Review: Guns N Roses First New Song In 13 Years, The Aptly Titled “Absurd”

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Leave it to Guns N’ Roses to sneak up on me…

Last week was the first week in a long, long time that I’ve taken a “vacation” from music. Mind you – it wasn’t by choice. My corporate masters called me to New York for a series of meetings that chewed up most my week. Typically my job allows me to have some music on in the background when I’m toiling away on a spreadsheet or a written report. It comes as no surprise to B&V readers that I like to listen to music while I’m writing stuff. In between Webex meetings I’ve usually got tunes on. I don’t think I’m unique in that habit. But when I’m traveling to meetings like the New York session I’m typically sitting in conference rooms surrounded by people. At night I’m usually out at dinner with colleagues making small talk (“So what do you do Hank?”) and by the time I get back to the hotel, it’s lights out. I didn’t even get to listen to any tunes on the flights I was on getting to and from New York. Flight time is thinking time… which really means nap time.

When I got back home on Thursday night, the Rock Chick had her usual plethora of things we “need” to get done. I typically have music on at all times in my personal life, but the Rock Chick kept me busy… well, her and the Olympics kept me occupied. It was the first week in a long time I hadn’t posted anything on B&V. But having spent the week in the relative silence of a rock n roll void, I didn’t even think about posting. I did see however, that G’n’R had performed a “brand new song” called “Absurd” at Fenway Park in Boston. I lived in Boston for a summer and Fenway would be an awesome venue to see Guns N’ Roses. Eventually I pulled the track up and listened to the live performance. I thought perhaps they were messing with us and this was some kind of joke. To quote the Rock Chick who I played the song for, “That’s fucking terrible.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m on record as a huge Guns N’ Roses fan. I think had Axl been able to avoid his LSD (Lead Singer Disease) and the original line-up held together these guys would rank up there with the Stones or Zeppelin. I have to admit, after Axl took over the band and was the last original member standing, then took fifteen years to record an album, they lost me a bit. And, I will admit I found Chinese Democracy to be a huge disappointment. In retrospect, if you set aside all my enormous expectations, it wasn’t a horrible LP. It just wasn’t that great dirty blues metal that I’d come to love and cherish from GnR. Axl clearly has a Nine Inch Nails fetish. They veered into an almost Industrial Rock thing.

I was very encouraged and delighted when original lead guitarist Slash and original bassist Duff McKagan returned to the fold for the “Not In This Life Time Tour.” I saw their Kansas City show at Arrowhead Stadium in 2016. Other than last year’s pandemic shutdown, they’ve been touring almost constantly ever since. For those us hard core fans out here, that was great but I think I speak for the “GnR Universe” when I say we all wanted to hear new music from these guys. Although I have to admit, I was a little leery of their creative process without founding member, rhythm guitarist and foremost Axl songwriting partner Izzy Stradlin. It’s a shame that he’s not included in this reunion, but that’s another post.

I just realized on Monday that they’d released the studio version of “Absurd” on Friday… I’m usually on top of these new music releases but hey, I was still jet lagged. New York is my kinda town. I have to say, upon hearing the studio version of “Absurd” I was stunned… by how absurdly bad it is. I try to stay positive here on B&V but when something momentous like a new GnR single happens, I have to say something. Apparently they reworked an outtake from the Chinese Democracy sessions called “Silkworms” and now it’s called “Absurd.” It was written by longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and former keyboardist Chris Pitman. Soooo, its been 5 years since Slash and Duff came back and you just reworked a single written by the keyboard section that wasn’t good enough to make it onto Chinese Democracy? I guess I was right about the absence of Izzy Stradlin. These guys have put out one album in like 30 years and this is what they chose to lead with?

The track starts with the line, “Listen motherfuckers to a song that should be heard.” This is one motherfucker who would disagree on that whole “should be heard” premise. Axl’s vocals are sung like he’s mad at us. It sounds like he’s shouting through a megaphone. I mean, Zach De La Rocha has an impassioned delivery but at least the music – while still very powerful – has some nimble swing to it. I’ve never heard the oft bootlegged original version of this song, “Silkworms” but I understand it was more electronica than classic GnR rock. I will say that “Absurd” does have some great Slash guitar work. It’s the only thing that makes this track palatable. And Duff has a lovely little bass line on the song, the guy is a nimble player. Those guys certainly elevate the track but not enough to make it interesting. And the lyrics are some of the most misogynist I’ve heard in a while, even for GnR.

You would hope a band this important would want their first single in over a decade to be something epic, something that will burnish their legend and re engage fans. This is so far off the mark that it baffles me. I’ve been hoping for a new GnR album for 5 years… now, not so much. Let’s hope this turns out to be a minor stub of the toe and they’ve been actually working on new material – not just rewarmed Chinese Democracy rejects. They had a year off to write, didn’t they?

Sigh. Cheers!

Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory

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*Picture from last night’s show courtesy of The Rock Chick

In the late 80s and early 90s Guns n Roses ruled the hard rock world, and Axl Rose was their king. On a tour they’ve named “Not In This Lifetime” (after what one of them said when asked about a reunion), Guns n Roses rolled into Kansas City like a rock and roll blitzkrieg and sonically pummeled an ecstatic crowd. This was rock and roll spectacle that I haven’t seen since… well, the late 80s. These guys played for 2 and half hours… It was a concert of Springsteen-esque length with more power than I’ve seen in years.

I still remember the first time I heard “Welcome To the Jungle.” I actually saw the video, back when MTV played videos, before I heard the song on the radio. These days I’m more likely to see a music video on the Weather Channel than on MTV but I digress. At first I thought they were just another hair band but after hearing the tune a few times, the sheer menace in their music turned my head. This was dark juju. By the time “Paradise City” came out, with another iconic concert video, Axl in white leather, I was on the bandwagon and their masterpiece first LP “Appetite For Destruction” went into high rotation on my turntable and stayed in high rotation to this day.

But then Axl got the worst case of LSD (Lead Singer Disease) in the history of rock and everybody else in the band left. Axl shouldered on and spent a decade making the deeply flawed, disappointing “Chinese Democracy.” Slash went on to various solo projects and even joined Duff McKagan in the short-lived supergroup Velvet Revolver with the late Scott Weiland on lead vocals. Izzy Stradlin became the Howard Hughes of rock and roll and disappeared. I certainly never thought any of these guys would play together again. Slash and Axl’s feud seemed so deeply rooted that they would never speak to each other again let alone make music together. I was utterly skeptical when I heard rumors that Slash, Duff and Axl were (literally) getting the band back together. I figured it wouldn’t live up to the hype even if they did get back together. I was wrong. The chemistry these guys have is fierce.

I will start off with the meme inspired subject – Axl’s appearance. Yes, he looks awful. He’s overweight but not grossly so. He was energetically all over the stage last night. He had his serpentine dance move on full display. I will admit, he kept ducking into a tent on the side of the stage whenever there was a musical interlude… I have no idea what was going on in there but I assume he was sucking on an oxygen tank. Appearance aside, his vocals were fantastic. His vocal range has not diminished whatsoever. He remains one of the most charismatic performers I’ve ever seen. He even looked, dare I say, happy. He changed t-shirts almost every song and I have to admit, when he came out with a shirt that simply said, “The Bitch Is Back” on it, I had to smile and nod in agreement…

Slash is the most melodic lead guitar player on the planet right now. His muscular, beautiful solos dominated the evening. He holds the guitar almost vertically and tortures the ¬†strings. I’ve always loved Slash but to see him live is to really understand how talented he is. I might wear a top hat all day in his honor.

The unheralded guy in the equation is Duff McKagan… We should all look as good as Duff McKagan at his age. My God man, the guy is a Greek God… His bass playing is stellar. I had forgotten how many of their tunes start with his rolling bass fills. Flea is the best bass player I’ve ever heard but Duff McKagan has got to be on the short list of greatest bass players ever.

The show started with two great “Appetite” tracks, “It’s So Easy” and the heroin song, “Mr. Brownstone,” a personal favorite (the song, not the heroin). I was surprised when the old line-up then launched into the title track of “Chinese Democracy.” It was clear GnR was hellbent on doing a song from each of their LPs… Duff even sang “Raw Power” off of “The Spaghetti Incident?” “Chinese Democracy” despite some great riff-age from Slash was the low point in the evening’s performance. Luckily they followed it up with a maniacal performance of “Welcome To the Jungle.” That’s the point in the show where the afterburners kicked in. GnR were in high gear after that. They played all of their biggest songs but what impressed me most was how great the deep cuts were. Whether it was the hard rock blast of “Double Talkin’ Jive” or the epic grandeur of “Estranged” these guys just nailed it.

Slash had a couple of guitar solo moments – one was the theme from the Godfather movie and the other with the rhythm guitarist when they did “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd that left my jaw on the floor. A piano came up from under the stage and after jamming on the outro of “Layla” which was pretty amazing, Axl and the band launched into “November Rain.” Slash’s soloing on that one made my night. Slash’s soloing on “This I Love” transformed that song from a forgotten “Chinese Democracy” track to a highlight. The only song I would have cut from the set list was “Coma.” It was overly long and drug on a bit. On the other hand, the “Chinese Democracy” cut “Better” was simply awesome.

After “November Rain” they played two more songs, a great “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” followed by another personal favorite, “Nighttrain.” I certainly felt like I was on a “Nighttrain” by that point in the evening. The encore was three songs. They sub’d in “Don’t Cry” for “Patience” which they’ve been performing prior to this show and it was a welcome substitution. The cover of the Who’s “The Seeker” was great, despite the Rock Chick leaning over and whispering, “I love this song, uh, when the Who do it…” Finally, the last tune was the epic, “Paradise City.” That was the song that first got me really into this band and it seemed fitting that it would be the song they ended on. The stage lit up in different colors, the fire works went off and my friends, wife and I disappeared into the night. We ended up sitting on my roof, drinking beers and asking ourselves, “did that just happen?”

I have no idea where this reunion will go. I’m hopeful it leads to these guys collaborating on new music. I hope that Izzy comes out of hiding and plays with these guys, it looks like he’s missing out on some real fun. It’s more likely that won’t happen… “Not In This Lifetime.” But you never know…

As a side note, Alice In Chains opened up with a 45 minute rocking set. Jerry Cantrell is a magician on guitar and he and the new front man, whose name escapes me, harmonize just as Jerry and Layne Stayley in the old days…. ah, what might have been. I especially liked the portrait of the naked woman on one of Cantrell’s guitars but that’s another story…

If you get a chance and these guys are in a stadium near you, do yourself a favor and catch an epic, history-making performance. GnR proved to me last night that they still have that magic.

Cheers!