Unplugged – Guns ‘N’ Roses

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Greetings, Glancers! Remember MTV Unplugged? It was this show where bands, singers, performers played a mostly acoustic show in front of a small live audience. It was great. There are a tonne of bands, singers, and performers who never appeared though and today we’re going to talk about one of them. For more on the idea behind this post, click here!

This is my first choice of band I’d love to have seen perform an Unplugged show. You may think G’n’R would not suit such a setting and yes, you’re probably right. However, other heavy rock and metal bands managed it successfully so there’s no excuse for Axl and Co in their prime to not have done the same. I love the idea of such a balls to the wall, rock band of wonderful excess to tone it down and allow their talent, songwriting and performance skills speak for themselves with little or no frills, little or no production, and little or no filter or space between them and the crowd. Below is a dream setlist for a Guns ‘n’ Roses Unplugged show.

Track 1: Civil War (7-8 minutes)

Most sets, especially rock sets start out with a balls to the wall, fast paced song to get the excitement levels up to a million. This is MTV Unplugged though, so that approach my not work. G’n’R are known for starting out with something like Nightrain, accompanied by some spoken shtick like ‘from Hollywood – Guns And Roses!’. I think we still get that spoken intro, maybe a little more subdued so that leads nicely into Civil War. I feel like this would work brilliantly as a dark, acoustic song – check out the link above for a Slash and Myles version, though the whistles are crap. The band could play a little with the structure, changing up those spoken parts into something unique. Obviously the rest of the band would need to pitch in, so plenty of room for experimentation.

Track 2: Pretty Tied Up (12-13 minutes)

The thing about MTV Unplugged is that it gave the artists an opportunity to mess with songs in a different format and perhaps play songs that were not normally part of their setlist. We’d need a faster song after that intro, so why not go with something a little left field? I’m not the biggest fan of Pretty Tied Up but I think it’s ripe for some innovative tinkering. The link above gives an idea of the direction the song could take – it’s not the best cover but you get the idea.

Track 3: Mr Brownstone (17 minutes)

I think after two maybe not so well known songs they’d need to pull a more mainstream song out of the hat. You can switch Track 3 or 4 around if you wish, but I think the important thing at this point is keeping some continuity of classics going for a spell. The link above has an early live acoustic performance – I’m not too happy about the tambourine – there’s a place for it, but it’s used too much in that video. The song has a loose, jam quality anyway so it feels suited to a smaller unplugged setting.

Track 4: Welcome To The Jungle (22 minutes)

Yes, keep the momentum going with the classics. The link has an acoustic instrumental only version which gives a good idea of how the song could still retain its raw power even without the distortion. I like the idea of the piano filling in some of the guitar parts, so Axl could get down on those.

Track 5: You’re Crazy (26 Minutes)

This one was already pretty unplugged anyway if you pick the Lies version. There’s isn’t much they really need to add to this one, the crowd would fill in the blanks.

Track 6: You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory (30 minutes)

Well, we’d better get Spaghetti out of the way. A few songs from that album would work here but this feels ready made and has the added bonus of giving Axl a vocal break, something we know he enjoys. It’s a short one too, and a bit of a novelty, so true fans would be happy to hear it.

Track 7: So Fine (34 minutes)

Axl’s still taking a breather, so we’ll have another ready made slow-number that isn’t too far away from being acoustic in its original form. The song does pick up pace in places so that would lead nicely into another more up-tempo selection of songs. This is another curious choice which would be nifty so hear for most fans.

Track 8: Live And Let Die (38 minutes)

We’re over half an hour in and there’s still a bunch of big boys we haven’t heard from yet. I couldn’t find a decent clip to link to, so you’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Axl’s back, it’s a fast song, will get the crowd pumping again, which will lead nicely into our next pick.

Track 9: You Could Be Mine (44 minutes)

Another fast one with plenty of room to play around, but I think for this one they should just go all in on the guitars and play a stripped down version as close to the original as possible. Alternatively they could go completely in the opposite direction with something like in the link above.

Track 10: This I Love (49 minutes)

Chinese Democracy up now – don’t think I forgot about it. We’re already running tight to our time rule so we may have to cut back on the longer songs. This could be an Axl and Slash duet, the piano, vocals, and guitar mingling together for an atmospheric centerpiece.

Track 11: Patience/Don’t Cry (54 minutes)

Cheating a little here, but when the band play their mammoth live show they usually switch between Patience and Don’t Cry. I love them both and while the former is essentially an acoustic song already, the former could be stripped back without losing any of its impact. Both songs could have some piano added acting as an effective bridge between track 10 and 12. There’s an early live acoustic performance of Don’t Cry complete with terrible crowd noise in the link above.

Track 12: November Rain (62 minutes)

So, this would maybe be the most interesting song to translate into an unplugged setting. Technically you could bring out a backing choir and bunch of violin players etc. Alternatively, have them in place from the start contributing to other songs. Much of the strength of the song rests on Slash’s integral guitar parts which bridge the different sections of the song together, but you can still have those without full ear-splitting electric. Unplugged doesn’t necessarily mean 100% acoustic. This would be a chance for the pure core of the song to shine through. The link above contains an early, shorter acoustic version by the band and is quite different from what we eventually got.

Track 13: Street Of Dreams (67 minutes)

We keep the piano led sentimentality going with a song which is a highlight of Chinese Democracy even if Axl does try to mess it up with some weird vocals. It’s a crowd-pleaser, even for those who haven’t heard it, and you can get a bit of a singalong going in the big moments.

Track 14: Sweet Child Of Mine (73 minutes)

It had to be in there somewhere. If you want, swap this out for Rocket Queen or a personal favourite. While Nirvana played hardly any of their big hits for Unplugged, most bands tend to cover their most famous songs and for G’n’R they don’t come any bigger than this. Ideally it should be nearer the centre of the gig, but what are you gonna do? Various artists have covered this song in acoustic over the years, but I think the writers could knock those out of the park with their own take – Myles and Slash are in the link above again.

Track 15: I Used To Love Her (76 minutes)

Another acoustic original to wind things down before the inevitable big finish. The band wouldn’t need many additional flourishes to make this work – it’s good to go from the first whisper and gives the rest of the band a chance to add their own backing vocals. It’s a funny song and would work well in an intimate environment.

Track 16: Paradise City (83 minutes)

I was toying with not actually including this – how do you ever make an unplugged version of something that is basically six minutes of head-banging and lewd guitar fingering? As balls to the wall as the outro to this song is, maybe a wacky dueling banjo type ending would be entertaining too? Really anything they did with this song would probably work, followed by a ‘Good! Fucking! Night! Yeah!’ If that doesn’t work for you, close it with Rocket Queen. The link above is an acoustic instrumental version.

What about you? Which songs would you love to see in a an Unplugged G’n’R show? There wasn’t time for Coma or Estranged. I couldn’t fit my own personal favourite Think About You in either. Cornshucker would turn a few heads. There are plenty of tracks from Chinese Democracy which I think would work well – namely Catcher In The Rye –  but I tried to keep to my 70-90 minute time frame as much as possible. Let us know in the comments what your ideal setlist would be, and what other artists you would love to see perform in this style!

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