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