Tag Archives: High Voltage

Rocks In The Attic #560: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (1987)

RITA#560.jpgI saw something last night I thought I’d never see – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the same stage together. It’s been a long time coming, but for a large part of the twenty five years since I first heard Appetite For Destruction, it seemed unlikely that a reunion would ever happen. Slash kept himself busy, playing in Velvet Revolver (with Duff) before going on to record several decent solo albums. Axl retained the Guns N’ Roses name, touring the band in the 21st century with a host of stand-in musicians and finally releasing the long-threatened Chinese Democracy album in 2008. The new Axl was a portly fellow, rumoured to have an addiction to fried chicken and was described by one audience member in London as ‘a gold lamé blob up on stage.’ A reunion seemed as unlikely as all four Beatles playing together on stage.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2016 Axl, Slash and Duff patched up their differences and announced a reunion tour. Who needs differences anyway when you’ve got millions of dollars to earn touring the world as a nostalgia act? Plus, that fried chicken won’t buy itself…

rita560b
The initial reaction was one of cynicism. Surely Axl would keep everybody waiting like he did in his prima donna days during the 1990s. Would it be worth buying a ticket if it meant waiting around for a few hours in the rain, waiting for Axl to finally take off his bathrobe and finish that last bucket of KFC? Of course it would!

Then the unthinkable part two happened. Axl landed the job as stand-in vocalist for AC/DC. It seems that Brian Johnson’s eardrums had enough of his own high-pitched screaming and put up a protest. He got a sick note from his doctor, ruling him out of that band due to the threat of permanent hearing loss. Step up, Mr. Rose.

It still hasn’t really sunk in that this actually happened – Axl Rose singing with AC/DC sounds like such an off-the-wall idea. Comparable to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell singing in front of Rage Against The Machine. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

rita560c
What a great pairing – Axl DC – can it get any better? Brian Johnson’s vocals have never really fit the band if I have to be honest – there’s only so much shrieking I can handle, and after 1980’s Back In Black, there was a pretty consistent dip in quality. Other than Steven Tyler, Axl is the best choice to front Angus and company – he has the range to hit Brian Johnson’s high notes, and the ballsy tone to handle Bon Scott’s earlier material.

So the rock world waited with bated breath, and the unthinkable part three happened. Axl turned up on time and did his duty. No diva behaviour whatsoever – and best of all, his inclusion prompted the long-standing – and frankly, now quite boring – AC/DC set-list to change. They started playing songs they had rarely, if ever, played with Brian Johnson. Songs such as Riff Raff and Rock And Roll Damnation from 1978’s Powerage, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) from 1979’s Highway To Hell, and 1975’s Live Wire (from the Australian T.N.T. album, or the international version of High Voltage). It was so refreshing to see these songs performed once again.

Then, one show into the GNR reunion tour, the unthinkable part four happened. Axl broke his foot. It’s still unclear how he did this – so one can only speculate that a bottle of Hot Sauce fell on his foot as he opened the fridge for a midnight feast of fried chicken. He ended up fulfilling the rest of GNR’s U.S. tour, and the remaining AC/DC dates sat on a throne of guitars borrowed from Dave Grohl.

Last night my wife took a bullet and stayed home to put the kids to bed so that I could go down early to catch the support band, Wolfmother. When I got to the stadium I spoke to a lovely lady named Lucy, who had endured a 9-hour bus trip from Gisborne to see the show. Crikey! She sat next to me as she rolled a joint, out of sight of the security staff, and in minutes we had bonded over our mutual dislike of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

I was really looking forward to seeing Wolfmother after I caught them supporting Aerosmith in Dunedin back in 2013. At that concert, the sight of the band bouncing on to the stage like exuberant puppies made me smile. Four years later and they’ve reduced their ranks significantly. What was once a boisterous four- or five-piece back in 2013 has now distilled into a tight trio. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it meant one member was pulling more than his fair share of the weight – bassist Ian Peres also played keyboards, incredibly both at the same time during some songs.

rita560a
Twenty minutes later and Guns N’ Fucking Roses emerged. My wife had made it with just minutes to spare, and thankfully she was there to see opener It’s So Easy. They followed this with Mr. Brownstone, and Western Springs went off like a firework.

Axl did that jaunty side-to-side dance with his microphone stand, looking like a menopausal Nicole Kidman, Slash took all his solos with his guitar propped up on one elevated thigh, and Duff kept up on the bass, sticking his neck out to sing backing vocals.

The set-list was really strong with songs from Appetite For Destruction, and while I like most of the singles from the Use Your Illusion records, the songs from the debut record are just in a different class. They’re truly magical, and the whole of that first record is like lightning in a bottle.

I could never really work out why I liked Appetite so much more than the Use Your Illusion albums, and it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I figured it out. Drummer Steven Adler – the one missing component that didn’t survive into that second line-up of the band – really provides the groove of ­Appetite. His replacement Matt Sorum is a powerhouse drummer himself, but Adler had something else – a swing that you don’t get with most 4/4 rock drummers. I’d have loved to have seen a full reunion with Adler on board, alongside original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, but I’m more than happy to have seen three out of the original five.

rita560d
Covers were well-represented, not surprisingly for a band with only four albums of original material to their name. As well as the likely contenders – Live And Let Die and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – they also played the Misfit’s Attitude, the Who’s The Seeker, and in one really touching moment, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here afforded Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus the opportunity for a lovely bit of guitar work. November Rain was prefaced with Axl playing the piano outro from Derek & The Domino’s Layla, and Slash played snippets of the Godfather theme, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You before the night was through.

If I had one criticism, it was that the show could have easily been an hour shorter. After two hours when I told my wife that there was almost another hour left, she mimed shooting herself in the head (I noted that this was an odd thing to do in the presence of Duff McKagan, the last person to see Kurt Cobain alive; they found themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to Seattle where Cobain took his life a few days later).

At one point, the audience nearly chuckled themselves to death when Axl sang his big emotional number – This I Love, from the Chinese Democracy record. This was like bad wedding music; just awful and such a polar opposite to the youthful vibrance that is all over Appetite For Destruction.

Hit: Sweet Child O’Mine

Hidden Gem: Mr. Brownstone

Rocks In The Attic #252: AC/DC – ‘’74 Jailbreak’ (1984)

RITA#252When I was greedily consuming AC/DC’s back catalogue at the tender age of 14, this was always the album I could never bring myself to buy. It’s not even an album – it’s an EP of five songs previously released on the band’s Australian albums (but missing from the international releases), to celebrate the band’s 10th anniversary – which all sounds fine until you consider that it was priced the same as all their other albums. It was either this or a full album for the same price; so it remained an aspirational purchase, always slightly out of my reach.

A matured appreciation of the band’s back catalogue now makes this an essential purchase – the title track is worth the price alone. Originally released on the Australian version of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Jailbreak saw the light of day in the UK in 1976. It was released as a single on the same day as the Thin Lizzy song of the same name. That must have been a confusing day for denim-clad rockers in record shops.

It’s odd that the song was never used on any of the international releases until this EP came out, despite the band releasing it as a single and going to the trouble of shooting a great music video to promote it. The song was later to feature on the double-disc version of AC/DC Live in 1992, although this 14-minute version, split with a lengthy instrumental break to soundtrack Angus’ striptease, isn’t the best version. It’s a great pop song, but remains a largely ignored slice of their canon (no pun intended).

The rest of the EP’s tracks are taken from the original Aussie release of the band’s debut – High Voltage – and were probably overlooked by Atlantic Records in favour of the heavier songs on their second album. I guess when you take two albums and split them into one, you’re always going to have to leave something by the side of the road.

I can do without the cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go – it isn’t a patch on the seminal version by Van Morrison and Them – but Soul Stripper is fantastic. It’s a groove-based slow-burner, probably excluded from the international releases because of its length (6:25) and its lyrics which paint Bon Scott as a weak virgin – ‘then she made me say things I didn’t want to say / then she made me play games I didn’t want to play’.

Instrumentation other than guitar, bass and drums are usually very rare on an AC/DC track – unless you’re talking about bagpipes, cannons or (hells) bells – but Soul Stripper has a great cowbell-like percussive touch that sets it apart from the other songs cut from High Voltage. The effect makes the song sounds ominous – a true hidden gem.

Hit: Jailbreak

Hidden Gem: Soul Stripper

Rocks In The Attic #142: AC/DC – ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ (1976)

For me, and I’m talking about the international version of the Dirty Deeds album, this is where AC/DC really start sounding like AC/DC. The High Voltage album (again, to take the international release as gospel) sounds like a band searching for their sound, and I guess a few of the songs included here don’t really fit with the AC/DC template – or at least not as much as other songs on the album.

A lot of people don’t like it, but I really like the cover to this album. Designed by Hipgnosis, it’s essentially a stock photo of an American motel, with a range of random everyday people superimposed in the foreground. Those people, for no reason explained anywhere on the cover – or even in the title of the album – have their eyes blanked out with black bars. To make it even stranger, there is a Doberman amongst the crowd, and he doesn’thave a black bar across his eyes. Go figure.

The real gem of this album is Ride On– a slow blues, and for me a career highlight which they never came close to matching. I’d compare it to Since I’ve Been Loving You (from Led Zeppelin III) in that in both cases, the respective bands have endlessly tried to replicate these songs on subsequent releases without reaching those peaks again.

Hit: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Hidden Gem: Ride On

Rocks In The Attic #97: AC/DC – ‘High Voltage’ (1976)

Rocks In The Attic #97: AC/DC - ‘High Voltage’ (1976)My love for AC/DC was founded on the international versions of their early albums, with this being a collection of songs from their first two Australian releases. Now that I live at this end of the world, I keep meaning to hunt down their Aussie originals.

After I bought their 1992 Live album and decided to get the rest of their back catalogue, my OCD collector’s attitude urged me onto buying their albums in order, so naturally I started with this, their (international) debut.

On first listen, I remember thinking that compared to the crunch and bombast of Live, that it sounded pretty weak. Each successive album gets closer to that raw live sound, but here it almost sounds like a different band – like a poorly produced bad covers band playing AC/DC material through cheap instruments. It does have a certain charm though.

To give you an idea of how formative this album was for me, The Jack was the first song I learnt to play on the guitar. I didn’t start with something by Aerosmith – who I’d been listening to for a few years by then – I started with a Blues in E, by AC/DC. To this day, I can’t listen to the song without picking up my guitar and ripping through the solo.

As far as album covers go, the front cover of this is a classic – with a nice drawing of Angus clutching his SG, and an early version of the band’s logo evident in the top left corner – but the back cover is slightly disconcerting. Alongside publicity photos of each band member are fictional letters from the likes of worried parents and school teachers, concerned about the band’s latest exploits with their teenage daughters. At the time, I’m sure this made them sound edgy and dangerous, but in the 21st century with a touch of added hindsight it makes the band sound like a group or marauding paedophiles, parading through Australian suburbs just as the school bells ring out. To further add fuel to this fire, Bon Scott namechecks Gary Glitter in the banal lyrics to Little Lover; and of course the album cover features the band’s lead guitarist dressed as a schoolboy. Oh dear.

Hit: T.N.T.

Hidden Gem: Live Wire