live at the ritz

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Appetite For Destruction (1987 Geffen)

The first time I ever heard of Guns N’ Roses was from a rock magazine.  There was a picture of this weird looking lead singer with spiky red hair, and his name was “Axl”.  I immediately decided I didn’t like whoever he was, because he looked absolutely hammered, a complete mess.  And what kind of name was “Guns N’ Roses” for a band anyway?

MuchMusic began spinning their first video, “Welcome to the Jungle”, but only on the Pepsi Power Hour.  After a couple plays, I liked it.  I took Axl off the “banned” list and taped their video.  I asked my friend Scott if he liked Guns N’ Roses.  “They suck!” he answered.  A few months later, another video hit the airwaves and it was even better.  “Sweet Child O’ Mine” came out during the year of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, but wasn’t like either band.  I loved the tune; this band had potential!  Before I knew it, school was out for the summer.

A funny thing happened on summer break.  Guns N’ Roses became huge.  When I returned to school in the fall, guess what band Scott was suddenly in to?  Guns N’ Roses.*  Everybody was.  And nobody believed me that I liked them first.  “You probably don’t even know the words,” said one kid.

That was 30 years ago.  Jesus Murphy…30 years!

I could yammer on and on about Appetite for Destruction.  For example, we could discuss these subjects:

  • How Guns went against the grain but changed the game.
  • Mike Clink’s sharp anti-80s production.  (Did you know Paul Stanley wanted to produce Appetite?)
  • The iconic album cover.
  • Slash’s immense influence on guitar players, including making the Gibson Les Paul the guitar to play again.
  • The under appreciated songwriting of Mr. Izzy Stradlin’.
  • The unstoppable rhythm section of Duff “Rose” McKagan and Steven “Popcorn” Adler.
  • That Duff McKagan is uber-talented and his backing vocals are a crucial part of Guns’ sound.
  • The single-minded, focused and unified direction of Appetite.
  • How their ample use of the “f word” drove the censors crazy.
  • Cowbell.
  • Riffs.
  • The all-important role of lead singer and frontman W. Axl Rose in their rise to stardom.
  • How Axl and Slash became the Steven Tyler and Joe Perry for a new generation.
  • That ten thousand bands followed in their wake when the sleazy side of the Sunset Strip became the hottest new trend.

We could talk about all those things until we’re blue in the face; each one would make for a fine subject for an article in their own right.  Or, perhaps I could talk about some of my more controversial opinions:

  • That Appetite is great, but Illusions are better.
  • The best song is not one of the singles, but in fact the last track, the sprawling “Rocket Queen”.
  • Even Appetite has filler, in this case “Anything Goes” and “Think About You”.
  • That Izzy was the most talented member.

I could do that, or I could even go through Appetite track by track.  It would be cool to analyze the riffage, anger and rock power of tracks like “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain”, “Out Ta Get Me” and “You’re Crazy”.  We could discuss that Guns groove that is the basis of the legendary “Mr. Brownstone”.  The simmering , biting intensity of “My Michelle”.  We could, or you could click on any of the numerous articles from rock magazines that do the same thing.

Maybe yammering about Appetite isn’t as important as the memories associated with it.  I’ve shared this story before, but my favourite memory of this album goes back to highschool.  When the album hit it big, virtually everybody I knew had a copy.  One guy named Anand liked studying to Appetite.  He had strict parents.  One day he was down in the basement doing his homework with “Out Ta Get Me” playing.   His kid brother kept coming around to bug him, as kid brothers do.  He hung around long enough to learn the words to “Out Ta Get Me”, and returned upstairs.  When the parents heard the kid singing “They’re out to get me! I’m fucking innocent,” Anand got grounded.  (He got grounded a lot, though.)

Appetite for Destruction has sold 18 million copies in the US, with another few million sold overseas.  It’s one of the select albums to go Diamond (1 million copies) in Canada.  That’s a lot of people with memories of Appetite for Destruction (even though about five copies were actually bought by myself).  I’m not the only one with stories.  So how do I go about reviewing Appetite for Destruction?

Like anything else, I guess:  on a scale of 5:

4.5/5 stars

 

* Scott responds: “In my defence, I heard ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ first, and wasn’t into the power ballad thing. It was when I saw the video for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ that I changed my opinion, and after getting the album — the imported banned cover — that I became a huge fan. I didn’t jump on no band wagon!”

 

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REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – New York, New York (Live at the Ritz 1988)

NEW RELEASE

GUNS N’ ROSES – New York, New York (Live at the Ritz 1988 – FM Radio Broadcast, Gossip)

SAM_1729‘Twas Scott who alerted me to the release of this classic Guns N’ Roses concert on CD.  A few tracks from the gig are missing, most notably “Shadow of Your Love”, but most of what I remember seeing on MuchMusic back in the 80’s is intact.  Although I do not recall seeing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” on the TV version, I used to love this concert.  I watched it over and over.  I had seen it over half a dozen times before I even bought Appetite for Destruction.  I dubbed an audio version to cassette, before my buddy T-Rev recorded the entire show for me later on.  I used to know these versions better than the originals.  It’s a pleasure to finally have them on CD.

Remember the sound of the guitars being picked up in the darkness before Duff’s opening bassline to “It’s So Easy”?  I don’t think I’d seen a band on TV before who seemed so…dangerous.  The sound of Duff singing the backing vocals are another element I distinctly remember.  Axl could get pretty mobile on stage, and his vocals often fell apart mid-sentence, while Duff held it all together.  He was Guns’ secret weapon, Duff McKagan.   Up next in the spotlight is Slash with those chugging, scraping guitars on “Mr. Brownstone”.    Axl then delivers his first classic monologue of the evening:

“I don’t know what by chance the television audience will see…what anyone will see…but what we’ll see tonight…is that we wanna dedicate this song to the people who try to hold you back!  The people that tell you how to live!  People that tell you how to dress!  People that tell you how to talk!  People that tell you what you can say and what you can’t say.  I personally don’t need that!  Those are the kind of people that been getting me down.  They make me feel like somebody…somebody out there….is ‘Out Ta Get Me’!”

Funny story about this song.  I had a highschool buddy named Anand who was the first kid I knew in our class to get Appetite.  Anand had strict parents.  One day he was down in the basement studying, rocking out to Appetite.  His little brother strolled in during his homework, and kept coming around to bug him.  He hung around long enough to learn the words to some songs, and returned upstairs to his parents singing, “They’re out to get me! I’m fucking innocent!”  Anand got grounded.

Needless to say the chorus to this amazing song was beeped when I first saw it on TV.  I loved it anyway.  That Izzy Stradlin riff kicks it classic-style, while Duff once again holds down the backing vocals.  Slash is shambolic, losing control several times but always pulling it back together, cig in mouth the whole time.  I love this one big sour chord he hits at 2:25 into the song.  If I remember he almost fell at that moment in the show; the audience were pulling at his guitar, but all you can hear is this big awful chord. Then it happens again at 3:00!  And again at 3:10!  The whole solo is a fucking disaster, and that must have been fun for the people in the front row.  Guns N’ Roses were so in the face of the crowd that there was constant physical contact.  That’s a fucking concert.

“Sweet Child” comes early in the set, and obviously it’s not nearly as sweet as the album version, and Axl’s hoarse.   Still, Axl hoarse in 1988 is something very different from 2014, and it sounds great to these ears.  “My Michelle” is credited on the back cover as written by Rose and “Stardlin”, making obvious that this is not an official release.  I hope Izzy Stardlin gets paid his due royalties.  The band get more and more reckless/loose/inebriated as the concert goes on.  Again it’s McKagan who seems to be holding it together and cheerleading from behind.

A very intense version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” follows which I am less familiar with because it didn’t make the TV version I had seen.  Axl dedicates this to a friend named Todd who had “danced a little bit too hard with Mr. Brownstone”.  Needless to say, it’s very cool hearing this song played by the classic five piece lineup.  With Steven Adler on drums, it’s more to the point.  The arrangement is slightly different than what you know from the Use Your Illusion I album, but it still has the slow singalong  part that later evolved into the “reggae” section that they were known to play live later on.  Axl was a charismatic frontman and this was his moment to show off his power over an audience.

His next introduction was another memorable one:

 “About five or six years ago I hitchhiked here, and ended up stuck out…in the middle of this place.  Climbed up out of the freeway, and this little old black man comes up to me and my friend with our backpacks and about ten bucks between us…and he goes, ‘You know where you are?!  You in the jungle, baby!  You’re gonna die!’  That’s a true story, that ain’t no lie.  So ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, rats!”

This was the only tune of theirs that I knew really well back in early ’88.  It is played tight, possibly the only song of the night that is.  There’s magic in hearing this lineup play this song, their song.  And speaking of them, I always enjoy Axl’s band introductions:  Mr. Duff “Rose” McKagan on bass guitar.  Mr. Steven “Popcorn” Adler on the drums.  Mr. Izzy Stradlin on the white guitar.  Axl says he and Izzy have been together for 13 years.   He saves the most recognizable member for last:

“And last, but definitely not least…in a world that he did not create, but he will go through it as if it was his own making…half man, half beast…I’m not sure what it is, but whatever it is, it’s weird and it’s pissed off and it calls itself Slash.”


Slash then introduces a song about “a walk in the park”, called “Nightrain”.  Of the songs they played that night I thought “Nightrain” was a little less than great.  It always seems to be the one I wait to finish.  Then, Slash opens “Paradise City” with a little surf rock guitar before the classic opening lick.  This is the song where things got a little out of control for W. Axl Rose.  Doing his trademark slinky snake dance, he got a little too close to the crowd and was pulled in.  The band kept on playing and Slash took an extended solo, but you can see Axl trying to climb out. Security finally pulled him up, and then you can see Axl getting his bearings and checking himself over.  His shirt and several pieces of jewelry were ripped off, but as soon as Axl sees that he is OK, he resumes snake dancing and finishes the song!  Slash’s solo during Axl’s “down time” remains a show highlight, as does Axl’s quick recovery!

For encores you get Aerosmith’s “Mama Kin” (dedicated to Steven Tyler) and “Rocket Queen”.  The former is fast and tight, and the latter is epic and ominous.  It is a natural closer, especially with Slash’s extended soloing.  Axl delivers the closing in full-on ragged scream mode, as it should be.

I’m very glad to have this time capsule of a concert in my CD collection.  Highly recommended.

4/5 stars

LIVE AT THE RITZ_0002

Part 154: Cassettes Part IV – LeBrain’s Tapes (What Remains)

RECORD STORE TALES Part 154:  

Cassettes Part IV – LeBrain’s Tapes (What Remains)

I used to have a lot of tapes.  So many, that T-Rev converted my closet doors to shelving, just to store my numerous cassettes!  It was quite a feat of engineering on his part.

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If you’ve read the other three parts of this series on cassettes, then you’ve already seen some of the awesome artwork that T-Rev used to come up with for his tapes.  Doing those articles got me nostalgic, but very few of my own tapes remained.  A year or two before I met Mrs. LeBrain, I briefly dated this one girl who was getting into hair metal.  I had succeeded in replacing most of my tapes on CD (although still incomplete; I need a copy of Live Fast, Die Fast by Wolfsbane, and Phenomenon 1).  All my tapes were redundant, and I gave her boxes and boxes full of them.

God knows where those tapes are now.  I doubt she took them back home to Thunder Bay when it was all over, they probably ended up in a landfill.  No big loss really, the only shame of it is that, like T-Rev, I used to make a lot of my own custom artwork.

Mrs. LeBrain and I were visiting her mom yesterday, and I found some of my old Beatles tapes that I had made, at her place!  Her dad drove a delivery van with nothing but a tape deck inside.  He was more than happy to receive my old Beatles tapes, and he loved them.  And there they were, still at the house, complete with my computer generated J-cards.  Nothing elaborate, although I did paste the cover for Abbey Road onto that tape.

This inspired me to dig through some boxes here, and see if I had any of my own tapes left.  Surely there must be something here, with some of my own custom cover art!  There was just a handful left, stuff that I wouldn’t have parted with at the time, and lo and behold, there was my old artwork.  These sure brought back memories!

Back in the early record store days, cassette was my primary medium.  They were portable, you could leave them in the car and not worry about them getting banged up, so I recorded everything onto cassette.  It wasn’t until I had left the record store in 2006 that I got my first car with a CD deck.  Before then, I had one of those adapter kits to play a discman in the car, but it sounded shite.  I was glad to find the following treasures tucked away in a box!

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Ahh, Spinal Tap.  A Spinal Tap Reunion was recorded from a 1992 TV special.  Unavailable on DVD today, as far as I know.  That’s a shame.

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I bought Grande Rock by The Hellacopters on vinyl, to get that bonus track “Angel Dust”.  Or, more accurately, one of my record store compatriots got it for me at Orange Monkey Music in Waterloo.  I dutifully recorded it to cassette without making elaborate packaging, but I did put some effort into the cassette spine.

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You Fat Bastards by Faith No More was the full show that was released on CD in truncated form on the Live at the Brixton Academy CD.  This was from a VHS release.

Guns N’ Roses did a couple cool TV specials.  I recorded Live at the Ritz off T-Rev, who stuck on some demos for bonus tracks.  The cover was made by adapting an old Appetite For Destruction J-card.  I think this turned out pretty cool.  Invade Paris! was a TV special from 1992.

These two Maiden tapes were from VHS releases.  It’s a shame that Raising Hell was never released on a CD.  Here’s hoping the band will put that out on a future box set.  It was Bruce’s “final” show.  I just edited out the crap sections with “magician” Simon Drake.   Maiden England is also taken from VHS, but this is the full show.  The CD release omitted two songs:  “Can I Play With Madness”, and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.  My cassette didn’t!  I thought my J-card for Maiden England turned out pretty cool, using an old Seventh Son cover as its basis.

Unfortunately, this is all that remains of my old cassette art.  I did some much more elaborate things, which Thunder Bay Girl probably tossed out.  One was for Savatage’s Dead Winter Dead.  When I recorded that one to cassette, I actually painted the gargoyle onto a J-card.  Wish I kept that one.  Rush’s Test For Echo may have been the most elaborate one I’ve done.  Using some old cardboard and a full-page ad for the album, I created my own digipack for that cassette.  It would be nice to still have.  Ahh well.

It seems funny, in today’s age of mp3 files and players, that a format as crappy as cassette was anyone’s main format.  But there you go.  Before I could play CD’s in the car, they were the best way to bring music with me.  I’ve always believed a music collection was for showing off as much as listening to, plus I enjoyed making the artwork.  I’m glad some still survives today!