"Live Era '87'93" reviews

Guns N' Roses - Live Era '87 - '93

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Guns N' Roses' W. Axl Rose may not have the best sense of time, letting nearly six years go between official releases, but his sense of timing is ingenious. Just weeks after infuriating die-hard fans with the aggro "Oh My God" from the End of Days soundtrack, he reminds them, with Live Era '87-'93, a double disc of potent nostalgia, that he was, and most likely is and will be, the best frontman in hard rock history. It's a cheap, foolproof way to tweak a cynic's latent optimism with the unheard, oft-promised new studio effort Chinese Democracy in the wings, but damn if it doesn't work... and rock, kicking off with no less than four classics from Appetite for Destruction, the best of which, "Welcome to the Jungle," packing, if possible, even more menace than the original (as Axl shreiks "Do you know where the fuck you are? You're in the jungle, baby. Wake up! Time to di-yeeeeeeeeeee!").

It's the addition of Rose's notorious stage banter that elevates Live Era from oldies package to venerable documentary of a time when a band didn't have to work the crowd in Durst-at-Woodstock fashion to elicit danger. In fact, hearing Axl bitch, "Not to be an asshole but people up here are getting really fucking smashed. It's not too cool. So how about starting from the back... everybody take a step back. Can we get a little house lights?" before "It's So Easy," coupled with the new video for "...Jungle," cut with footage of everything from the Rodney King beating to Monica Lewinsky, does much to remind us what potent prophets of doom GNR really were. Imagine Limp Bizkit introducing "Nookie" as a song about "when your girlfriend or your boyfriend is a pain in the ass and you just wish you could cut their fucking head off and stick it in a bag and bury it in your backyard," today (as Axl does, prefacing "I Used to Love Her but I Had to Kill Her"). It turns our current crop of bad asses to straw, doesn't it? Who else but GNR could make something this rank seem so refreshing?

"Recorded across the Universe between 1987 and 1993," Live Era offers the fan (and the kids who were too young to see them in their prime) more than just a history lesson. It's well mixed, well chosen (even Use Your Illusion-era duds like "Dust and Bones," are given new life within this context), and never, never boring. Even the Bic-friendly numbers like GN'R Lies' "Patience," and Illusion 2's epic "Estranged," which off record risk being snoozy if you're not there in the moment with your best girl and favorite bandanna, resonate with emotion. The Axl-at-the-piano segments, Live Era's one "new" track, a gorgeous cover of Black Sabbath's "It's Alright," and "November Rain," put the power in power ballad.

Culling material from both their night club days ("Move to the City") with core members Axl, Slash, Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin, and Steven Addler, to stadium tours when the band (with replacement members Matt Sorum, and Gilby Clarke rather bitchily referred to as "additional musicians") took a horn section and back up singers with them before imploding from the weight, Era is refreshingly streamlined. Only a bitch, I mean a Grinch, would scoff at the inclusion of the audience participation during "Knockin' on Heaven's Door's" bridge, and "Rocket Queen's" extended, funky intro in which Axl encourages the headbangers to "dance to this shit." Sure, few songs are improved upon, (although "You Could Be Mine," sounds more organic and human, and "Don't Cry," less melodramatic, "Sweet Child O'Mine," is a straight-up stepchild of the studio classic) but that's not the point. With the inclusion of their standard encore "Paradise City," at Live Era's end, the project's reason to exist is clear: to move a lot of units this Christmas, but also, to remind us of a time when everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky... when the grass was a little greener and the girls were a little prettier... and, with the Phantom of the Opera ready to return for Act Two, to herald the arrival, we hope, of a once and future king. So... Your Highness... where do we go now?

Marc Spitz (mspitz@spinmag.com)



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Copyright © 1999 Jarmo Luukkonen