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