L.A. Guns – A Night at the Gramercy
I had been looking forward to this gig for awhile. I had seen it posted on Facebook by Alex Kayne, the L’Amour DJ. He was apparently going to be doing the music in between sets. But even before I had seen that I had been pondering such a gig. I had actually written to a few folks urging someone to take the plunge and have LA Guns play one of the larger rooms in the city. I felt it was a worthwhile investment, one which I would certainly support! I was not urging the Garden. I was thinking more like the Bowery Ballroom, Irving Plaza, or perhaps the Gramercy Theater. I doubt my pleas had much to do with it happening, but I was simply happy that my wish did come true.
Wednesday, August 2nd was an alright day. At work we are sliding into the dog days of summer it seems. That period where you are kind of in limbo as clients do not want to do anything until after Labor Day. I might be proved wrong, there is always one in the bunch! It worked nicely on Wednesday.
So I was focused on that evening. I started my Wednesday morning with the thought of that Wednesday evening. I had it all planned. Where to stand, when to go downstairs, which bands to skip, etc. Even dinner was calculated. Lately, when I am going to such a show. . . I am hitting Shake Shack. Sad but true. It was tasty, though.
So I got there around 8 or so. The line outside had already been let in. The crowd was alright. Not killing it, but there was some folks in the place. It did grow as the night proceeded. One act was already tearing their gear down, their set done. At the time, I was thinking they were about to go on.
I went downstairs at first, checked out the merch. Waited for the next act to come on, which was in fact the Scottish Widows. They were OK. Just the Bass Player and Guitarist seems to have sprouted roots. They did not move. The tunes were alright. I sat up in the bleachers, lamenting that Ten Ton Mojo or Liza Colby was not warming up. Liza had opened for them at the Bowery electric two years back. I missed that show, sadly. And Ten Ton Mojo on this Wednesday night were down at the Delancey doing a show. And despite my concerns, a city the size of New York was in fact able to facilitate Ten Ton Mojo and LA Guns playing separate gigs. Talk about a lack of faith. . .
I sat there for awhile thinking, maybe I have seen this band enough. Perhaps my enthusiasm had gotten the best of me. LA Guns are good but any band has their saturation point. I had seen them a few months back over in Long Island. And last year I had seen them, again in Long Island. Plus there was that festival in Jersey, and let us not forget the Continental nor Don Hills. There are those moments of doubt.
After the Scottish Widows came Budderside, which I had not looked into. I did not look up either of them, despite the internet. So I really did not know what to expect. I liked them. They did move around. They did not allow themselves to be be pinned down. They were rock, maybe a little pop, maybe even a dash of humor. Some fun. Some folks did not have patience for them. I will check them out again. If I was on Instagram, I would connect with them, but I ain’t. Not yet, at least.
And now on to LA Guns. They of course just jumped into it full throttle. Starting with No Mercy – the first song of the first album, and then Electric Gypsy, again from that first album and the title just says it all. From their they jumped into Killing Machine from the Vicious Circle Album. That is how they started the night.
Currently the band consist of Phillip Lewis, Tracii Guns, Johnny Martin, Shane Fitzgibbon, and Michael Grant. Philip was of course on vocals, Tracii on guitar. Johnny covering the bass. Phil in his introduction that night described Johnny as the lost or last Ramone? Ah, I could see that. Shane covered the drums and has been playing with Tracii for several years now. Lastly there is Michael, who had been covering guitar chores for several years with Philip Lewis’s version of the band. Today, he is sharing those duties with Tracii.
And they are more than sharing those duties. You have got those two feeding of each other. There were moments, during the show where I was thinking Allman Brothers with those two complimenting each other like they were! The highlight of that I would have to say was the dual solo or now harmony on Over the Edge. This song has always been shred on their stage, but with these two going at it currently, it was just more than a pleasure. It was just the appropriate tune, with the appropriate line-up, at the appropriate venue at the appropriate volume.
There were multiple moments during the course of the night where their playing just worked, and honestly there were one or two moments where I was just thought of the Allmans. Allow me to qualify. I mean two things by that. The first is the harmonies did just remind of the few tunes I know by the Allman Brothers. The second thing is the musicality of the Allman Brothers. I just felt these guys are sharpening their craft, and further just playing as a band. (And do note, if you are an Allman Brothers fan, I seriously doubt you will find much here. And if you do find something. . . please do share!)
These two, Michael and Tracii, and the band at large were feeding off each other that night. That is the beauty of a band and it was visible at the Gramercy. It was audible too. You saw this in their little tongue-in-cheek honky-tonk semi acoustic jam session. Ultimately, involving Johnny on Bass jumping in and leading the way to Malaria . Other moments that caught my attention included when they did Don’t Look At Me That Way, which Phil almost apologized for before they did it. Really, no apology was needed.
As I said, it was the musicality that grabbed me. It was the little things. You could hear it on the vocals. Yeah, Phil Lewis was good as ever, but the backups seemed really present. There were even some harmonies perhaps. That attention to detail, you sometimes do not see it, but I was hearing it.
Regarding Phil, he was just having fun in between songs. He was pushing the envelope. That is what a frontman is suppose to do. He seemed to have wanted to piss off every women in the house before finally introducing Kiss My Love Goodbye. It went something like,”This goes out to every fat girl, every stupid girl, every ugly woman in the theater tonight. . .”. Another intro to another tune had him describing New York as the “Asshole of the World that gets things done”, unlike LA, which is apparently lazy. Ah, such things do beat talk of how much we love it here, where ever here is. How many bands actually love the Meadowlands, and East Rutherford, or the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie?
At other moments he was suggesting that audience members were lighting up, and introducing someone’s daughter on stage. He also shared that the Ballad of Jayne was an ode to his mother, which is interesting, as I thought it was actually about Jayne Mansfield. It could be both. . .
The band, however, has evolved. Just look at the various lineups. I am, however, referring to this lineup. I caught a clip of Tracii Guns being interviewed when it was first announced that he and Phil were touring. He basically was saying that this venture was nostalgia, a trip down memory lane. That has changed. I think him and Phil challenge each other. I think there is a similar dynamic between him and Michael. As Michael points out in a recent interview, there is an old school / new school thing going with him, Johnny, and Shane on the one side. Phil and Tracii on the other side, showing them how it should be done, and the younger guys responding with what can be done.
The end result regardless was that we got two songs that night from an upcoming album. Of course they did Speed, which is simply an LA Guns tune. Down the road, I would expect it included in any greatest hits package coming our way. The more interesting number was the tune that preceded it, The Flood is the Fault of the Rain. When Phil introduced it, someone behind me commented, “Who came up with that title?” It was different, it had its moments. It was different, maybe some synth underneath or sampling. I need to hear it again, but at first blush it made me think of Mr. Grant and his Assassins.
The encore, which entailed four songs, again points to that mix of old and new. Oh they did Ballad of Jayne – that was the third song. And it started with Never Enough. In between these two was an amazing instrumental, Jelly Roll, just showing off the chops of both Michael Grant and Tracii Guns. And the fourth and final tune was Rip and Tear, the solo of which, Michael Grant just took home. He finished it.
Michael Grant does need to be given a nod. He as been playing the last few years with Phil Lewis, and wisely, they included him in this newly reformed version of LA Guns. He is just am amazing player and performer. He is a pleasure to watch on stage. It was very cool that he was able to do his version of Prince’s Purple Rain at the Gramercy. I had caught him do this in Long Island, right after Prince passed. That was very much a spontaneous affair. This, however, was was a bit more rehearsed. On both occasions, Michael more than handled the vocals and playing. Phil in his introduction claimed Michael as one of the most musical folks he had worked with. And again, to have Michael end the evening with Rip and Tear was and is just right.
Regardless of my fascination for Mr Grant, the thing that came across at the Gramercy Theater was this band enjoys playing as a band and it shows. In the four months since I caught them in Long Island, they have more than learned some new tricks. Phil and Tracii might have been around the block a few times but LA Guns is no dog of a band. That was certainly not the case at the Gramercy last Wednesday, August 2nd!