Tag Archives: Guns ‘N Roses

Axl Rose On Jimmy Kimmel: My (Delayed) Reaction

I understand that this is now old news at this point, but I’ve been unable to write about Axl Rose’s recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.  Part of the reason was that I was horribly stranded in New York City during the recent super-storm/clusterfuck.  But another part was my brain’s slowed reaction to the appearance.

Axl was appropriate for the entire interview, except for his stupid hat.

On one hand, I found Axl’s first major TV interview to be a colossal disappointment and a great relief.  It was disappointing because Axl looks like someone’s bloated dad.  Look, I’m a fat, nerdy music writer so I can say it:  Axl used to be a rock adonis, and now he’s pudgy old guy.  The hat was also stupid.  I know it’s not cool to be balding or whatever is going on under that hat…but for crying out loud Axl, that hat makes you look insane.  It’s easy for me to say own your baldness when I still have a head full of hair, but I think it’s pretty vain when rock stars refuse to take off their hats/headbands.  You know who my all-time rockstar hair hero is? James Taylor.  James Taylor went bald and took it like a man. He didn’t bother with any coverup or conspiracy, he was like “this is what my head looks like.”  Kids today might not think it ballsy but there was a time when James Taylor was known for his giant mane of hair.  He wasn’t a hair-metal guy by any stretch, but he did have nice hair.

Enjoy all that sexy hair, 1970’s James Taylor, cos it won’t last…

But I digress. This post is not about hair.

So Axl’s gotten old, I can deal with that.  The bigger disappointment was also the thing that gave me tremendous relief: Axl Rose wasn’t insane or weird (hat not withstanding).  He was plainspoken, friendly, and engaged in talking with Jimmy Kimmel.  Kimmel even made a point of saying how surprised he was that Axl was talking to him during the interview.  The pictures of Axl’s Halloween Tree and his story about how he likes to see kids freak out when they see it was cool.  Some might say that the critical and commercial failure of CHINESE DEMOCRACY has humbled Rose, and that’s why the man we see is so down-to-earth and normal.  But I don’t see it that way.  The way I see it, Axl without all the bullshit is just a normal dude like you or me.

I’m sad that he wasn’t bizarre and we didn’t get some crazy sound bytes out of the appearance–but mostly I’m glad to see that Axl isn’t the douchebag the media have portrayed him to be.  On a side side note, I was glad to see The Whigs perform later on in the episode (I’ve seen them live a few times and they’re awesome) but I was REALLY REALLY sad that Guns ‘N Roses didn’t play a song instead.  How awesome would that have been?

Lastly, the reason we got this odd bit of Axl publicity: the Vegas shows.  Had I not just spent all my money and remaining vacation time stranded in NYC, I think I’d actually go out and catch one of the GNR Vegas shows.  In a perfect world, the last show of the band’s month-long stand would be televised or streamed online AND we’d get a Live Album released next year.  But the reality is: after these shows, the US probably won’t see Axl or Guns ‘N Roses for a while.  Maybe I’m wrong, I hope I am.

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Guns N’ Roses: The Pinball Game

Last night I was at The Firebird (downtown St. Louis) seeing Nashville-rockers The Features with The Sun and The Sea.  I really like The Features and should probably do a write-up on them sometime…

Anyway, I looked over during The Sun and The Sea’s set, and what did my eyes spy? A Guns N’ Roses pinball machine!  Ignoring everything I made a bee-line for the machine to check it out, and boy was it cool!

The machine’s game board had a really nice/ludicrous theme of roses, guns, and snakes.  But what was really cool was that it had two plungers (the thing that releases the balls) one was the butt of a handgun and another that looked like a rose.

Awesome! My birthday’s in two weeks, you all now know what to get me.  

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Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: All-Time Greatest Front-Man

Sometimes there are questions too big for one man. Sometimes, in the search for ultimate truth, we must seek the guidance of others. And then there are times when one wants to increase traffic to one’s blog by actively seeking participation of one’s small readership by stoking the fires of eternal debate…

Yes friends, it’s time to review the lastest statistical disaster I like to call my HIGHLY-UNSCIENTIFIC ROCK POLL!  It’s been a while since this poll was conducted, sorry that it took so long for me to get my act together but I had some stuff come up and I wasn’t able to devote myself to DEFENDING AXL ROSE like I should have/like to. I knew that this poll would be controversial but I didn’t know just HOW near and dear Rock Frontmen were to people’s hearts. What makes a good font-man?  He (or she) has to be charismatic in addition to being a good singer/performer.  A good front-man is like an ambassador for his/her band.  Musicians can be pretty difficult to get along with and some of the best technical players are completely unable to connect with human beings–and that’s where a front-man comes in.  Unlike just about every other part of a band, a front-man is really hard to replace  (more on that later). Anyway, I opened Pandora’s box and asked DEFENDING AXL ROSE’s followers “Who is the All-Time Greatest Front-Man?”  Here are the results:

8, 7, and 6 (no votes) Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, and Kurt Cobain:  Honestly, these were all solid choices and the fact that MICK JAGGER got ZERO votes should tell you how cut-throat this poll was.  Jagger pretty much came to define the classic rock front-man: the swagger, the bat-shit crazy dance moves, the delivery. Roger Daltrey is another excellent “classic” front-man in the same tradition as Mick Jagger.  The Who was an explosive band (literally, go ask Pete Townshend about how explosive they were–if he can hear you) and to front a band like The Who was no easy task.  More than just being a rocker, Daltrey paved the way for more theatrical front-men when The Who started doing rock operas. Kurt Cobain was the most modern front-man on the list and as such, Cobain’s role in Nirvana was much different than tossing his hair and strutting around like a rooster.  Cobain helped popularize the “tortured” front-man.  By making himself less accessible to fans, Cobain drew us all in closer.  That’s very different from Jagger’s chicken-dancing.  Still, as awesome and important as these front-men were (seriously, try to picture their respective bands without them) they got no love from my poll-takers.

3. (TIE one vote each) Axl Rose, Robert Plant, and Lemmy Kilmister: I bet you thought I voted for Axl Rose, didn’t you?  Well as much as I love and respect Axl, I didn’t vote for him.   And from the way this poll panned out, not very many of you voted for him either.  Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s self-proclaimed “Golden God” only got one vote as did Motorhead’s fugly metal-head Lemmy Kilmister.  Lemmy and Mick Jagger are the only two front-men on this list that I’ve actually seen in person and let me tell you–Lemmy was waaay cooler in person.  He’s ugly, loud, brash and he know it. Robert Plant’s mellowed significantly over the years, so I can understand why many people don’t hold him in as high regard, but in his hey-day he was considered a force of nature.  Guitarist Jimmy Page has spent the past 30 years trying to find someone as dynamic as Plant to front his music–and he’s come up dry.

Axl. Axl, Axl, Axl…what happened?  He’s a bit like Mick Jagger mixed with Cobain’s stand-offishness, mixed with a gallon of gasoline and asshole.  I think he’s a brillant front-man but I think he shot himself in the foot with his inability to work well with others, a trait that every good front-man needs.  A front-man fronts a band, he doesn’t just represent himself–which Axl is often guilty of doing.

2.  Ozzy Osbourne (2 votes):  The Oz Man Commeth! I recently took a long car trip and one of the things I listened to was Ozzy-era Black Sabbath, what a band that was!   Ozzy’s great because he has fantastic range both vocally and the kinds of songs he can do–scary ass Satan songs? Check.  Whistful ballads? Check.  Rockin’ anthem? Check.  The bitting the heads off stuff sure helps, too.   He’s a legend of hard rock and I was not surprised he came in second.  There’s a reason he’s got an entire FESTIVAL named after him (he married a pushy ball-buster, I kid! I kid!).  There’s a (mostly complete) Black Sabbath reunion hitting the road right now and I would love to check them out.

Before I talk about the #1 I feel that I should acknowledge that there were a few requests that I add a few font-men, specifically Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame and Bono from U2.  I didn’t add these two because frankly, I’m not a Radiohead person (nothing wrong with them) and Bono slipped my mind.  Initially I wasn’t going to do anything but ignore these requests…then I thought about it and decided that what I would do is have another poll and then have the winners of each poll battle it out.

But that was before Freddie Mercury swept this poll.

#1. Freddie Mercury (13 votes): This doesn’t really surprise me.  When the topic of font-men come up, Freddie’s name always comes up.  You want charisma? Mercury had more than enough, he was oozing charisma.  Queen’s a awesome rock band because they were so many different things: gay/straight, operatic/balls-to-the-walls rocking, playful/dead serious–but despite their duality, they were always amazing.  How badass was Freddie Mercury?  He was still writing and recording music right up to his death.  How committed to his art was Freddie Mercury? Doctors told him for years to fix his overbite and he refused, he was worried correcting his teeth would change the sound of his voice.  That’s commitment.  That’ s love.  And you know what? He did it all for you, the listener.   If I was on my deathbed, you better believe this blog would be the last thing on my mind.  Freddie just wanted to make music and he did.  He complimented his bandmates and helped make them superstars. A few years ago, Queen re-formed and tried to solider on with Paul Rodgers, a legendary front-man in his own right (he was in Free and Bad Company).  How did that go?  Not so well…it wasn’t that Rodgers was bad–he just wasn’t Freddie Mercury.  Freddie Mercury is the greatest rock front-man off all-time.

Poll Closed.

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That Time I Saw The Apples In Stereo

Back in my college days, I used to trudge down to the local record shop (as in vinyl records) and film some of the free in-store performances.  The first one I ever did was of The Apples In Stereo, who were in town promoting NEW MAGNETIC WONDER. If you’ve never heard The Apples In Stereo, give them a listen they’re a great pop band.

Wait, who is playing? Seriously though, Vintage Vinyl is a fantastic store.

The band came out on time (noon) but it took them a half hour to get settled in. They had them set up in the Jazz section, and while Robert the lead singer settled in (he’s kind of a prima donna) the rest of the band kept yanking out jazz CD’s and saying “Holy crap! I need this” or “Hey don’t you collect these guys?” I was surprised at how steeped in jazz those guys were. I figured all they listened to was rock and pop…but then again, why should they? I’m not in a band, and I listen to all sorts of music.  I discovered in college that people that play instruments tend to listen to all sorts of crazy stuff.

Well I was pretty nervous, to be honest. I always read about these stories in Rolling Stone about Guns ‘N Roses going ape shit at the sight of a camera. I guess filming is different because there is no flash (which I think would get a little old after a while…I mean who wants to be blinded?). Anyway, I whipped my camera out and filmed three of the 7 or so songs they did. I was really hoping that they’d do the new single “Energy” and they did! I almost got them doing “Go!” from THE WORLD INSIDE THE MOONE but they decided they didn’t have enough instruments (this was, after all, a free show in the back of a small-ish record store…they didn’t have drums or anything). I thought they did a great job, especially considering that they’d been up all night drinking and playing rock the night before. All I did was watch and I was exhausted!!!

By the way, if you’re ever in St. Louis you need to visit Vintage Vinyl. 

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Your Next Favorite Band: The Replacements

I don’t even know where to start with this one.  The Replacements are like an institution in the pop/punk world.  I want to say something stupid like “they’re as important as The Beatles” or “they’re a bit like Nirvana” but that doesn’t do them justice.  The Replacements started out as a shitty punk band in Minnesota  and became something much more, so much more.  Without The Replacements there would be no fucking Green Day, I’ll tell you that.

So much hair-product, so little time.

Lead singer/song-writer Paul Westerberg is a genius.  You want catchy as hell songs that are also ABOUT something? Then look no further.  His lyrics are literate and biting…and yet also sweet and almost naive at the same time.   They’re tough as hell and soft as a pillow. He’s that special kind of badass that can write about how sad and lonely he is without coming off like a sissy.  For me this is best encapsulated by their song “Unsatisfied.” It’s tough as hell and makes me want to cry it’s so heart-on-their-sleeve the lyrics should be written in blood.

The band evolved from spikey, angry-youngman punk (see the STINK Ep) to more refined power-pop  (PLEASED TO MEET ME).  Whenever a band changes so dramatically it usually means their is a real artist involved, because in my opinion, a true artist is never content to bang out the same crap year after year.  The songs were written 20+ years ago and yet they still seem fresh and relevant.  This is 80’s music that doesn’t seem to be 80’s music.

So if they’re so fucking great, why haven’t you heard of them? Well, they were so punk-rock they had this almost pathologically desire to ruin their careers.  I’ve seen old MTV footage of them cursing and carousing drunkenly on TV, just trying to piss people off.   They basically sabotaged their own careers at almost every turn.  They were young, dumb, addicted to drugs, and didn’t really fit any mold corporate America gave them.  If they’d come out just a few years later they would have been Nirvana, I’m convinced of that.  Really, The Replacements were an unsuccessful Nirvana–in that they refused to play the corporate-shrill game…but the zeitgeist wasn’t with The Replacements like it was with Kurt Cobain & Company.  But I don’t feel too bad for them, success would have just ruined the party.  It’s more fun to be the under-dog anyway, right?

Little did they realize they'd be naming their 1984 release LET IT BE. I'm sure if they knew they'd have dressed up...

There are so many good songs, so many 100% perfect albums from this band, I don’t even know what to recommend you check out.  I guess start with PLEASED TO MEET ME and LET IT BE. Oh yeah, The Replacements had THE TESTICULAR FORTITUDE to name their 1984 album the same as The Beatles final (chronologically released) album.  It would be like if Kanye’s next album was called SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. Holy fuck, I’d like to have been there when the label found out.

There’s a Big Star connection in that, like most ’80s rockers, Paul Westerberg worshiped at the alter of Alex Chilton’s Band.  The Replacements kick so much ass, I haven’t done them any favors in any of this dribble: please just listen to a few songs and buy their albums.  They’re the real deal.

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Defending Axl Rose: PART #1 “Chinese Democracy”

Well it’s been a week, I guess it’s time I start defending Axl Rose.  Welcome to the first in a series of posts that will examine CHINESE DEMOCRACY, track-by-track.:

I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that CHINESE DEMOCRACY is a perfect album or that it’s better than APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION.  It is my belief, however, that people dismissed CHINESE DEMOCRACY too quickly.  For one thing, the long delay in it’s release did nothing but raise expectations to a ridiculously high, completely unattainable level.  Time was also an enemy for the album in that 15 years passed between GNR albums. That’s a long time and in the music industry that’s practically a lifetime.  Styles change.  Trends come and go.  When Axl Rose released “THE SPAGETTI INCIDENT?” in 1993 people were still listening to music on the radio and watching music videos on MTV.  I guess what I’m saying is: the world moved on.

I feel like a lot of the negative reaction to the album had to do with people expecting Axl to pick up right where GNR left off all those years ago.  But why did fans expect or want Axl to stay locked in 1993?  Anyway, I can’t really explain why it took 15 years to make CHINESE DEMOCRACY, and I certainly don’t think it “sounds” like it took 15 years to make. What did does sound like is an older, more mature rockers attempt at a comeback album.  It incorporates what was great about his old work and adds to it some modern touches.  I think it was those modern touches that turned off most listeners, especially the old GNR fans. People who expected or wanted the record to sound like “Welcome to the Jungle” are missing the point of art and artists. Wanna hear “Welcome to the Jungle”? Go put on APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION.

The first track on CHINESE DEMOCRACY is, fittingly enough, “Chinese Democracy.”  Axl has stated publicly that the song is about the Chinese government and their poor treatment of the Dalai Lama.  It opens with a faint and ominous siren-like noise.  A chorus of quiet voices bleed over the sound of a guitar for a few seconds before we hear a louder, more highly processed guitar.  That was the first thing that suck out about both “Chinese Democracy” the song and the album-there are so many different guitar tones on this record it’s not even funny.  At first these crashing/clashing tones are pretty jaring. It sounds initially that these guitar sounds are just tossed around haphazardly, like Rose just threw the kitchen sink at CHINESE DEMOCRACY, but really what Axl does throughout the record is to create a lush, pulsing wall of sound.  It’s not out of control or random, the entire record is highly organized.  It reminds me of the symphonic work Brian Wilson did on PET SOUNDS.

I guess the Brian Wilson comparisons are easy, after all Wilson’s magnum opus SMILE (in it’s original form) was only just this past year  made available to the listening public. Both albums are the singular vision of musical geniuses, the only difference is that Rose seems to have lost the war with a lot of critics.  That said, I think that in 20 years it’ll be as highly regarded as SMILE.  Why do I think this? Well genius is very rarely recognized, at least initially.  And Axl doesn’t bend over backwards to make CHINESE DEMOCRACY likable or “easy.”

Axl lets us know right off the bat, ending his 15 year silence with this pronouncement:

“It don’t really matter/You’re gonna find out for yourself/No it don’t really matter/You’re gonna leave this thing somebody else.”

The song goes on to point a finger a China’s government and it’s use of an “iron fist” to subdue it’s people.  It’s accusatory and at the same time resigned in the fact that ultimately totalitarianism fails.  I find it ironic that Rose’s first album in 15 years is called CHINESE DEMOCRACY and seems to stab brutish dictators…the irony being that Rose is something of a brutish dictator himself.  A quick look at the personal of the album reads like a who’s-who of rock musicians (studio hands or otherwise).  So many people have credits on the damn thing it’s unreal.  And you know that for every person given proper credit there must be two people who aren’t.  Maybe I’m wrong about that, but it would seem that 15 years is an awful long time to remember whom to thank.  “Chinese Democracy” alone is credited as having five different guitarists (not counting two different bass players).   And then there are the people who started on the project and pissed Rose off and were booted off…

Regardless, “Chinese Democracy” is a fucking great rock song.  It’s rebellious, scary, and when you finish hearing it you are left with no doubts that Axl Rose has come screaming back like he’d never gone away.  Ignoring the fact that the song bookends a 15 year period of silence, I think “Chinese Democracy” is a great opener and a worthy addition to the GNR catalogue.

Next week I’ll continue my strange, track-by-track odyssee through CHINESE DEMOCRACY by looking at the second track “Shackler’s Revenge.” 

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