There are only a handful of bands that I could really call life-changing. These are bands whose music guides things beyond the course of just what music I'm really digging at the moment. Something about these bands shifts the way you dress, your attitude toward the world and in some ways redefines your dreams for the future. The first band that really had this kind of impact on me (and a lot of boys my age) was Guns N' Roses, the greatest american rock band to ever stroll the strip, back when I was 11 years old. They are still one of my favorite bands and I still listen to their music a lot. Recently, I've been in an Axl mood and have picked up a few good bootlegs and a nice collection '45 vinyl to go with my already exploding GNR shelf. But their a good bootleg band because their live shows are always so unpredictable and typically amazing. Today I'm sharing some of those for the other gunners out there.
Guns N' Roses - Since I Don't Have You: The only single released from the criminally ignored Spaghetti Incident, this is actually one of the weaker songs from that album of great punk covers. Though I do enjoy an Axl ballad, and this certainly is that, it shouldn't be a measure of the album. Neither should the Johnny Thunder's cover on the B-side which is okay, but nothing as great as the UK Subs, Stooges, or many of the other covers on the album.
Guns N' Roses - "Civil War" (Vol. 4): This bootleg captures the band's Use Your Illusion tour stop in Chicago 1992 and it could be the best bootleg from that tour that I've heard yet. There's a lot of special moments, the intro to "You Could Be Mine" is pretty awesome. Axl sings "Bad Time" acapella as an intro to "Sweet Child of Mine" and the version of "Civil War" is spectacular. The only annoying thing is that this is only HALF the concert. Released by this terrible Australian bootleg label, they often broke up concerts into two bootlegs, trying to rip the fans off even more. Unfortunately, I have yet to find Volume One, but I'll keep looking. This concert is too good not to.
Guns N' Roses - Civil War / You Could Be Mine: For me, this is one of the definitive singles from the Illusion albums (along with Estranged). Civil War is one of my favorite GNR songs, and much more epic than November Rain in my opinion. "You Could Be Mine" is the band's most progressive song from the era too. I love the attitude in it and always loved how the rhyme from the Appetite sleeve was used in the song. The pairing of these to makes for a fantastic '45 single.
Guns N' Roses - Secret Gig N.Y. Ritz '91: My favorite GNR recording is the secret gig they did at CBGB's a few years before this, so when I saw this existed, I had to find it. Axl loves playing NYC and figured this had to be good. It's the tune up show for their as of yet upcoming Illusion tour (which Axl tells the crowd is a 'summer tour', little knowing the tour would last two years and practically destroy the band). This show is stellar. It's the first time playing many of the Illusion songs live and the songs feel more alive than they do on the over-produced albums. The highlight is definitely Slash playing Band of Gypsies "Machine Gun" as an intro to "Civil War". The only downfall, as with a lot of bootlegs, is terrible recording quality.
Guns N' Roses - Paradise City / Move to the City: Two of the band's most blistering songs from their early period combine for a raging '45. Paradise City was one of those songs that really changed my opinion on the world. I remember reading the lyrics when I was 11 and seeing the part "The surgeon general says it's hazardous to breathe, but I'll have another cigarette because I can't see...tell me who you gonna believe" and I remember thinking, I believe Axl over that weird bearded guy that's always with Reagan. Then there's the B-Side, "Move to the City" which is one of my favorite GNR songs and one of the main inspiritions for my novel Tomorrow, Maybe.
Guns N' Roses - Rock in Rio II: A massive concert, and one of the band's landmark concerts for pure spectacle of size and excess. By this point the Illusion tour had been rolling on for a while, so there were no surprises in the setlist. It features the standard hits. But for all it's hugeness, the band actually seems to shrink on this bootleg for me. I know GNR played giant shows by this point, but from my listening, they play best in smaller venues.
Guns N' Roses - Nightrain / Reckless Life: The best rock single of all time? Quite possibly. I'd be hard-pressed to find to more explosive songs on vinyl than these two. These are probably the two rawest, roughest, seediest GNR songs and show of the band's glam punk roots. Simply fantastic...and with that cover...best rock '45 of all time.
Guns N' Roses - Don't Cry: I remember when the Illusion albums came out and being intrigued by the two versions of "Don't Cry" and thinking it was quite clever. It reminds me of Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My" in that sense, a song that works as book ends. It's a very good Axl ballad that can only make one remember Middle School dances and first fumblings with first loves while wearing lots of flannel and bad skin. But that's what makes it endearing for me. Not my favorite song of theirs, but its associated with a lot of real memories.