Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
May 9th 1991

- Del James, Rip Magazine

Early that morning, 8:00 a.m. or so, Slash and Duff called the local rock radio station and announced that GN'R would be playing a one-off gig that night. Fans flocked to the venue, and within an hour all the tickets were sold. Among the early birds milling about on the street was none other than and incognito Izzy Stradlin, looking like of NWA or Public Enemy's homeboys with his dark shades, L.A. Raiders cap, and hooded sweat jacket up over his head.

"It was insane, man. All those kids that early in the morning," reflected Izzy in his tuning room, while a Bob Marley cassette blared away. "I can't wait till we finally go on."

After a well-received set from L.A. noise kings Dumpster, a four-piece whose sound and style bring to mind images of Fear, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Motorhead, the Warfield was buzzing with anticipation. Many of these loral GN'R diehards had been waiting over ten hours for this. Opening with "Pretty Tied Up," Guns N' Roses cruised though a two-hour set that was 80% new material. New tunes like "Bad Obsession," the brutal "Perfect Crime," "Dust N' Bones," "Live And Let Die," "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," "Yesterdays" and "Double Talkin' Jive" mixed perfectly with "Out Ta Get Me," "Mr. Brownstone," "It's So Easy," and "Welcome To The Jungle." Another highlight of the evening was when Slash broke out a guitar solo and into "Happy Birthday," while Axl dragged Doug Goldstein onstage. Red-faced and highly uncomfortable, Goldstein made it through the song before quickly exiting stage left. Another not-so-highlight occurred during "Paradise City," when Duff attempted a stage dive, and an overanxious security guard grabbed his legs as he was in mid-flight, causing him to eat it, face first. One of the gig's highest points was the haunting, set-ending song, which Axl introduced like this: "As the Stones would say, this song is about a girl who's just a memory. It's called "Estranged."

The fans, who had never heard most of these songs, were singing their lungs out by the second chorus.

It's real cool when people are singing songs they don't really know," Axl said later. "I work on communicating it to them, and they take the time to get into it. I like the intimacy, and I think the crowd likes the intimacy of us showing them out new songs."

Although highly intense energy-wise, the set suffered a bit from lack of cohesiveness. Certain tunes went down smooth as silk; others still needed to have the bugs worked out of them. But an off night or average gig for Guns is better than most other acts going. Besides, what d'ya want for their first show? As Slash explained to the crowd, part of the reason they chose to do the gig was that when GN'R was a club band, they'd play songs their fans had never heard before, and if the fans like what they heard, they'd be received well; so this was sort of a testing ground. He also went on to add that the Warfield was one of the few remaining venues that offered concertgoers a full bar, not just beer. What a guy!

Backstage after the show, Axl asked me what I thought of that night's performance.

"Honestly?" I responded.


"It was a seven out of a possible ten."

He didn't really respond, but judging from the look on his face, I think he appreciated my honesty.

- Harry Sumrall, Mercury News Music, 5.11.91

Guns N' Roses is an odd group.

The ultra-metal quintet, which rampaged the charts in 1988 with its multi-platinum album "Appetite for Destruction," is scheduled to release not one but two new records of studio material, "Use Your Illusion I" and " . . . II." Odd.

And while it is one of the biggest groups in the country, it hasn't actually played in this country in three years. Odd.

And what does it do before heading out on its upcoming tour but play an unadvertised show at the Warfield Theater on Thursday, in what lead vocalist Axl Rose referred to as a "live rehearsal"? Very odd.

But oddest of all was the way it played at this show. This wasn't a performance as much as a brawl, with Rose and his companions storming and ranting onstage. The bulk of the material was new, so new that Rose sang to a TelePrompTer most of the time. And when he wasn't reading the words, he and his mates were hopping about and making in-jokes and dropping cues and acting like a group that had just dropped in from a garage.

In other words, it was a fine show indeed. One of a kind. Real nasty.

Yes, they did play a familiar song or two, such as "It's So Easy," and "Welcome to the Jungle," which they pounded into a fine powder with their crunching metal chords and slamming rhythms. But most of the rest, such as "Bad Obsession," were straight off the assembly line but just as ornery as the group's warhorses.

Along the way, they did a wonderfully mangled version of Paul McCartney's masterpiece James Bond theme "Live and Let Die," with Rose screeching the words. And guitarist Slash broke off a solo to play "Happy Birthday" as Rose pulled the group's new manager onstage.


Along with the new manager and songs, the group also trotted out a new drummer, Matt Sorum, who was goosed with a timpani stick by bassist Duff "Rose" McKagan during a drum solo.

The capacity crowd loved the whole mess.

This wasn't the sleek, slick show that the group is certain to perform on its upcoming tour -- which makes its way to Shoreline Amphitheater on July 19. This was Guns N' Roses having some fun.

On "Civil War," Slash opened with a spare set of guitar phrases that were sloppy but thoroughly mesmerizing. His solo was ragged and raw but infused with intensity. Rose and the rest then slammed into the song with the same fervor. At the end of its nearly two-hour performance, Slash made a few remarks to the crowd in his usual manner, which is to say that every other word was a copulative adjective. "It's (bleep) great to be in (bleep) San Francisco . . . ," he said. And as he launched into the set's last song, he noted, "You'll know this one when you recognize it."


With that, he and the group slogged into a tremendous rendition of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." It had all the subtlety of a sledge, with Slash and guitarist Izzy Stradlin' strumming the song's elegiac chords with a jittery grandeur and Rose yelling the words. Guns N' Roses performed it the way all good rockers should: flat out, no holds barred, give a (bleep), and take no prisoners.

What? That was this show in a coconut shell. It shouldn't have added up, but it did. It shouldn't have been good, but it was. If the tour is as good as this rehearsal, everyone should be happy.

Guns N' Roses appears Friday, July 19, at 8 p.m. at Shoreline Amphitheater. Tickets, at $22.50 and $25, go on sale today at 10 a.m.