slash

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: Def Leppard – Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert (1992)

Part Fourteen of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – A Concert For Life – Tribute to Freddie Mercury (Wembley Stadium, 20 April 1992)

Metallica had come and blown the crowd of 72,000 away.  Extreme impressed the skeptics with a Queen medley.   Live broadcast to 50 countries, there was no pressure at all on Def Leppard!  The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was only the biggest show of 1992.  And they had a new member to show off.

The band had given their new guitarist an easy warm up at a club gig at home in Ireland.  But his first high profile show would be the biggest imaginable.  Without an introduction, out walked former Sweet Savage / Dio / Whitesnake / Riverdogs / Shadow King guitarist Vivian Campbell!

What a choice!  There he was with his new band, completely confident and nailing “Animal”.  In his Union Jack jeans, Joe Elliott bounced on the massive stage, working the crowd without missing a note.  After a brief pause, he then asked the throbbing mass of people, “Do you wanna get rocked?”

It was the first major live outing of a brand new Def Leppard hit.  Hamming for the camera, Vivian ably handles the backing vocals, adding more depth to the live Leppard sound.  The late Steve Clark didn’t sing as many backing vocals, and Viv was a natural.  The crowd ate it up, fists in the air and digging the new tune.  One of the coolest moments is the solo, in which Phil Collen’s picking hand turns into a blur.

One more tune.  And then an even bigger moment:  Brian May himself joined Def Leppard for a cover of Queen’s “Now I’m Here”!  (This track was later included on the 2 CD Adrenalize deluxe edition.)  Of course we all awaited the guitar solo.  Viv went first (introduced by Joe for the first time), and Phil took the second solo.  They really made ’em wait for Brian May!  It was, of course, not May’s first time with Def Leppard.

Even bigger things were in store for the Wembley Crowd as day turned to night.  Queen emerged, playing a long set of classics with a series of incredible guest singers.  And Joe got to open their set, with Slash on guest guitar.  With one of his very favourite bands, Joe got to sing “Tie Your Mother Down”.  And nailed it.

The big question for Leppard fans was “who could possibly replace Steve Clark?”  In Vivian Campbell, they selected a guy who could play with both feel and shred, as well as write songs and sing.  The personalities worked.  The ironic thing is, post-Dio, Vivian had been seen as something of a “hired gun” guitar player.  Would he last in Def Leppard?  In his early interviews, he insisted that he was always looking for a band situation that he could stay in for life.  It turns out that Def Leppard was that band.

Club gig aside, the Freddie Mercury tribute concert was Vivian’s real trial by fire.  It was obvious the band had made the right choice.  Nobody could truly “replace” Steve Clark as the band’s in-house riffmaster.  Vivian helped Leppard evolve into the 1990s.  On with the tour!  Leppard might not have been the biggest rock band in the world anymore, but they rocked 72,000 people, plus millions more at home worldwide.  Not too shabby.

5/5 stars

MuchMusic broadcast the whole show, and then did a repeat performance of the entire thing at night.  It was then that I set my VCR and taped the entire broadcast, with Erica Ehm’s interviews with various bands, including Def Leppard.  Wembley were treated to Queen videos on massive screens in between bands, and those videos are also part of the broadcast.  MuchMusic’s feed was superior to MTV.  I was in Frankenmuth, Michigan mere days later at the end of final exams, watching MTV.  Our coverage was better.  The complete show has never been officially released in any format.

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize

Next:

15.  Retro-Active

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

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)

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

Storytime With Ryan Williams, Studio Wiz!

Great show today!  John from 2loud2oldmusic brought on engineer/mixer/musician/songwriter Ryan Williams for storytime.  Though his credits range from pop to metal, we tended to focus our discussion on rock and roll.  If you’re a fan of Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Slayer, Staind, U2, Phil Collen of Def Leppard, Limp Bizkit, Velvet Revolver, Dave Navarro, or Kelly Clarkson then you’ll want to check this show out.

From starting out in Atlanta, to travelling the world recording epic performances, Ryan Williams has seemingly seen it all and done it all.  Recording music on a Tascam 4-track home studio, graduating to two synced 24-tracks machines, to the modern tools of today, Ryan has kept learning.  We talked about his beginnings, and working with Brendan O’Brien, all the way to the present day and the imminent release of a Stone Temple Pilots box set for Tiny Music.  Ryan even had a little bit of show and tell with some hand-written original Eddie Vedder lyrics.

Great show all around and thank you for watching.

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

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (2020 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Ordinary Man (2020 Epic Japanese import)

Expectations were low at LeBrain HQ for a new album by Ozzy Osbourne.  In that regard, Ozzy delivered.  Ordinary Man is an ordinary album.  It is Hard Rock 2020 distilled down to 50 minutes.  Nothing on this album comes close to challenging anything from the first six Ozzy albums.  It’s most comparable to 2001’s Down to Earth, an overly-modern affair put together by suits.

This time out, the suits assembled a band consisting of Duff McKagan (GN’R) on bass, Chad Smith (RHCP) on drums, and Andrew Watt (California Breed) on guitar.   These guys, plus a smattering of strangers, are responsible for the songwriting.  The melodies are very deliberate and calculated rather than natural sounding.  While things with Zakk Wylde were getting stale, at least Zakk tried to keep Ozzy on track.  I’m not sure Ozzy is on track here.  “I’ll make you scream, I’ll make you defecate.”  Who wrote that?

The glossy production covers up some pretty stellar playing.  Watt is fantastic when soloing, but sounds a bit like he’s trying to ape the Zakk vibe.  In the vocals department, you can hear some telltale signs of autotune, which I guess is OK now in 2020.  If Paul Stanley can lipsynch live and get away with it, then Ozzy can autotune his albums.  I suppose.

Some of the better tracks include the ballads, and the surprising “Scary Little Green Men”.  This one features some awesome lickity-licks from Tom Morello.  Slash appears elsewhere, not sounding at all like Slash.  The single “Under the Graveyard” is not bad.  The worst track has to be “It’s a Raid”, possibly an outtake from Blink 182’s Neighborhoods CD.

Elton John sings on one track, and it’s not bad at all, sounding like a classic Ozzy ballad from the 1990s.  I didn’t recognise Reginald Dwight’s voice at first.  It’s deeper these days.  Regarding Post Malone, he’s fine, has a decent voice albeit also autotuned.  I don’t know what the guy sounds like without enhancement, but he sounds like he’s probably a better singer than Ozzy recently.  I could do without his song “Take What You Want”, but at least the Japanese edition of the album ends on a better note.  A blues track called “Darkside Blues” is brief, but actually sounds like something more real, more genuine.

Think about your favourite Ozzy albums.  How often to do you spin Blizzard, Diary, or Tears?  Now think about how often you play Down to Earth, Black Rain, and Scream.  In two years’ time, you’ll be spinning Ordinary Man about as often as Black Rain, but you won’t be getting Wylde.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (Super Deluxe 2018)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Appetite For Destruction (Originally 1987, 2018 Universal 4 CD/1 Blu-ray super deluxe edition)

Of course Axl Rose would be late for his own 30th anniversary.  And why not?  This set obviously took time to prepare for release so it’s better we have something that is not rushed out.

As Appetite is one of the most influential rock albums of all time, a super deluxe expanded edition is expected by now.  This album launched a million bands back in the 80s and 90s, most of whom looked and sounded like knockoffs.  Now you can deconstruct the album and hear how simple the formula actually was.  (Liberal doses of Aerosmith with punk sprinkled on top.)

The first disc in this well-stuffed box set is the 5.1 Blu-ray.  Why just listen in stereo when you can go full-bore with a surround sound mix?

This disc answers that question.  It’s because you can tinker too much with a 5.1 mix, and come out with something that is too different for a beloved classic original like Appetite.  This album was the roughest sounding thing Guns ever released.  Unfortunately the 5.1 mix sounds clean.  Too clean.  An artefact of not having to cram all that music into just two channels?

“Welcome to the Jungle’s” guitars come from behind.  Slowly turning, Axl surrounds you.  Then the mix plays it straight, though backing vocals are more prominent.  Hear Steven Adler’s reckless abandon up close and personal, the ride cymbal like his accelerated heartbeat.

It’s a good mix but some will find it too gimmicky and inconsistent, with guitars and vocals jabbing you unexpectedly from here and there.  It varies from song to song and it’s all a matter of taste.  You want to hear the 5.1 mix, but not so much that it changes parts of what you liked in a song.  Some tracks are a mixture of both approaches.  The intro to “Paradise City” is immaculately layered and laid out around you.  Then things consolidate when it’s time to rock.  Man, can you hear those guitars though!  Every Les Paul can be noted clearly and separately in your mind.  So can every vocal track; and there are a few.

There are even 5.1 bonus tracks.  “Shadow of Your Love” is one of them, being the big song they were promoting for this box set. “Patience” benefits from the 5.1 re-examination.  It’s a gimmick-free mix with sparse arrangement that sounds natural and familiar — like a band jamming on acoustics in a room with you.  This makes it the best one on the whole disc.  Even “Used to Love Her” has more prominent differences from the stereo mix, as does the acoustic “You’re Crazy”.  The last bonus track is “Move to the City”, also acoustic, and sounding like a big party jam.

Finally the Blu-ray disc includes all the music videos and even one for “It’s So Easy” that was made just for them and not MTV!  It could be the first documented appearance of Axl Rose in a kilt.

Unfortunately the 5.1 mix will most likely get less play than the good old stereo version, remastered on CD 1.  What can be said about Appetite for Destruction that hasn’t been said before?  All that sonic power is on the verge of overload in just two channels.  If you imagine yourself back in 1987, you can hear why this album made the impact it did.  It steered rock and roll back into a less cartoony, more dangerous direction.  Classic single after classic single still command the airwaves today.  In an unlikely twist, the back-to-basics, loose guitars of Slash and Izzy Stradlin are studied now like old Stones riffs.

The second CD (“B-Sides N’ EPs”) is brimming with extra value.  Most of the followup EP, GNR Lies is included…all except “One In A Million”, that is, which Axl promised he’d delete approximately 20 years ago.  With that EP still in print, nobody misses the track here.  Adding the Lies material as bonus tracks is cheating a little bit, but I suppose that EP was part of the Appetite album cycle.  Even though one track is deleted, the Lies stuff is expanded with bonus songs.  A sharp “live” version of “Shadow of Your Love” follows “Mama Kin”.  There’s also an alternate acoustic take of “You’re Crazy”.  Once you’re past the acoustic songs including “Patience” you’ll get some vintage live B-sides.  “It’s So Easy” is more vicious than the original, and sounds really live unlike the previous Lies songs like “Nice Boys”.  The rare “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” is especially cool since it’s pre-Dizzy Reed and has no piano.  Otherwise the style of the eventual Illusions version is sketched out, right down to the “high, yai, yai yai yai” vocals.  Last on the CD is the live cover of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie”, foreshadowing Axl’s future as frontman of the Australian institution.  This classic version has been heavily bootlegged, but remastered on CD, it sounds so fresh.

The final two discs are all unreleased sessions from the legendary Sound City (and other studios).  Most of the Appetite songs are present in demo form but some, like “It’s So Easy”, “Brownstone” and “Sweet Child” are not.  The shape of the album was already arranged down to most of the guitar solos.  It’s less frantic and more rehearsed but it’s there in very close to final shape.  Elements that wouldn’t make the final cut, like some of Axl’s scatting a-la Steven Tyler on “Jungle”, are here to examine.  In the 1970s these Sound City sessions would have been good enough to release as an album!  In the 80s, they needed Mike Clink to make the album stand out and they did that.

Non-album material is here a-plenty.  The Sound City version of “Shadow of Your Love” on CD 3 is the B-side from the old “Live and Let Die” CD single, my personal favourite version for its reckless abandon.  The cleaner one on CD 4 is the one released as a single in 2018.  Then there’s a trashy punk metal version of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” which could have been a fine B-side as well.  “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on CD 3 is faster and different from the familiar bootlegged version (still unreleased).

The 4th CD is a mixed bag of demo sessions and unreleased songs, jams and acoustic versions.  Instrumental “Ain’t Going Down No More” sounds like an Aerosmith outtake riff, with cowbell out the wazoo.  “The Plague” has vocals but it’s quite clear why it was never released.  It could be the worst Guns N’ Roses song heard yet.  “New Work Tune” is just an acoustic riff that didn’t make it into anything.  There are, however, a couple tunes that did.  “Back Off Bitch” was reworked on Use Your Illusions, as was “November Rain”.  This old demo of “Back Off Bitch” is probably better than the final version because that’s Steven Adler on drums.  “November Rain” is particularly interesting because it’s present in both acoustic and piano forms.  You can hear how the song grew, but also that it wasn’t ready yet.

Three more versions of “Move to the City” (electric and two acoustic) are here in case you ever wanted a studio version of that song.  There are also studio takes of “Mama Kin” and “Reckless Life”.  It’s a bit much in terms of repeat, but at least all the versions are notably different from each other.  You’ll also have to hear an acoustic “You’re Crazy” one more time, but “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is pretty cool and jam-like in acoustic form.

A box set at this price point always has paper extras inside:  replica posters, tickets, even Axl temporary tattoos.  Nothing of any particular value.  There are some posters and glossy photo prints.  There is even a reprint of the original controversial Robert WIlliams artwork.  What are you going to do with all this stuff? You’re not going to tape it to your walls. You’ll keep it safe and unseen in the box, of course.  That’s why it’s valueless to most of us.  There is also a massive hard cover photo book, in which you’ll find the CDs and Blu-ray.  It’s light on text but heavy on glossy photos and memorabilia scans.  (Within those scans, there’s plenty to read.)

The super deluxe Appetite For Destruction is of value to those who are going to listen to and appreciate all the different versions inside.  The 5.1 mix is disappointing but there will be those who love how different it sounds.  It’s not easy to consume all five discs in quick succession, but these bot sets rarely are.

4/5 stars