OK, so Axl Rose, despite plenty o' time in the studio, can't seem to come up with any daring and dirty ditties he's happy with ("Oh My God" being the only exception). And the status of the original members of Guns N' Roses seems to be an ever-evolving muddle. But now the ultimate naughty boys have approved a live CD, a greatest hits of sorts, replete with noisy hand-claps, loud cheers, and loads of Axl's favorite expletives.
You may be wondering what's the difference between Live Era '87-'93 and their studio stuff. Not all that much, besides the aforementioned sound effects and special new words. But don't despair. While it may not inspire young hipsters to smash up their Basement Jaxx, tease up their hair, and see how high they can make their voices go while looking menacing but pretty, it's still a rocking good trip down memory lane.
Guns N' Roses shocked most of the music establishment when the band's debut, Appetite for Destruction, zoomed into #1 a year after the album's unheralded release once the deliciously tender "Sweet Child O' Mine" hit heavy rotation on MTV. Forget about the Hollywood glam sluts -- suddenly housewives across America wanted to get with Axl. And it was no fluke that put these dudes at the top of the rock pile, either. They had attitude oozing out of their pretty tattooed arms, not to mention a few other often inappropriately exposed areas. They could actually play their instruments and, let's face it, they had a way with a good melody. These hard rockers could suddenly shift into something that would make your mother swoon ("Rocket Queen") or an all-out tearjerker ("Patience" or "Don't Cry"). Not your usual heavy metal formula.
Guns N' Roses is nothing if not a truly awesome live band. Their performances, from the Cathouse to Madison Square Garden, have always been full of attitude, attitude, attitude, their fair share of talent, and the odd kick of humor. As their success grew, so did their stage show, culminating in the Use Your Illusion Tour, with Axl's Elton John-esque piano blossoming magically from the floorboards and scantily clad backup singers, no doubt stealing many a male eye from the scantily clad lead singer. But, as with fellow headliners Metallica, they also grew more professional in their presentation, so that while they were rocking hard, there was always the underlying sense of a Broadway production. At this moment, this twinkles; at that moment, that implodes. Not that they didn't do it well, just that they inevitably lost some of the spunk and sass and hunger that had won them a place in lonely metal hearts in the first place. Shame.
There's little on Live Era that will give you new insight into Guns N' Roses. The songs that were catchy before are still catchy, which is just about all of them. But there are few new twists and turns. There's a truly moving version of "Don't Cry" where Axl's voice sounds much gentler and softer than the studio version, perhaps because he's missing his co-singer, the late Shannon Hoon. "Patience" goes up a notch in the "ridiculously beautiful song" category with some harp-like guitar strumming from Slash. Axl's patented falsetto can be a little trying at times, but when he drops the register for numbers such as "It's So Easy," or "Yesterdays" his indelibly catchy vocal riffs really grab you. "Welcome to the Jungle" rocks righteously, but how can you mess that one up? The only non-G 'N R song on the double-disc set is Black Sabbath's "It's Alright," which Axl sings while plinking along on piano. It slows things down for a minute, is quite lovely, and leads beautifully into "November Rain." If it's possible for "November Rain" to be more epic than it already is, well, then it is. It clocks in at a thundering 12 minutes, 29 seconds. And the crowd goes crazy.
You'll find all your favorites here with maybe the exception of the portentous "Civil War" and the slamming "Get in the Ring." The second CD, which is hot pink, is tighter and rocks harder than the first, which is bright blue. Never one to be camera shy, there are scads of photographs on the sleeves documenting Axl's transformation from teased-out hair and police hats to biker shorts and bandanas. All in all, it's a good listen. With so many shows to choose from (they toured Use Your Illusion for a record 28 months) each selection is solid, though not always as passionate as you know these boys can be.
Perhaps this is Axl's peace offering while he continues to labor away in the studio on who knows what. Perhaps it's a way to add a little cash to the Guns N' Roses coffers. Perhaps, after so many years of therapy, it's a way for Axl to have a little closure on his tumultuous past so he can arrive at a place where, as he sings in "Yesterdays," "Yesterday's got nothin' for me." But for those of us who loved these dudes the first time around, Live Era has got plenty for us. Geffen.
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