For six years, between 1987 and 1993, Guns N’ Roses ruled the rock world. It was six years of accusations of being racist, riots, tempter tantrums, swearing on live TV, urinating on planes, very public feuds with other bands, and of course, unbelievably great rock n’ roll. From the days of when GN’R brought authenticity back to rock n’ roll, when Bon Jovi were considered the premier rock band, to surviving the onslaught of grunge, GN’R were rock gods. In 1999, five years after the semi-original Guns N’ Roses rocked an arena for the last time, the posthumous “Live Era ‘87-’93″ hit the stores.
While “Live Era” is quite good, it could have been better. Guns N’ Roses was a great band, and put on an exciting live show, there’s no denying that. “Live Era” is filled with classics, from each release, minus “The Spaghetti Incident” (1993). The band sounds great and performance on each track is top-notch. That said, “Live Era” is flawed in two ways-its chronology and production.
As the back of the CD states, the songs on this CD were “recorded across the universe between 1987 and 1993.” For some bands, like Nirvana or Motley Crue, it wouldn’t be any problem to compile a live album with songs from different years. With Guns N’ Roses, however, it doesn’t quite work. That’s because the original Guns N’ Roses went through four distinct phases:
Phase I: 1986-1990: Axl Rose- vocals, Slash- lead guitar, Izzy Stradlin- rhythm guitar, Duff McKagan- Bass, Steven Adler- Drums. This lineup, generally regarded as the definitive one, recorded “Appetite for Destruction” (1987) and “GN’R Lies” (1998). This lineup was basically Aerosmith on speed, with an element of punk and the Rolling Stones.
Phase II: 1991: Axl Rose- vocals, Slash- lead guitar, Izzy Stradlin- rhythm guitar, Duff McKagan- Bass, Matt Sorum- Drums, Dizzy Reed- Keyboards. The addition of the very proficient, yet slightly bombastic Matt Sorum and keyboard player Dizzy Reed made GN’R’s sound slicker, less rough-around the edges. With this lineup, the band ventured out and experimented considerably, with the very ambitious epic “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II” (1991).
Phase III: 1992: Axl Rose- vocals, Slash- lead guitar, Gilby Clarke- rhythm guitar, Duff McKagan- Bass, Matt Sorum- Drums, Dizzy Reed- Keyboards. In addition, many backup musicians, such as female backup singers and a horn section were added. GN’R purists often regarded this period as the weakest link in the bands career. It is said that GN’R became very bloated during this leg of the tour and all the horns and added singers watered down the bands sound. I tend to disagree with that assessment. It was an interesting phase in the band’s career and many of the songs, like “Move to the City” and “November Rain” sound enhanced with the extra musicians. Unfortunately, in 1992, when compared to the stripped down, unadulterated rock n’ roll of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Guns N’ Roses huge backup entourage seemed excessive and bloated. Still, it was just an experimental phase, something that people often forget. As a live guitarist, Gilby Clarke outshined Stradlin.
Phase IV: 1993: Axl Rose- vocals, Slash- lead guitar, Gilby Clarke- rhythm guitar, Duff McKagan- Bass, Matt Sorum- Drums, Dizzy Reed- Keyboards. All the excess musicians are gone. While not as raunchy as the early days, GN’R comes full circle and goes back to playing pure rock n’ roll. Many of the songs are played even more stripped down, acoustically.
The problem with “Live Era” is that there will be one song from the AFD/Lies era, then one song from the horn era, then back to the AFD/Lies era, and then will leap into ‘93, before going back to ‘91 and so on. While the songs are great, no doubt, the album overall is a little disjointed. It would have been better if disc 1 were strictly from the ‘87-’90 AFD/Lies era,, and disc II were from the experimental, ‘92 horn era.
The other problem with “Live Era” is it sounds overproduced. The songs sound tampered with. There is some speculation that Axl Rose even re-recorded his vocals (although this is just speculation). They should have just left the songs as is, without trying to touch them up.
While this list of criticisms seems long, it is not meant to imply that “Live Era” is a bad album. Indeed, the songs are still classics and if you are a fan of the band “Live Era” is well worth owning.