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There was much excitement when Guns 'N Roses. were announced as performers on last year's MTV Video Awards. Though it was clear Axl Rose was the only original member, there was much anticipation as music fans were sure any version of G'NR would be a welcome antidote to pre-fab pop that dominates MTV airwaves.
Excitement quickly turned to disappointment when the band hit the stage to close out the awards ceremony. A bloated, Botox-ed, and dreadlocked Axl could hardly deliver the spin-shivering howl at the beginning of "Welcome to the Jungle", and he was clearly out of shape, gasping for breath after running the width of the stage. It was a depressing display and certainly the death knell of Rose's career. The once forthcoming Guns 'N Roses full-length, Chinese Democracy has been plagued by constantly changing release dates and spiraling production costs. More than likely it will become an urban legend, something you talk about in the wee hours of the morning, slightly drunk, as you speculate on what it would've sounded like. Maybe it will receive release in the far future when a Guns 'N Roses box set is put together.
Until that day arrives, Geffen has arbitrarily released three previous Guns 'N Roses videos to DVD. Budget priced, with no extras, Geffen has clearly not put much money into these re-releases, but the fan base for Guns 'N Rose is still there so no doubt these will sell adequately.
Welcome to the Videos
When Guns 'N Roses first burst on the scene, they were a kick in the teeth to the hair metal bands around them. These guys were the real deal. Appetite for Destruction bled with authenticity, written by five young men who had seen the worst Los Angeles, California had to offer and wrote about it with an ear-deafening, fevered passion. "Welcome to the Jungle" was the world's introduction to Guns 'N Roses and what an impression they made. Starting with country boy Axl Rose getting immediately harassed literally moments after stepping off the bus, he pauses in front of an appliance store (with Slash drunk and passed out in front) where he watches the video the audience is about to see. "Welcome to the Jungle" was an immediate classic. "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Paradise City" videos were quickly banged out, the songs chosen more for their palatability than their quality (amazing songs such as "Rocket Queen" and "Mr. Brownstone" were much better, though probably too abrasive for regular radio play). When Guns 'N Roses released the staggering double album opus Use Your Illusion I & II, their sound became more expansive as their videos became more expensive. The epic album spawned no less than nine videos, with "November Rain" and "Estranged" becoming landmarks and popularizing cinematic production values for music videos.
I'm no fan of guitar solos, but even even I had to admit that "November Rain" was a triumph. Though it boasted three guitar solos, each one is so critical to the song it is hard to imagine it without them. The video itself was an amazing affair. With Axl in the lead role, it told the fictional story of his marriage the subsequent death of his bride. In retrospect, however, this video makes absolutely no sense. It looks great, and Slash looks so damn cool walking out into the desert to play his second guitar solo, but the story is incomprehensible. The bride dies for some mysterious reason, and Axl is mourning her death though the closing chorus exclaims, "You're not the only one!" Is he sad? Indifferent? Who knows, it really doesn't matter, because the video itself is great. "Estranged", one of the most expensive videos made, is equally baffling. Stringing together live footage, and bizarre scenes of Axl diving off oil tankers, walking through the city, and swimming with dolphins, the story is clearly secondary. Like watching a Jodorowsky film, you can't expect too much of a narrative or a point, but you can enjoy the visuals. And on that level, "Estranged" succeeds.
Use Your Illusion I: Live In Tokyo/Use Your Illusion II: Live In Tokyo
These two live concert videos, recorded on the Use Your Illusion tour in Tokyo, Japan suffer from a poor sound mix and truly weird track listings. Use Your Illusion II is the worst of these discs. Boasting eleven tracks, the first half-hour of the disc is a waste of time. The band kicks into an adequate performance of their Terminator 2: Judgment Day soundtrack song "You Could Be Mine". The following 25 minutes feature a tepid drum solo, a guitar solo, and a cover of the theme from the Godfather. The remaining tracks are largely culled from Appetite for Destruction rendering the very name of the DVD moot. The first disc fares a bit better, with less superfluous material and a equal balance of newer and older material but suffers from a muddy sound mix as well as feedback from Axl's microphone during some of the early tracks.
The concert itself is nothing spectacular, and spread out over three hours of viewing, quickly becomes a bore. The stage setup is tame, and there are no elaborate stage props. For fun, you can count the number of times Axl changes his short shorts. No, you didn't read this wrong -- Axl performs in short shorts. And for an added bonus you can try and figure out what exactly Dizzy Reed's role is as keyboardist, as I only found him performing once on each disc, otherwise he just sits back and hits a tambourine.
Diehard Guns 'N Roses fans need only pick up Welcome to the Videos, as it provides a great overview of the band's career. These concert films on the other hand are an embarrassment. Geffen should be ashamed of themselves for doing little more than transferring the video to DVD. A cleaned up sound mix would've made the concert a little more bearable, and some documentary or behind the scenes footage would have been a nice addition. And why not pare down the two sub-par concert discs into one stellar disc? Unfortunately, the haste at which these have hit store shelves smells of a cash grab. Well I guess someone's gotta pay for Chinese Democracy.