Record Store were the early years.  1994, 1995, into 1996…I’d never been happier working hard, and maybe never will be again.  There was no corporate head office, no regional managers, and minimal pre-fab signage that all looked the same.  It was just a few of us, die hard music fans, and a Record Store.  We were in the process of building empires!

The boss was always looking to expand our CD inventory.  Rarities of any kind were hard to find in Kitchener.  Be they singles, Japanese imports, or live bootlegs, they were hard to come by.  Periodically, let’s say once every couple months, the boss would drive to Toronto to pick up our weekly inventory orders from Records on Wheels.  R.O.W. didn’t carry anything particularly rare, just the major label hits that we needed.  Occasionally the boss would stop at other retailers in Toronto to pick up live bootlegs.  Nirvana, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, whatever was popular.  There were a couple stores in Toronto that had massive amounts of bootleg CDs.  He’d bring them back here and sell them for around $40.  Nobody in Kitchener had access to that kind of stock.  They weren’t cheap and we didn’t make any profit off them, but they sure made us look better.  A lot better.  It gave us a chance to catch up a little bit with Sam’s and Encore in the “cool” stakes.

We also tried some more obscure distributors.  One of them carried UK, US and Japanese imports.  But again they were expensive and we had to hope they’d sell.  These distributors were really unreliable.  Long backorders were a problem, and there was no guarantee we’d get what we ordered.  We sometimes got lucky.  Nirvana’s Hormoaning was in demand, and we did get a few of those.

I’ll never forget this one Nirvana kid who wanted Hormoaning so bad.   He didn’t have enough cash so he kept trading in discs until he had enough credit to cover it.  You had to trade in a lot of CDs to cover $40 plus tax.  But he got his Hormoaning.  Until he had to trade that one in, too.  And he did.


There was another guy (he kind of looked like a little troll doll), and he worked up at Carry On Comics in Waterloo.  I think his brother was friends with the owner, and that’s why he started coming in.  He had his eyes set on an R.E.M. bootleg, specifically because it had a song called “Where’s Captain Kirk?”.  It was one of R.E.M.’s non-album singles, a cover of a band called Spizzenergi.

I was beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise,
What I felt what I saw was a total surprise,
I looked around and wondered can this be,
Or is this the start of my insanity.
Oh but its true,
As we went warp factor 2,
And I met all of the crew,
Where’s Captain Kirk?

The comic book guy salivated over that CD until he finally had enough cash to buy it.  I didn’t think he was serious.  He used to talk about buying this vintage Millenium Falcon toy and hanging it from his ceiling.  He was serious this time!


I managed to snag a couple live bootlegs.  No discounts on these!  Nine Inch Nails – Woodstock ’94, and Guns N’ Roses Covering ‘Em were both favourites of mine.  Money well spent and still in the collection today.  The boss hated that we took some of his good Toronto stock.  He was selling them virtually at cost, so that’s why we had to pay full price.  But he really, really did not appreciate when T-Rev and I bought stuff like that.  Here he was, stocking them to make our store look cooler…but in swoops T-Rev and metal Mike!  Maybe he should have charged more for them, across the board.  Where else in town were you going to find them?

On one of those early Toronto runs, the boss was one of the first victims of the Ontario NDP government’s photo radar project.  In order to curb speeding, the NDP launched the 400-series highway photo radar.  The boss was caught speeding on the 401 and found a nice photo and fine in his mailbox.  It was from one of the trips back from R.O.W.  The project was only semi-successful.  Drivers experimented with methods of covering up their license plates from photo radar cameras, and over 5000 photos were deemed useless.  The incoming Mike Harris government campaigned on getting rid of photo radar, and they did immediately after taking office.  The great experiment was over, but the boss was one of the drivers dinged.  All he was trying to do was bring us some rock and roll!  But it was the first and only photo radar picture I saw back then.

Damn government always cutting into our profits!

Behind the scenes, he was building empires.  He announced that he wanted us to buy even more stock from the public.  Trade-in CDs were big business but we were now going to be buying for two stores.  Or more.

It was just the beginning!