Live Era '87-'93
Ten years ago, Guns N' Roses was the biggest rock band on earth, a can-do-no-wrong quintet that made mincemeat out of every tressed and spandex-clad nightmare act on the Sunset Strip. And they didn't even seem to be trying. Although it would be a few years before St. Cobain liberated us from the miasma of Aqua Net and lip gloss, Guns N' Roses looked like the one band that might have Nirvana-proof staying power after the era croaked.
And the Gunners would have lasted, too, if their singer hadn't dismissed and replaced his entire backing crew over the last five years, reducing his onetime metal powerhouse to obscurity. If GNR's profile has diminished, it isn't because the band made terrible records. Instead Axl Rose willfully vanished into the ozone. Each time he has resurfaced in media reports, Rose has promised "more," "better," and "different." But the deadline for this re-emergence keeps getting pushed further into the future, with a track on the recent End of Days soundtrack the only evidence of life.
In the meantime Geffen Records (presumably with Mr. Rose's blessing) has released Live Era '87-'93, a double CD of live material from those golden days. All but two tunes from Appetite For Destruction, GNR's stunning debut LP, are represented here. There's also a handful from the follow-up EP and a smattering of tunes from the Use Your Illusion double disc. And of course there's a token rarity in the form of a Black Sabbath cover. "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child o' Mine" are, of course, the standout tracks; the Use Your Illusion material is mostly throwaways (except for a spirited and messy "You Could Be Mine").
Live records can be great when the musicians are more energetic on stage than in the studio, when they're improvisers, or when they have a deep back catalog. Alas, GNR strikes out on all three counts: They were always better in the studio, the arrangements were always the same live, and five discs in 13 years -- two of them EPs -- don't exactly constitute depth.
Axl sounds as great as he always did, bordering on the superhuman during "Paradise City." Slash, uh, slashes away. The rhythm section slams the backbeat down with an almost laconic precision (especially when original drummer Steve Adler is on the skins, before Matt Sorum replaced him). Together they nearly bring it all back home -- to sweet ol' 1988, that is. But the studio versions are clearer and even tougher for the most part. And they're all still in print. -- Johnny Angel