Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rockin' In The Free World: Guns N' Roses - "Use Your Illusion I-II" Turns 20. (1991)

"Guns N' Roses headlined the first show I ever saw. This was July 1992 at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, the first night of their massive co-headlining tour with Metallica. A couple of weeks later, a Montreal show would end in a riot when both bands ended their sets early: Metallica because James Hetfield caught on fire, Guns N' Roses because Axl Rose was upset after being upstaged by the guy who caught on fire. As legend had it, Axl had attempted to recruit Nirvana as the tour's opener, but Nirvana turned it down because Kurt Cobain didn't like the way Axl talked about women in his songs. Faith No More ended up opening instead. As a 12-year-old, I was happy about Cobain's decision - Not because I supported his reasoning, but because I was more excited to see Faith No More than I was to see Nirvana. (Back then, I thought The Real Thing was a better album than Nevermind. When I'm in the right mood, I still think The Real Thing is a better album than Nevermind. Listen to "Falling to Pieces" again before you tell me I'm wrong.)"

"Anyway, that show: I actually saw more of the other two bands than I saw of GNR. Faith No More's set gave me the first live-music image that imprinted itself deep in my memory: A sea of fists, seen from the stadium's upper deck, pumping in time to "Epic." (This was what people did at big Rock shows before moshing became mass-culture cool.) Metallica played a blistering hours-long show and absolutely reduced the place to smoking embers. GNR, meanwhile, made everyone wait something like two hours before they made their entrance, which was a pretty normal thing for them. I saw all of 20 minutes of their set and then had to leave because the DC Metro stops running at midnight and my dad didn't want to park in the city. I heard the opening bars of "Welcome to The Jungle" ringing out when I was walking across the parking lot to leave; it was heartbreaking. The 20 minutes I did see included a long and breathless Axl rant against the city of St. Louis, where he was facing criminal charges after inciting a riot a few months beforehand. (His opening: "They told me not to say anything derogatory about St. Louis. [Dramatic pause] Well, St. Louis can suck my dick.") I had to sit there quietly while my dad, a St. Louis native who never liked Axl [Rose] in the first place, fumed. The little bit of set I did actually get to see was a disjointed and awkward mess, then. But when school started up in September, I still told everyone else right away that I'd seen Guns N' Roses over the summer. If you were an adolescent 20 years ago, they were the only band that mattered..."

- Tom Breihan @ Stereogum

"[They] were huge hits when we were in elementary school. We actually almost called our band Use Your Illusion IV - This is actually true. But I will say those albums were EVERYWHERE. I remember all the videos; Axl Rose and supermodels and weddings and Slash playing giant guitar solos in canyons. But I also remember that they kind of brought back the ballad, which really changed my world. "November Rain" was, like, a huge monster hit, and it actually did change the way I thought about music. I saw them play, I went to this concert with my friend's parents, and Axl Rose warmed up on the piano for 35 minutes before playing "November Rain." But, like, he wasn't a good piano player... so his warm-ups were, like, scales that you and I would've learned at piano lessons as a kid. And it was one of the worst things I've ever seen in my life, so I did learn also what not to do from watching Guns N' Roses in the Use Your Illusion era."

- Joshua Epstein (Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jr.)

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