Sunday, March 30, 2008

Monday Music Post - Guns & Roses Ritz 88

Revelation: That's the only word for these clips of Appetite era GNR absolutely destroying the Ritz in 1988.

Welcome to the Jungle:

I was too young to catch the first wave of GNR; by the time I picked up a copy of Appetite Axl had already achieved stage 5 paranoia and was beginning the long road to the top of the mountain known as Chinese Democracy (climb on, W. Axl!). It's pretty well assumed at this point that Appetite is a classic, so no need to belabor that point. It is. To a kid in high school, it's almost impossible to imagine a better, more appropriate album, unless that album is the Violent Femmes debut. Appetite is what any scrawny high school boy worth his salt wishes life is like, "Kiss Off" pretty accurately captures what life is actually like.

In any case, my conception of "live GNR" was a large void, since there was no such thing as I listened to their music. And then, later, all it meant was weird quasi-GNR shows with Fat Axl and Tommy Stinson on bass, which was weird to me, because all of the rock and roll reference materials that I greedily consumed held the Replacements up as the stylistic flag bearers of the underground. Which is totally bullshit I realized later because the Replacements made every attempt to sell out possible; it's just that no one was buying. GNR, on the other hand, succeeded spectacularly. Axl's dilemma, in some ways, is understandable. In chess, as D'Angelo observed, the king stay the king, but the top of the charts knows no loyalty to royalty. There's no way for a single off of Chinese Democracy to achieve the dizzying heights of November Rain in the hip-hop era, so why bother trying? If the game is rigged, do not play.

So to see the Gunners young and hungry, before all the accumulated sludge of crushing fame ground them to powder is a revelation. Hell, Slash doesn't even has his top hat yet! This is a transcendent rock show, and I'm slightly in disbelief that it was filmed. This is a band that anyone could fall in love with, a band playing incredible, timeless songs with the energy of 1,000 firecrackers detonating inside of a trashcan. Axl propelled by the spirit of Indiana, young, skinny, hungry, and devastating.

For all of the pleasures of this performance (and they are legion), a profound sense of melancholy suffuses them. Listening to Axl introduce Slash with the obvious pride of a driven man showing off a friend whose abilities have the power to astound, it's impossible not to be taken with the goodwill and camaraderie emanating from Rose. "I don't know what it is, but it's weird, it's pissed off, and it calls itself Slash," he intones, once and forever revealing himself as the first brick in the foundation of Slash's legend. To know that later the same man will sue to get the rights to the name "Guns 'N' Roses" and replace the entire band in this clip with ringers? To know that in the reconstituted zombie GNR the half-man, half-beast that calls itself Slash will be replaced by a man that refuses to perform without a KFC chicken bucket on his head is a tragedy.

Not to say that without all that success things would have turned out for the better. After all, the afore-mentioned Replacements were torn asunder six ways to Sunday without a top 10 hit to their name. And maybe Axl was simply destined to lose his shit at some point in his adult life. And certainly the drugs didn't help. But with Frank Black and Kim Deal able to bury the hatchet, and J. Mascis and Lou Barlow able do the same, and Paul Westerberg having stopped drinking and come to a charmingly friendly/crotchety beloved uncle status, it's both depressing and thrilling to watch GNR perform as a band, 5 guys united by an unshakable belief in an unbeatable set of songs, and to know that Axl is only 6 or 7 years away from getting fat, getting dreads, and turning his back on the people that helped make us even care about him in the first place.

But good Lord, the leather pants, and the dancing. The man was born to be a rock star, and he did it. And watching GNR at the Ritz 88, one conclusion to draw is that it couldn't have happened any other way.


Anonymous said...

Axl is damn lucky to have Tommy Stinson

Croz said...

Yeah, I agree. What I meant was that I didn't understand at first why Tommy would even want to play GNR songs because the critical mass positions the Replacements as punk anti-establishment types. Musically speaking, though, the Replacements sound like they're gunning for rock radio (in a good way), so it makes more sense to me why Tommy would want to be in Axl's band (aside from the $, which I'm sure are nice too - not being sarcastic).

Kenny said...

A true pleasure to listen to you write sir. In a way GnR is just the embodiment of the 80s, groping to be as big and iconic as the 70s but ultimately tearing itself asunder through 80s vices of excess without consequences and 'I'm the best' mentality. It's like reading American Psycho without the skull-fucking.