Guns N’ Roses Returns to The Ritz (Webster Hall)
Band Photo: Guns N Roses (?)
I never got to see Guns N’ Roses at the height of their "Appetite For Destruction" days or the riot filled multi-year long "Use Your Illusion" tour. Lots of reasons, lots of stories, one revolves around running a car off a highway, another was stopping at a casino; ALL ended in not having enough money (this part of my life was sponsored by Busch Light beer) or finding that all the tickets were sold out. As the years passed by, Axl and the new band spent most of their time away from the states, until recent months when Guns N’ Roses embarked on a North America tour. Now it was a matter of seeing the “new” band in a large stadium or arena. I just wasn’t feeling it. Then I heard Guns was returning to The Ritz.
Looking back, in 1988, Guns N’ Roses, by most standards were on the verge of “blowing up”, and the set list for The Ritz was mostly made up of songs from their Appetite For Destruction album. The show was recorded by MTV and was part of a Saturday Night series. To this day the performance GN’R gave that night in New York’s East Village is legendary, displaying the energy and ferociousness that would make them famous and keep pre-internet bootleggers in business for years to come.
Last month Guns N’ Roses announced they would be doing a series of club dates, three in New York City, two shows (Roseland Ballroom, Terminal 5) prior to their return to what is now named Webster Hall (formerly The Ritz.) I’ll admit initial mixed feelings and low expectations. My first thought was what time will Axl take the stage? This was a Wednesday night after all, a school night. Okay, so I’m 37 and don’t have school, but I have a job and don’t have until 2a.m. to stand around and hope Axl Rose shows up. Trepidation turned to excitement when I peeked at the set list from the Roseland Ballroom and saw that the new Guns N’ Roses opened the show with “Welcome To The Jungle”, “It’s So Easy”, and “Mr. Brownstone.” My plan was to show up around 11 and hope for a midnight start time.
It was 11:58p.m. when the opening chords from “Chinese Democracy” hit, followed by the appetite trifecta mentioned earlier. Something was very clear early on and it was a surprise to me. BREAKING NEWS: Axl Rose can still sing his ass off! I wasn’t expecting this. Rose has been known to struggle with his voice at times, but in person, this night? Wow, actually a guy next to me put it best, “brother still brings it like a mother fucker!” Took the words right out of my mouth.
The band is not the original lineup, I believe this has been established; however, the current band is tight. In addition to Axl, the lineup includes D.J. Ashba (guitar), Richard Fortus (guitar), Bumblefoot (guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass), Frank Ferrer (drums), Dizzy Reed (piano, keyboards), and Chris Pitman (keyboards). They blaze through the Appetite For Destruction riffs and ballads with ease, in many cases, putting their own stamp on timeless classics. Not much was left out of the set list this particular evening. Rose played most of the songs from the Appetite For Destruction album as well as several songs from the Use Your Illusion albums including “Live and Let Die”, “November Rain”, “Civil War”, “You Could Be Mine”, and “Estranged.” Throw in a couple covers and the band still made time for “Street of Dreams”, “This I Love”, and “Sorry” from Chinese Democracy. Surprise songs (based on previous set lists) included “Shackler’s Revenge”, a slowed down version of “You’re Crazy”, “Used To Love Her”, and the Elvis Presley cover “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Other highlights included: 1. The several thirty-something Jersey guys who felt fist pumping was appropriate (than you douche bags.) 2. A polarizing guitar solo (thank you D.J. Ashba.) 3. The vocals on “This I Love” (thank you Axl Rose.) 4. The “Baba O’Riley” piano solo (thank you Dizzy Reed.) 5. The comedy of a five gallon cowboy hat worn during “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (thank you again, Axl Rose.)
Fist pumping aside, the crowd fueled the band/the band fueled the crowd with energy that seemed endless. Of course I did see three guys (one bleeding) get carried out by security guards. It was unclear whether they were intoxicated or knocked out cold, or both. A long encore was capped by “Patience” and “Paradise City”, it was 3:05 in the morning when Guns finished their 30 plus song set. After, the crowd dispersed onto New York City’s 11th street with Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” playing over the speakers.
I left thinking about the recent news (via BBC website) report quoting Dizzy Reed that all of the original members of Guns N’ Roses are planning to attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Will they perform together? What about the current lineup? Are these club shows a public relations move for Axl? He has been with some of the new members longer than the original lineup; maybe he will insist on only playing with his current band. Maybe Rose is just a fan of New York Fashion week. One thing is for certain (as with most things related to Guns N’ Roses): Only Axl Rose has the answer and right now Axl is keeping it under his hat, even if that may be a five gallon cowboy hat.
Welcome To The Jungle
It’s So Easy
Guns N’ Rose Live at The Ritz – 1988 (complete show)
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