The year is 1989 and glam metal has taken over the infamous Sunset Strip as well as the music charts. The band L.A. Guns has just released their sophomore album Cocked & Loaded, after teasing fans with the release of their album singles. The hit single Ballad of Jayne reaches #33 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #25 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The album would later be certified gold and considered an iconic album in L.A. Guns history. Founded in 1983 by guitarist Tracii Guns and, then unknown singer, Axl Rose on lead vocals – the band had taken a turn when they welcomed the former vocalist from Girl, Phil Lewis, into their camp. Little did they know at the time, they would be writing music together for decades to come. Fast forward to November 28, 2020, and it is the 31st anniversary of Cocked & Loaded. The band meets up in Sin City to perform the entire album from front to back. A handful of fans anxiously line up outside of the Fremont Country Club in Las Vegas, Nevada, while the rest of the fans tune in (via Veeps) for the exclusive live-stream concert. The current lineup features founding member Guns on lead guitar, reunited with Lewis on vocals, along with Scot Coogan on drums, Johnny Martin on bass, and Ace Von Johnson on guitar.
For most in attendance, the venue feels empty yet welcoming after months without live music. Although it all feels different from the normal grime and grit show, there is gratitude beaming from everywhere you look. A voice echoes throughout the venue, welcoming you to the event. This voice belongs to Eddie Trunk, the rock music industry veteran, and one of the most well-respected radio personalities in the business. Trunk’s spirited voice escorts you into the Backstage Bar & Billiards room where the 8-foot-by-20-foot movie screen behind the bar features the opening documentary-style video. Trunk speaks with Guns and Lewis about Cocked & Loaded from the recording of the celebrated album to the excitement of playing it live in its entirety. Fans learn about the 50-minute bus rides to the studio that turned into liberating lyric-writing sessions and the countless soundchecks on the Hysteria Tour with Def Leppard that turned into instrumental writing opportunities. Tales of analog tape, supporting labels, and the cold story of Jayne hold the crowd over until the faint sounds of an electric guitar are heard behind the curtain. You can feel the buzz of an electric charge that has not been felt for quite some time. A real live music set, but not with just anyone. With a band that has their name etched into the marquees of Sunset Strip – L.A. Guns.
As the red curtain draws back to reveal the rockers draped in bright white light, the crowd is instantly transported back to 1989. The opening notes of Letting Go pour out over the audience and their cheers match the level of excitement coming from the stage. Setting the venue on fire, the band sets the tone for the rest of the performance with their high-flowing energy and hypnotic transition into Slap In The Face. Taking over the venue with enthusiasm, they rip into the next classic with something to prove. This is the first time that you can really take note of how spot-on the vocals are by Lewis. Lead by Guns shredding guitar solos, the entire band feeds off of one another. Each a master of their own instrument, they deliver what the crowd has been anticipating – a tight and polished unit with that original sound that transcends time. Pulling back from the high-speed guitar riffs and drum beats that close Slap In The Face, the song Rip And Tear does just that. This confident radio-hit has the audience singing behind their masks, wishing to rip them off and belt out the lyrics with Lewis. As the chugging roar of the guitar section takes off, you can hear the sheer talent of each guitarist. The guitar interplay between Guns, Johnson, and Martin is invigorating and invites listeners to move with them. With a masterful solo from Guns the song closes out and there is time to take a breath for the first time since they came out of the gate.
Sleazy Come Easy Go introduces a new sound to the mix and a new performance level from Lewis. He dances across the stage with groove and flair – being sure to interact with both of the audiences. For a moment you almost forget that the concert is being live-streamed. That is until one of the camera crew passes by, or you notice one of the band members playing into a camera. The typical easy task of playing to a max capacity crowd is challenged with this intimate socially distanced show, but
L.A. Guns continues to play with an enthusiasm that could blow the roof off of a concert hall. Martin whips his hair to the sound of his effortless basslines, encouraging many of the fans to do the same. The performance chemistry between Johnson and Martin really begins to show during this song and leaves a smile on your face. Meanwhile, it is hard not to ignore the permanent grin on Coogan’s face – the kind that is just as honest as the song being played. The memorable riff from Never Enough takes off next and so does the sultry sound of Lewis’s voice. The strong backing vocals add the punch in the chorus that takes the song over the edge, where we find the band’s favorite song to perform – Malaria. The audience’s energy kicks up a notch with the tantalizing riffs by Guns and sound effects that follow. Having to remain seated, you can tell that the fans simply can not resist jumping out of their seats every time Lewis, or Guns commands the crowd. As the stage falls to black the sound of the cheering audience rises. Lewis takes the time to thank everyone in the crowd and those watching from wherever they are in the world before the infamous sound of acoustic guitar fills the room. A single spotlight projects an intense beam of light onto the back of Lewis as the haunting ballad begins. The Ballad Of Jayne easily becomes the most emotionally intense song of the set, hitting you even harder than what you experience on the recorded album. For the first time, you notice that the vest Lewis is wearing is reminiscent of the music video and you’re waiting for red roses to appear on stage. As each verse begins, the power of the song in its entirety grows far more intense than the last. The simple, yet powerful solo from Guns and subtle backbeat leaves chills up your spine up until the final notes ring out. The stage fades to a green haze, leaving the crowd to reflect on the heaviness of the song.
But not for long, because the song written for an arena is next. Magdalaine opens with the spotlight on Coogan, the animated performer. His exuberant facial expressions provide a visual match to the passion of his playing. The dynamic drumming leads the song until Guns swoons the audience with another fast-paced solo. Give A Little and I’m Addicted seduce the audience next, followed by an “easter egg” song. The thrashing sound erupts across the venue, equipped with strobe lights that only drive the pace faster. Speed, a song from the 2017 album The Missing Peace plays out with the crowd surprised, but not disappointed. The energy radiating off of Martin on bass is so bright that you can’t take your eyes off of him. And when Johnson comes into the frame they make a truly deadly duo. The crowd echoes the band with an array of “hey”s and fists pumping into the air. “That was not on Cocked & Loaded, but we wish that it was,” says Lewis when the song abruptly hits the last crashing note. “Back to work.” Which means that it is time for 17 crash, Showdown (Riot On Sunset), and Wheels Of Fire. With the stage draped in red light, everyone exits…except for Guns. He delivers a throw your head back and groove kind of solo that drives the crowd wild. It’s easy to assume that everyone watching on live-stream is screaming as well. Bounding onto the stage after Guns proves that he hasn’t missed a beat in 31 years, the rest of the band takes the last song to showcase each of their talents. Closing the show with I Wanna Be Your Man, the band leaves it all on the stage. Making an intimate venue feel like an arena rock show, the crowd roars loud enough to make you forget that the venue is socially distanced. And as the curtains close that electric buzz is in the air once again.
With half of the crowd gone, the rest eagerly wait for the VIP Acoustic meet and greet to start. Chatter about the first set lingers in the room until the band takes the stage yet again. In a serene setting with soft lights and a much more relaxed environment, the live-stream begins. The virtual fans ask a wide variety of questions from legal issues, vinyl junkie talk, and tour inquiries. They also gave great compliments, one in particular about the afternoon that left an impact on Lewis. The guest explained how incredible his voice was during the performance, even after all of these years. One member of the band jokingly said it was because Lewis was a vampire, while Lewis explained his opinion on the matter. “I think that I am a better singer now than I was back then,” he confesses. “I know the subject better.” He made sure to let the guest know that her comment made his entire day and then proceeded to give the crowd what they wanted – an acoustic set that would not be forgotten by those in attendance. The lucky members of the crowd, still basking in what they have just seen and heard, reluctantly walk into the neon lights on Fremont Street. The nostalgia from the decades passed hits home, and so does the nostalgia of when live shows were a frequent occurrence in our lives.
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