Guns N’ Roses
Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe)
Appetite For Destruction remains one of the greatest debut records ever, something that forever established Guns N’ Roses among the greatest rock bands but has left a nearly impossible summit that the band has yet to reach again. Their follow-up, a pair of albums – a double album in theory, released separately on the same day – Use Your Illusion I & II, stands as a conflicted and bloated mess of true greatness and half-baked, middle of the road rock. Regardless, even when not at their best, Guns N’ Roses remain a cut above most other bands, as seen on their massive boxset, Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe). Collecting remastered versions of both albums, and two concerts from the era, Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe) is an essential listening experience from one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands on the brink of total combustion.
With thirty songs between the two records, Use Your Illusion could have rivaled Appetite For Destruction as a worthy sophomore effort had it been cut down to a condensed single album. The pair of records caught the band at both their most visceral – “You Could Be Mine”, “Back Off Bitch”, and “Right Next Door To Hell” – and their most sophisticated – “Civil War” and “November Rain” (a newly updated version that features a 50-piece orchestra is a highlight among the boxset) – a duality that is often never present within the context of the same album. Additionally, songs like “Dust N’ Bones” captures a raw darkness while “Coma” and “Locomotive (Complicity)” denotes a complex evolution in the band’s songwriting. Who knows quite how different the rest of the ‘90s would have looked for Guns N’ Roses had Use Your Illusion been a single disc. Either way, despite their shortcomings, Use Your Illusion I & II still stand as a pair of solid releases, 31 years later.
The first of two concerts included on the reissue was recorded at New York City’s Ritz Theatre on May 16, 1991 – months ahead of the release of Use Your Illusion. The energy from the smaller venue propels the concert as Axl Rose delivers an absolute vocal shredding ripper of a performance over the course of their 20-song set. At this point in time, Gun N’ Roses are among the biggest bands in the world; to hear them deliver a massive, stadium sized performance in a room that holds under a thousand people is something truly special. Beyond their powerful performance, their set at The Ritz shines as the band demos what will eventually become their global tour in support of their upcoming two albums. In this regard, their ’91 performance is a peek behind the curtain to the creative process the band was in the midst of. The use of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” teased as an intro to “Civil War” and Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” introducing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (in the second show, this would also include a prelude of The Eagles’ “Hotel California”) in both shows on Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe) speaks to this. In this regard, Guns N’ Roses at The Ritz is a raw, balls to the wall onslaught of a performance that is Guns N’ Roses at their strongest in their post Appetite era (their infamous set at The Ritz in 1988 remains a masterclass in performance – watch it on YouTube and you too will hope for an official release). With founding guitarist Izzy Stradlin still in the band, even taking lead vocals on “Dust N’ Bones”, this was an incredible set from Guns N’ Roses, highlighted by “Pretty Tied Up”, “Right Next Door To Hell”, “Mr. Brownstone”, “Estranged”, and a blistering “Welcome To The Jungle” – demonstrating the unparalleled chemistry between Slash and Stradlin – to close the night.
The second concert on Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe) sees Guns N’ Roses perform at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on January 25, 1992. Recorded in the middle of the Use Your Illusion Tour, this set truly captures the grandiose, larger than life nature of the era, as well as building on the tone set in the 1991 performance in New York. Additionally, the recording is benefited by not only a more refined performance from the band, but also a far more polished sound quality. Featuring a range of covers (“Wild Horses” and “Sail Away Sweet Sister”, along with many others teased), extended arrangements, and structured jams, this concert is a strong evolution built upon their New York performance. Slash soars as he rips guitar solos and licks with reckless abandon while Rose shines with a powerful vocal delivery. Must hear highlights from this set include “Double Talkin’ Jive”, “You Could Be Mine”, “Nightrain”, “My Michelle”, “It’s So Easy”, and “Rocket Queen”.
There is no denying the staying power and continued relevance of Gun N’ Roses. Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe) demonstrates this while offering an in-depth look at an era long gone, as best seen through the pair of concerts, a year apart, that encapsulate the metamorphosis of Guns N’ Roses in the early ‘90s. Their New York set at The Ritz represents the twilight of the Appetite era – Stradlin’s still there and the group sounds like the most dangerous band in the world; a true gang of hardened street punks you’d fear to cross. The Vegas set, on the other hand, is a production worthy of a global stadium tour for the biggest band in the world. This doesn’t necessarily make it better, but this latter set, a definitive take of the use your Illusion era, certainly contrasts with the initial live recordings. In this regard, Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe) captures Guns N’ Roses at a period of transition as they proved their worth as some of the last truly great rockstars to conquer the world. Simultaneously, this was a period marked with great turmoil attributed to excessively obscene drug use and growing internal tensions. All of this can be heard on Use Your Illusion (Super Deluxe), making for a thrilling expansion to their divisive, yet seemingly classic, sophomore albums.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: GUNS N’ ROSES – USE YOUR ILLUSION (SUPER DELUXE)