Unplugged – Guns ‘N’ Roses

guns_n_roses_wallpaper_skull

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!

Advertisements

Bands I’ve Seen Live – G

Gemma Hayes: I’ve been in love with Gemma Hayes since I first heard Let A Good Thing Go way back in 01/02. It just so happened then that the first time I saw her live was at my first visit to the Glastonbury Festival. She put on a terrific afternoon show featuring one of my favourote live moments ever.

To set the scene- some live performers fly through their set without giving the audience a second thought, while others put on a bombastic show with a ‘Hello, Wembley’ here or there. Others though are happy to chat and banter with the crowd, and depending on the size and drunkeness of the crowd, and the confidence of the performer, this does not always end well. By afternoon the many thousands were already 3/4’s cut thanks to various cider mixtures, but the glorious sunshine and kick ass music kept everyone happy. Gemma is known to be quite chatty during performances, often answering questions and comments shrieked at her, but for this performance one bald, rugby player looking type kept heckling her. Nothing offensive, you understand, and everyone was taking it in a good natured way. It started from the usual chanting of ‘you rock!!’ and somehow moved onto the subject of booze. He was shouting questions at her, and she was laughing and answering, until the question of drinking whiskey came up. Gemma made some comment about enjoying whiskey every now and then and the crowd thought that would be the end of it. But no; materializing from nowhere (as frequently happens at Glastonbury) a bottle of Whiskey appeared which baldy proceeded to the stage with. Offering Gemma a drink, she obliged and sunk a shot to the rapturous applause and ‘chug chug chugs’ of the crowd. I got (non-digital) photos which I must find and upload.

I’ve seen Gemma 3 other times around Belfast, and each time there is similar interaction with the audience. She is always super friendly, chatty, and most importantly consistently brilliant. Many of her album tracks are soft, gentle, breathy affairs, but when played live they can transform into either a distorted rock/noise fusion or cuttingly tender moments. Live renditions of Hanging On are always raccuous, while gentle pieces like Easy On The Eye and Evening Sun are pin-dropping. I can only implore any readers out there to grab her albums and catch her if she’s playing anywhere within 200 miles of your house. For now, here’s a Belfast pic:

Gemma Hayes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemma_Hayes

Guns ‘n’ Roses: The first band I ever got into, back when I was 6 or 7 or younger, G’n’R introduce me to guitars, rock, metal; basically they introduced me to music and shaped by tastes as a music lover. Of course, by the time I was of the age to start attending concerts, the band I loved was long gone. Rumours of Chinese Democracy and reforming were brought up every year, but aside from the odd movie single or South American live show, nothing ever happened. Until it did happen. G’N’R arrived in Dublin in a fury of hype- was Axl popping off to an oxygen tent between songs, what special guests were there, would they even show on time etc etc. I made my way down on The Venue bus, met up with some friends, and watched as Axl and the gang came on stage right on time. Blasting through every song you could wish for (except my all time favourite Think About You) it was about as perfect a gig as you could expect from the new line up. There was the usual banter, a few tracks from the then unreleased Chinese Democracy were played, and a great time was had by all. The RDS is a bit of a duff venue (pardon the double pun) but even that couldn’t take anything away from a special night and day.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns_N%27_Roses

David Gray: I never got David Gray. I mean I understand that bland, inoffensive music has it’s place but just not anywhere near my ears. Of course, i’m probably missing something given the acclaim of albums like White Ladder, but anytime I see that head bopping from side to side I get a sudden urge to pop it off. Likewise, that awful Babylon song has caused my ears to vomit on at least 3 separate situations. So why did you see him live then, asshole, you may rightly ask. Well, Glastonbury again, and my friends were casual fans. I thought I would give him a chance. Like Coldplay, Gray can perform and whip up the crowd, but when all it takes to whip up a crowd of his fans is a couple of head bops that isn’t really saying much. I’m sure many people who were there would say it was a great gig- a variety of hits were played, blah blah bland. Yeah, not my sort of thing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Gray_(musician)

The Gathering: Phew, we can finish on a high. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about The Gathering when I saw them at Glastonbury (but they have since become my favourite band on the strength of that performance). I knew of them, I knew that the were a female fronted metal band, and I think I may have heard Leaves and Strange Machines before but hadn’t paid too much attention. They were touring as promotion for new album Souvenirs which saw a further departure from the style of music which made them famous. I saw quite far back from the stage for the whole show and let the dark, ambient moods flow through my soul. The weaving of the melodies with Gilmour-esque guitars, foreboding bass, and of course the nearest-thing-to-God-on-Earth vocals of Van Giersbergen were a revelati0n. Suffice to say, when I got back to normality I snapped up every album, starting with Souvenirs and was hooked. All there is left for me to say is- buy any of their albums now- I’d recommed Mandylion, How TO Measure A Planet, or Sleepy Buildings to start. All epic, all different, all the best thing you’ll ever hear.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gathering_(band)

Favourite 36 Guns n’ Roses Songs

guns_n_roses_wallpaper_skull

For anyone who reads this list I’m sure there will be a mixture of disgust, appreciation, and annoyance. Good, make your own list. I’ve tried to include a few tracks from every album and while Chinese Democracy is still fresh in my mind and hasn’t exactly stood the test of time yet, this is a fairly accurate current list. If I was doing it by importance, or how much I’ve adored the individual songs over my life then there wouldn’t be any CD or TSI tracks here, and additional ones from AFD and UYI. As always, feel free to comment, ridicule, and provide your own favourites.

Just a note on GNR – they were the first band I ever got into, and everything I’ve listened to since then has been because of the impact they had on my early life. They looked so fucking cool, they swore, they fought, they were smart, pissed off, and they could play the most raw, amazing music at break-neck, effortless speed – everything an 8 year old boy could want. Before then my music was limited to Michael Jackson devotion and whatever crap was in the charts, but suddenly I was on my way to a life of hard rock, grunge, metal, and eventually everything else good. Soon I was learning guitar, writing music, djing in metal bars, and having groupies praise me for simply breathing. So thanks GNR, especially for the songs below.

Mr Dizzy Reed

36. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory (The Spaghetti Incident): A fine dedication to Johnny Thunders and one of few songs worth mentioning on the ill-fated The Spaghetti Incident. Like most of their covers, this is given the G’n’R crunch, and is notable for being one of the few tracks that Duff has lead vocals on. It’s a fairly tame song in comparison with the rest of the punk overhauls elsewhere but one of only a handful you’re likely to return to.

35. Cornshucker (Lies):  Ok, this didn’t see an official release, but if you’re a fan you owe it to yourself to hear it at least once, if only to hear the original line-up sounding like they used to, and enjoying it. An incredibly juvenile song, about anal sex, the whole band get in on the act -singing, shouting, so it sounds more like an orgy than a song.

34. Ain’t It Fun (TSI): A seering cover of a little known punk classic, Axl and Hanoi Rocks guest Michael Monroe compete in whispers and growls and conspire to make a self-fulfilling prophecy concerning the near-future of the band.

33. So Fine (Use Your Illusion II): Another Duff tribute to Johnny Thunders, this is as gentle as GNR would ever get, even if they still manage to rock in the chorus. A largely piano-led track, it sounds like an early crossover of Civil War and Knockin On Heaven’s Door taking ideas and cues from both tracks to create a strong standalone.

32. Shadow Of Your Love (Lies): Another unreleased one, Shadow is another breathless early track, filled with fury and that exciting exhuberence which marked the band apart from others on the scene at the time. Axl’s yelp is on full form, the chugging power chords and thunderous drums compete for prime place, and there is a nice bluesy, tipsy solo.

Steven Adler

31. Since I Don’t Have You (TSI): Just to top off the weirdness of TSI the first song off the album is a cover of a gentle 50s soother and the video stars Gary Oldman chasing the band around a swimming pool. Imagine Dirty Dancing starring Guns n Roses and you won’t be too far away from understanding the song. It has a charm, but I remember when I first heard it I thought the band were buggered. Turns out they were. Still good though.

30.  Dead Horse (Use Your Illusion I): I’ll probably say this a lot on this list, but a number of songs get easily lost under the sheer mass of the UYI albums. Dead Horse is one of those, but it warrants a re-visit thanks to a sneering attitude similar to 80s GNR and it doesn’t suffer from the overblown nature of many other tracks spread over the double disc. Great intro, rockin’ verse and chorus, good stuff.

29. Locomotive (UYI): Probably the forgotten epic of the two UYI albums, this is a hard-rockin, bluesy rambler with a few thousand too many lyrics, and one which does fittingly feel like being both on, and pummelled by a Locomotive. The song builds and repeats itself over the course of over 6 minutes before stumbling brilliantly into one of the most perfect breakdowns you’ll ever hear; the bass and drums fall away to the sound of Axl’s dying wail, and all are replaced by a wonderfully dark piano and lead guitar led piece. Axl comes back in with a single mournful line while the rest of the band eventually re-group and jam for the remaining couple of minutes.

Gilby

28. Prostitute (Chinese Democracy):  Chinese Democracy is definitely a strong one; a misunderstood work of myriad genres and ideas, and unquestionably weaker than the band’s high points. Nevertheless, it’s still Guns N Roses (of a sort) and is a powerful album at times. A love song entitled Prostitute ends the album, and while Axl’s new vocals sound bizarre if listening as a standalone, if listening to the album as a whole you should be well used by now. With dancey drums, a groovy string section, and the albums soaring guitars, this is a great track. A self-mocking lyric (which Axl is so good yet) and a merging of crushing volume and tenderness, as well as a beautiful final 90 seconds mean this is a stong end to the album.

27. This I Love (CD): While many of the heavier songs on CD don’t hit the mark, most of the quieter songs do. This tear-jerker would be cheesy if Axl didn’t sound so earnest and broken. It’s another hair-ripping song of love slipping away, set to Axl’s lonely piano piece, more subtle strings and woodwind than you would expect from the band, and broke up by a bruising guitar section. This I love indeed.

26. Mr Brownstone (Appetite For Destruction): Probably the first song on the list that the more casual fan will recognise, this effortlessly cool depiction of addiction and excess is both brutal and engaging. The problem with music this good is that it’s so easy (sorry (sorry)) to ignore the words/message (if there is one).  Like much of AFD this is iconic stuff – the opening moments and the main riff are the stuff of rock legend, Axl struts through the verses and shrieks the choruses like a man possessed, while the rhythm guys keep everything in check.

Matt

25. My Michelle (AFD): One of the lesser known tracks from AFD this is another sordid tale of the wrong side of the tracks, with down-and-out characters sctratching and biting their way to the top, or if not the top, their next easy ride or hit. More lyrical brilliance from Rose is mirrored by huge 80s guitars and drums. It’s a groovy cousin to Mr Brownstone.

24. Nice Boys (Lies): A belter, this one is played at a billion miles an hour, with all the hunger and frenzy of a murderer on the run. The lyrics are the usual early Guns stuff, not that you’ll make them out anyway, it highlights the band’s punk roots whilst showcasing their ability to make a dying genre insteresting again.

23. Reckless Life (Lies): Like its partner above, this is a live stormer with an Iron Maiden intro, Aerosmith swagger, and carefree, reckless attitude, all thrusted into our stomachs like a spear from a Rhino. It’s fast, the melodies are saved for the chorus, and Axl is at his blistering best.

22. Knockin On Heaven’s Door (UYI): A wonderful cover of a dreary Dylan classic, this is more touching than any other version, though we could do without the reggae live version please. For a while, GNR were masters of overturning songs and making their covers the definitive version – here the blending of somber verses, triumphant choruses, and big guitars stand proud.

21. Back Off Bitch (UYI): This is one of those songs which is rarely played live, or remembered, but it really could have been a single. Sure, there is the usual misogynist edge, but show me a GNR song which doesn’t have something distasteful, even in their singles. It’s short enough to have been a hit, it’s punchy, has a singalong chorus, although I’m sure there would need to be an unfortunate radio edit. It sounds like a missing track from AFD, and the song was around for a few years before it was released. A quick search on youtube will turn up some early versions from around ’87-88.

Izzy

20. Madagascar (CD): Long before Chinese Democracy was ever released (and it still feels strange saying it has been) this was the song everyone was talking about. For fans of their more epic stylings, this was supposed to be the follow-up to their biggest and best songs, a new Kashmir, a new November Rain. While it doesn’t hit those heights, it is still a strong song. I only wish it had been recorded when Axl’s voice was at it’s peak, as I’m not sure it suits his new vocals. It starts off with great promise, with those somber trumpets sounding potent and sorrowful. Indeed, I think that introduction is the best moment in the song. Axl adds a great tormented strain to his vocals here, but it sounds a little too rough rather than natural. We weave through the verses and choruses before hitting a breakdown filled with samples and soundbites at 3 minutes, including a reminder of Civil War. This section has some good moments too, and it’s an interesting addition to their catalogue, and here it sounds most like Kashmir with an oriental style string backing and wirey guitars. I think after this section there should have been something new, something to take the song into a different direction for a couple of minutes, but instead we just get the chorus and end. It’s a good song, but after it was built up so much I feel it is missing something to make it truly great.

19. Get In The Ring (UYI): A critic’s favourite this. Axl’s ego goes into overdrive as he imagines, Uwe Boll style, kicking the crap out of all of the enemies of the band inside a wrestling ring – critics, reviewers, haters in general, all those opposed. I have a nostalgic fondness for this one, as it was always good fun to snicker along to it whenit was played in the car with my parents. Sometimes they would turn it off and spark and arguement. It was the first song I heard which contained so much swearing, and even now it takes some beating. Sure it’s puerile and juvenile, but the band did have a point – being a target for all manner of criticism, much of it unwarranted. Luckily, the song is filled with strong melodies and kick-ass music, so you can lookpast all the mother-fuckers and bitchy little asses. There is a strong, bluesy introduction before the song quickens and gets into it’s stride, and similarly the outro is memorable. A solid all round rock monster.

18. Double Talkin Jive (USI)

17. Civil War (UYI)

16. Live And Let Die (UYI)

15. Street Of Dreams (CD)

14. Welcome To The Jungle (AFD)

13. You Could Be Mine (UYI)

12. Catcher In The Rye (CD)

11. Sweet Child O Mine (AFD)

Slash

10. Better (CD):

9. Estranged (UYI):

8. Nightrain (AFD):

7. Don’t Cry (UYI):

6. Paradise City (AFD):

Axl Rose

5. Coma (UYI):

4. Rocket Queen (AFD):

3. Patience (Lies):

2. November Rain (UYI):

1. Think About You (AFD):

GNR

Feel free to ridicule or praise my list, offer some comments, and share your top ten.