L.A. GUNS PUT ON GREAT PERFORMANCE AS USUAL
Date: July 16, 2018
Venue: The Rockpile
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
It sounds almost crazy as I am writing this review but I’ve seen four different versions of L.A. Guns in less than two years. I saw the “reunited” L.A. Guns version of Tracii Guns (guitar) and Phil Lewis (lead vocals) headlining the Rock N Skull Pre-Party back in late October 2016. Guns and Lewis were backed up by Michael Grant (guitar), Johnny Martin (bass) and Shane Fitzgibbon (drums) and that line-up simply put on one electrifying live performance. They were so good that I ranked them #2 overall out of 31 performances over four days at Rock N Skull. The next night (day one of Rock N Skull 2016), I saw the second L.A. Guns version of Phil Lewis (lead vocals), Steve Riley (drums), Michael Grant (guitar) and Kenny Kweens (bass) who also put on a great live performance. I ended up ranking them #8 overall (out of 31 performances) at Rock N Skull 2016, which I consider a very strong showing.
Fast forward six months later and Lewis was no longer in the Riley led L.A. Guns. By the way, this has always seemed odd to me that Riley and Tracii Guns apparently had shared ownership of the L.A. Guns name. How did Riley end up in such a power position over the years? I understand that he was kind of or was the band manager during his time in L.A. Guns but still… It would make more sense to me if Lewis and Guns had that shared band name ownership because after all, without at least Phil Lewis or Tracii Guns, it makes no sense that a band would call itself L.A. Guns. I suppose that’s why Steve Riley hasn’t started up a new version of L.A. Guns without Lewis or Guns. Put Lewis and Guns together and you have the real L.A. Guns no matter who the other players are. At the end of April 2017, the L.A. Guns line-up that I saw perform live at The Rockpile in Toronto consisted of Lewis, Guns, Grant, Martin and Fitzgibbon. That line-up was bombastic but did contain two lead guitarists. In fact, I noted the following in my review of that line-up’s Toronto show: “Now although I have thought numerous times that Grant stole the show when L.A. Guns were playing, this time around, it seemed like he was holding himself back a little bit to put the focus rightfully on Guns who deserves whatever accolades are to be bestowed on him.” More on that later in this review.
A year later, I was seeing L.A. Guns perform live again, this time at Sleazy Slimey Sunday 3 at the Cancun Cantina in Hanover, Maryland, USA with Grant no longer in the line-up having been replaced by guitarist Johnny Monaco. I readily admit that I didn’t catch much of L.A. Guns‘ set that night — or should I say early morning given that the band started roughly around 1:00 am — since I had to drive the eight to nine hours by myself the next day and make it back to Toronto for 3:30 pm. From the three songs that I saw and heard from L.A. Guns that night, the band sounded great although Johnny Monaco didn’t look like he “fit in” that well. The band was a bit cramped on the smaller Cancun Cantina stage so that might have been the reason. Whatever the case, within a couple of weeks, Monaco was out of the line-up and his replacement was none other than former long-time bassist Adam Hamilton who was this time taking on the rhythm guitar duties. No more dual lead guitars with one guitarist (Michael Grant) seemingly holding back to let the other shine (Tracii Guns). No more improvisation on certain L.A. Guns classics the way Grant sometimes did, which admittedly sometimes really added to the songs such as the ending for the classic “Rip And Tear” at the Rock N Skull Pre-Party in October 2016.
This time around, lead guitarist Tracii Guns was front and center on every guitar solo and frankly, the band sounded more like L.A. Guns (or at least closer to all those classic early year records) than it ever had to my ears since 2014 when I have seen L.A. Guns play live at least once per year. In other words, new rhythm guitarist Adam Hamilton fit in well in this latest version of L.A. Guns and helped keep the spotlight on frontman Phil Lewis and lead guitarist Tracii Guns. While Michael Grant definitely had more stage presence and aura than Hamilton, the reality is that every band member has a role to fill and having Grant — who was the frontman for his pre-L.A. Guns band Enderafter and currently is the lead man for his new project Michael Grant + The Assassins — in L.A. Guns turned out, in hindsight, to be a distraction to the spotlight that Tracii Guns deserves after all these years.
Now that I’ve covered a little about L.A. Guns‘ constantly changing line-up, it’s time to go back to the beginning of the evening for me. I was excited to see my friend Bruce who had flown from Calgary, Alberta, Canada to Toronto to catch Armored Saint play at the Mod Club the following night. Bruce and his wife Rachel were spending a couple of extra days in Toronto so Bruce decided to catch L.A. Guns play live. Funny enough, although Bruce‘s metal roots undoubtedly trace back to the ’80s, he was not that familiar with L.A. Guns to the point that it’s the band’s new song “Speed” that got him into the veteran sleaze rockers’ music. In any case, Bruce and my buddy and rival website editor Rich “The Meister” Dillon were there to greet me when I got to The Rockpile at about 9:30 pm. There was a three piece opening act playing — I don’t know their name — but I really wasn’t paying attention to them. I did hear snippets of Soundgarden‘s “Spoonman” and that’s about it.
Before long, it was time for L.A. Guns to hit the stage at the reasonable time of 10:07 pm (as noted by The Meister). The sleaze veterans started their show with little fanfare but a great song in the new track “The Devil Made Me Do It” from their critically acclaimed The Missing Peace record (which landed the #1 spot on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2017). From there, “Electric Gypsy” and “No Mercy” followed and clearly L.A. Guns had the crowd at the palm of their hands. The setlist was a great one with a couple of new tracks (three of them) from The Missing Piece and most of the better classic tracks including newly inserted “Over The Edge” and “Kiss My Love Goodbye.” In fact, Lewis advised that they were going to be playing a number of songs that they hadn’t played in a while. The self-titled debut album, which is one of my all-time favorite albums was well represented with four tracks and the follow up Cocked And Loaded was also in the spotlight with five songs played from that one. When you have two fantastic albums like those two which put you on the map so to speak, it makes sense to me that L.A. Guns keep playing many songs from those two records night after night. I can’t even imagine a L.A. Guns concert without hearing “Electric Gypsy,” “Sex Action,” “Never Enough” or “Rip And Tear.”
L.A. Guns performing “Sex Action” live at The Rockpile in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 16, 2018:
One surprise of the night was when Lewis advised that they were contacted by someone asking if they could play drums with the band on stage at the Toronto gig. It turned out to be a 14 years old boy with big curly hair. To my surprise, the 14 year old boy got to play drums instead of Shane Fitzgibbon for the song “I Wanna Be Your Man” (another one of my favorite L.A. Guns tracks that made its way back to the band’s setlist). Wow! That kid could really play and more than held his own. Lewis joked that they didn’t need Fitzgibbon anymore. L.A. Guns also played “Hellraisers Ball” (another treat!) from the Waking The Dead album and Lewis emphasized new rhythm guitarist Adam Hamilton‘s contributions to that song and record.
L.A. Guns performing “I Wanna Be Your Man” live (with 14 year old boy on drums) at The Rockpile in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 16, 2018:
A 14 year old fan joined LA Guns as a guest drummer for this one…
Speaking of Hamilton, as I previously indicated, I thought that he actually fit in better with the Lewis–Guns line-up than Michael Grant did because he wasn’t stealing the spotlight like the show stopper Grant almost unassumingly was doing night after night. I preferred when Grant was the sole lead guitarist in the L.A. Guns line-up. When Guns and Grant were in the line-up together, it felt like Grant was holding himself back as time progressed and certainly more during the Toronto gig in April 2017 compared to when I saw that line-up in October 2016. Hamilton was rather low key during the show on this night, which helped keep the spotlight on L.A. Guns‘ main men — Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns. So I actually think that Hamilton is a better fit than Grant for the L.A. Guns line-up when both Lewis and Guns are in it. Time will tell for how long that Hamilton sticks in the band but for now, he is certainly a solid addition.
Phil Lewis‘ voice has held up very well over the years and he was playful and smiling the entire night. He recalled how great L.A. Guns‘ last show at The Rockpile was back in April 2017 and noted that it was also on a Monday. If I remember correctly, the place was packed on this night. There seemed to be a few less people attending this time around but there was still a sizeable and enthusiastic crowd for a Monday night. Lewis advised The Rockpile crowd that “Mondays” would be their thing from now on! Lewis also pointed out that the band members had been treated like princes from day one since coming to The Rockpile (the west location as L.A. Guns previously played the Rockpile East in June 2014 before it closed down). As usual, L.A. Guns put on a spirited set from start to finish. Guns and Lewis were all smiles at each other and it’s really great to have those two share the same stage again. Lewis announced that the band was working on a follow up album to The Missing Piece, which can only be described as absolutely fantastic news! The group capped off a great night with the obligatory “The Ballad Of Jayne” and their perennial anthem “Rip And Tear.”
Funny enough, it seemed that the ticket price to see L.A. Guns on this night had increased by about $10 compared to the previous time in April 2017. I know one person in particular who couldn’t stop complaining about that but paying an extra $10 to see a band like L.A. Guns is no big deal in my books. With the number of people listening to hard rock / heavy metal having dwindled substantially from the ’80s heyday, with bands not really making any money from their actual albums and with (as noted by Lewis in a recent interview with Music Life Magazine) the group’s core fanbase having (in many cases) more disposable income to spend as they get older, there really should be no complaints about paying $50 to see a L.A. Guns concert. Supply and demand will always dictate everything at the end. For example, Yngwie Malsmsteen was playing at The Rockpile in June but one ticket was over $100 for that show. I passed on it because of what i perceived to be a hefty and too high price to see Malmsteen play live. Supply and demand. It dictates the prices! Anyways, that’s my two cents in that regard. I am looking forward to seeing L.A. Guns play live next year as it seems that a L.A. Guns Toronto show is now an annual event, which is a great thing!
L.A. Guns’ setlist:
01. The Devil Made Me Do It
02. Electric Gypsy
03. No Mercy
04. Over The Edge
05. Kiss My Love Goodbye
06. Sex Action
07. The Flood’s The Fault Of The Rain
08. I Wanna Be Your Man
10. One More Reason
11. Hellraisers Ball
13. Guitar solo from Tracii Guns / Hell’s Bells (AC/DC cover) intro
14. Never Enough
15. Guitar solo from Tracii Guns
16. The Ballad Of Jayne
17. Rip And Tear