Wednesday, October 24, 2012

L.A. Guns - Mississippi Moon Bar

The terms "coulda - shoulda - woulda" can be as haunting the ghosts (or skeletons) that live within our closets.  Everyone has them (sometimes they are flat-out terrifying) but at times they can be inane.  Sure we can think back to that person we wanted to ask out, or that lottery ticket we should have bought but those opportunities that involve "celebrities" or our "childhood heroes" can be the most daunting.  Those people that are either "blessed with" or are "stuck with" living in a small town understand that when the opportunity arises to see, or meet celebrities or childhood heroes you better figure out a way to accomplish it or it may drift away quicker than a tornado in Kansas. 

Without question those people that live in major metropolitan areas have a better chance of meeting someone that fits the "celebrities" and "childhood heroes" but every now and then it does happen to those of us in the "population challenged" parts of the United States.  I have met some famous people that apparently fell into some crack in the space-time continuum and found themselves trapped in my little slice of heaven, but I would bet your life (not mine, yours) that residents of a metropolis like Chicago are more likely to meet the "cool people" than I.  Don't get me wrong, I have met innumerate NFL players (a college just north of my locale used to host the Chicago Bears training camp) and an actor or two (MacGyver himself), but that is really the extent of it.  It really wouldn't be describe the musicians of my youth in a similar way.

Referring to them as merely "musicians" probably isn't the right way to describe that I believe, acts would be a better definition.  For whatever reason there are multiple bands that I had always wanted to see perform but I was unable to do so.  Much like that person we wanted to ask out but didn't, there are real regrets for missing some of the bands of my youth.  Despite the chances I had to see bands like U2, Black Sabbath, Ray Charles and Pink Floyd I never did.  I always assumed I would be able to, but the opportunity to do so really never seemed to materialize.  As one can ascertain from the name of this blog (My Musical Journey), I have been trying to rectify the "misses" (the bands I was never able to see).  Without going through the roster of bands that I have been able to see since the earliest days of this blog, I can guarantee there are so many more I haven't seen.

Recently I saw a band that has a storied history as well as an iconic song that is immediately recognizable:  L.A. Guns.  The song "Ballad of Jayne" is truly a song that every "middle-aged teen" remembers and one that more than likely elicits a singalong (much to the chagrin of anyone within earshot).  The Mississippi Moon Bar at the Diamond Jo Casino was the location, the date was September 21st (just one day after my 44th birthday) and the band...  L.A. Guns (weren't you paying attention).

The history of the band is quite interesting and despite the loss of a very important original member the band is still "running down a dream" (wrong band I know).  When I reviewed the book "Tales from the Stage" by Michael Toney I read the account of the aforementioned "original member" and it is an interesting read (but it made no difference in the opinion that follows, soon).  Regardless of that, I went into the show with rather variable expectations merely because of the passage of time.  I do enter most shows with an amount of trepidation and for the most part said trepidation is unfounded.

As the lights dimmed and the crowd began to stir, the band came out with a nasty edge and they began to dispel any "trepidation".  The band erupted on stage with a blistering version of "Sex Action", the bar was set and the energy of the band was phenomenal.  It quickly became apparent that the band hasn't lost a thing, they can just flat out rock.  Okay that was exceptionally cheesy, but its true.

Consider for a moment if you will, the band released their first album in 1988 and their latest album in 2012, and think about their music catalog as well as the choices that they could put into a set list.  Having never seen the band perform previously I sat back and I was transported back to 1988 (not physically, obviously since this blog isn't about sci-fi) and I just sat back and had fun.  I'm really glad I did too despite Tracii Guns not being part of the band.  Energy is an important to any band, as is talent (unless you are Milli Vanilli then you have neither) and LA Guns proved they did, no, they proved they still do have both.

About a quarter of their way through their set I had an epiphany, this band is the same band that recorded all of those great songs and that the loss of Guns has had had no measurable effect.  Sure Guns is a phenomenal talent but the vocals of Phil Lewis makes the band.  Yes I know that "Guns" is in the name of the band, but his name is also in the name "Guns 'N Roses so its obvious that the name isn't necessarily indicative of members in a band that sports ones name. Lewis has the persona of the quintessential lead vocalist from the "hair metal" days that was the '80's and '90's.  While on stage, Lewis shows an affinity for his genre, and more importantly Lewis seems to be loving every minute of the bands gigs.  Through his vocals, Lewis transported me back to their first albums and the very distinct sound that is LA Guns.  I find it interesting that while the departure of Guns seemed to have no appreciable effect on the band, without the vocals of Lewis there would be no LA Guns.

Despite the previous assertion about Guns and his departure, without a great guitarist there would indeed be a serious issue.  In 2002 the band acquired Stacy Blades to fill the role and the band seems to have excelled.  Blades is the type of player that any band would kill for.  With the energy and experience he brings to the band makes it no surprise that LA Guns is as much fun as they are.  Blades does fill the role left by Guns, no that isn't correct, Blades made the role better than before.

Drummers are an interesting breed, the role of drummer seems to be a forgotten part of any band.  The reason being (at least in my humble opinion) they are partially obscured by the instrument that they are playing and the fact that they aren't front and center really fortifies that opinion.  Steve Riley, the drummer for LA Guns since 1987, deserves much more than a "liner note" he in fact provides an attitude with his skills.  His presence in the band for so many years tells me that he only reinforces the power of the band.  Riley isn't a forgotten member of the band, not by a long shot.

In the wild world that is a rock legend, one has to look for the backbone of the band: bass.  At times bass players seem to drift into the background but the good ones, no, the great ones stay front and center.  Its fun to watch someone that is that great and with Scotty Griffin, LA Guns has a great one.  Griffin brings the energy and skill that makes one great while having a stage presence that keeps him front and center.  Griffin is a treat to watch!

The four members of LA Guns came to the Mississippi Moon Bar with an attitude that befalls rock royalty.  The past became the present for me just one day after I turned old, LA Guns proved to me that time passing doesn't necessarily mean that skill does.  What I saw that September evening was the band that gave us so much more than "The Ballad of Jayne".  The band gave us one amazing night of music and proved once again their place in rock history.

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