LA Guns Live In Newport, RI

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Friday, August 16, 2002 @ 12:00 AM

LA Guns Rip and Tear Area 22 i

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Three things I promised myself after “9-11-01”:
1) Work things out with my girlfriend
2) Experience as much live rock as I could before I die
3) Extol the virtues of Tracii Guns to everyone and anyone who would read or listen

Three things I promised myself after January 1st, 2002:
1) Marry my girlfriend
2) See more live rock shows; write about them with exhaustive detail-oriented zeal
3) Extol the virtues of Tracii Guns to everyone and anyone who would read or listen

Three things I promised myself after my girlfriend broke up with me in March:
1) Drink, smoke and do as many drugs as humanly possible and ultimately die like ayne Staley, depressed and alone in my apartment
2) See #1
3) Leave my L.A. Guns cd collection to “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” Museum, because it’s a fucking mystery to me how this guy isn’t getting the attention he deserves

I DID, among other things, make these promises to myself, without hyperbole, and went on something of a marathon gin-drenched bender last March and April; ultimately, I decided to keep it together and turn my angst toward writing, and seeing live music as much as humanly possible, if only to spite the Feria-tinted CK1-wearing , know-nothing poseurs who run MTV and force-feed garbage to kids who might long for something different, but must settle for “Uncle Kracker” and God knows what-the-hell else. Come what may, I would still like to realize my personal goal of pimping Tracii Guns like a New Orleans hooker on “Dollar-Day” in July.

The L.A. Guns tour coach sits outside the club, parked right on the street between a Saab and a compact Toyota. It is a bright shiny anomaly and turns heads like a Kournikova tennis match. Usually, the tour busses for bands playing Area 22 park on a side street, but the L.A. Guns bus sits quietly with it’s curtains drawn; a big cartoon dog snoozing away the day. It is funny to me, as I have come down to the club to check the showtime, that here on an overcast afternoon, in the middle of a town filled with tourists in Madras shorts who collectively lurk in the bars on the waterfront, listening to “Wish You Were Here” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” being warbled by some 40-something folkie playing an acoustic guitar, that the Hollywood Vampires Trans-American Caravan sits, like a Trojan Horse, waiting for the night to fall so the West-coast musical desperados within can loot, pillage and conquer. I wonder how the Guns’ will spend the afternoon: will they venture outside to see the town; or, true to their myth, they will stay locked inside, terrified of the daylight, and the damage it might cause their skin? I wonder if these soulless occupants will shamble out for a look around; will they get to see the welcoming summer beauty of my town, or will they hiss and recoil, safe in their rolling tin coffin? I almost want to knock on the door: someone’s at least got to tell them where the GOOD fried clams are… but, I press on. The show is set for 11PM, and I think it would be better to just show up and see how they handle the plaid shorts-wearing guys and Laura Ashley girls this town seems to attract…

I arrive at the club 5 minutes before 11, and the stage is set. Area 22 has a pretty big stage compared to some of the clubs in Rhode Island; Frank, the owner is a ‘sound-guy,’ so he has some pretty cool equipment available for the bands that make it here. Everything is blinking and humming. Like me, the crowd moves down from the mezzanine bar towards the stage. I stake out a spot at stage right, in front of Tracii Guns. I have stood in this spot at many LAG shows past, including the “original members reunion tour” at L’Amour in Nov ’99. Tracii, besides being an extraordinary guitarist, makes great guitar faces, which always provides some needed comic relief to an evening of otherwise straightforward rock.

Tracii has a 4x2 Framus amp/cabinet rig set-up behind him, and there are two guitar techs along the side of the stage. Well, maybe it is just one: one guy to push buttons and restring guitars, the other guy to keep him company. He has a pedal box with six pedals, and I can make out a distortion and “Wah” pedal; there rest are a mystery.

While I am thinking about “Wah” pedals and kind of staring at this twig with huge tits just to my left, Tracii Guns walks right past me. I know it is Tracii Guns because of the tats. Both arms sleeved; only guys in Brooklyn have more. The rest of the band, Phil Lewis and Steve Riley take the stage from the other side and I see… FUCK! There’s more NEW GUYS! This happens EVERY TOUR! DAMN IT! TWO MORE NEW GUYS!. I can’t keep up with this band -- and I’m a fan! I have everything they’ve recorded, but I don’t pay so much attention to their website… maybe I should. You need fucking trading cards to keep up with the members of this band. “I’ll trade you two Muddys and a Kelly Nickles for that Jizzy Pearl!” What is the buzz around the “scene” in L.A.? Is it cool to have been a member of L.A. Guns? A right-of-passage? Or do ex-members get the Scarlet Letters “LAG” tattooed on their chest? I think being a “new guy” in L.A. Guns must be the equivalent of being a “Red Shirt” on the original Star Trek… “Spock, McCoy, you come with me… you ‘Red Shirts’ wait here and let us know if the salt-monster comes out!” Those guys were so expendable. These poor bastards…. what do they tell their families and friends? I mean, are they happy, or do they broach the subject with the severity of announcing, “Mom, Dad… I have Cancer!” You have to wonder how long the new guys are going to be around. I do… and I LIKE THIS BAND. I wonder what the mathematical odds of becoming a member of L.A. Guns are, versus, say, being struck by lightning? Maybe, one day, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, like Andy Warhol said, but also, and maybe coincidentally, one day, everyone will have been a member of L.A. Guns. (I want to be in L.A. Guns!) I dwell on this and wonder if anyone has come up with a joke like so: “How many L.A. Guns does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” This needs to be addressed, probably by the people who hate L.A. Guns, rather than the fans; but it seems like it should have a funny answer… I resolve to give it some thought. Clearly, this is The Tracii Guns Show, Starring Phil Lewis and Steve Riley. As the band sets up, and Phil waits on the side of the stage, I see the new guys, Adam Hamilton and “Keff,” smiling and shaking hands with the guys in the front row, who, soused on beers, are already screaming song titles.

There is a big fat leather vest-over-Sturgis-tee-shirt-wearing guy with a world-class mullet moving closer to the stage, his chunky lady friend in tow. Behind him are two of his friends. The mullet guy is clearly psyched to be here, and is already bobbing his head, and Tracii hasn’t played a lick of his all-black Explorer-looking git yet. But the two other guys who stand next to me, now obscuring my view of the twig with the great big boobs, start in with the insults. ”See, I told you he was short! He’s a short fucker!” The two guys laugh and clank beers.

I never understand this as an observation. Tracii Guns may not be a monolith like Zakk Wylde, but how does this affect his guitar-playing? I heard this all night at the Danzig show a few months back. Probably Dio gets a lot of this, and I would imagine a bunch of other musicians out there as well. What is gained for people who point this out? What point are they making? Tracii Guns will outplay you ANY DAY of the week. “Even Sunday?” you might ask. Yes. Even Sunday. “What about Monday?” ANY DAY. AND PROBABLY ONE-HANDED! If you are a stupid insecure guy who PAYS to see a musician and needs to insult the performer, why not point out something UNIQUE, or something THAT MATTERS or might CAUSE ALARM? “That Tracii Guns! He doesn’t like puppies!” This has nothing to do with his guitar playing, but it would probably unsettle your friends. “TRACII GUNS DOESN’T LIKE PUPPIES? WHAT THE FUCK?” Drink to that, why don’t you, you puppy-loving insecure losers…

Tracii rips into the opening notes of “Don’t Look At Me That Way,” which has a heavy almost-Iron Maiden riff, as Steve Riley (the most under-rated drummer ever) bangs away. The new guys, Keff and Adam step forward in tandem, and a tank-top wearing Phil Lewis moves up and to the mic at center stage. The room is pretty full, and whether or not the people here know the songs, they are vehement in their exaltation. The cheering is intoxicating. The new song absolutely rips live. Just awesome.

The twig with the big boobs moves closer to me as the mullet guy presses forward. She asks what I am writing, breathing hot and yelling loudly in my ear. I explain I’m trying to keep up with my writing by seeing shows, etc. She doesn’t hear it, it is loud after all: points to her beer, and walks away. She beckons me to “come with.” I do. In the time that I have learned her name, “Heather,” and bought her a Red Stripe, L.A. Guns has moved through another song.

Back on the floor, it is “Sex Action” that chugs with the reckless abandon of a garage band that comes next. Always a crowd pleaser, Tracii Guns doesn’t waste any time demonstrating how blissfully easy this whole “guitar-thing” is. He is already playing upside-down and behind his neck… and then he does that thing where he moves his left forearm down the frets to create a slide-effect. Cool.

When Phil greets the crowd, (“Hey, Newport… are you havin’ a good time so far?”), Tracii switches guitars and pulls out a black-top Les Paul while the crowd answers affirmatively. “Never Enough” comes in and it is all about TRACII MOTHERFUCKIN’ GUNS. At least according to mullet-guy. His friends don’t agree; the crowd does. Heather does. Heather’s boobs do, as far as I can tell. But not the goof-balls in front of me. When the leads come down on “Never Enough,” by the way, it is a beatific moment where Tracii becomes almost God-like. Who plays leads this hot anymore? Anyone? Seriously… what band has good songs and a guitar player that plays LEADS? I want to know. Van Halen is no mas, so who’s left? Hmm…

“Beautiful” is next, and I am the only one singing along. Except Heather. I like this girl, but I think she only has boobs for L.A. Guns. Too bad for Mick; mucho tetas grandes para El Lay Pistolas… By the way, “Beautiful” is a wonderful song. A sort-of ballad; it’s on Man In The Moon, and is THE highlight on that CD. Pick it up if you don’t have it and like this band. It’s terrific.

Heather comes by and is talking about something, And I, in a weird space: I want to spend some time meeting and hanging with this chick, but I am ALL INTO L.A. Guns, and uncertain whether to hang, or follow the cleavage. (Yeah…fucking guess what I did. Yup…)

So, I’m at the bar, and I’m buying another beer, thinking I’m getting shafted, but she smells nice and is totally behind L.A. Guns as much as I am, despite keeping me from the set-list. Evidently, she’s seen ‘em a bunch, too. We drink a bit; then make it back down to the floor to see Phil Lewis give the mic over to… TRACII GUNS!

Tracii squeals into “Red House.” If you have seen this tour, or the package tour that L.A. Guns is a part of, you have witnessed the TRUE GENUIS of this guy. The “metal” guy you think of is really so much more… Johnny Thunders meets Stevie Ray Vaughn. Now who the fuck can you say that about? No one. Tracii ain’t the vocalist that Phil Lewis is, but he can hold his own on the mic. Mercifully and thankfully, it is all about the guitar, this song… and that makes it a lock for Tracii Guns. This guy does things to a guitar… well, I’m sure if a Conservative Right-Wing political Force comes to power in the USA, Tracii’s guitar-playing will be outlawed as “lewd.”

After this rousing, totally cool, bluesy-rock moment, some yob with a Heineken gripped in his mitt starts yelling at Phil, who has just finished intro-ing “Mister Tracii Guns.” The schmuck keeps yelling “Motorhead” and “You SUCK!” at the top of his lungs. This is where I wish this guy would try this at L’Amour. It would be a death sentence. Here, in provincial Newport, RI, we boo and holler. Tracii, who has just whipped out a bow (a la Jimmy Page, or even Nigel Kennedy), hits the guy on the top of the head. He just taps him with the bow. The guy stops, the crowd looks… we are all waiting for some challenge to this incredible injustice… and Tracii, winking at those of us on his side of the stage just smiles, “Hey! Can I kiss you? I want to love you man!”

We are all laughing and even Phil Lewis, who looked a bit like he might be pissed off, starts laughing. It is a hilarious moment: totally unexpected and worth EVERYTHING to see. The guy is such a drunken wreck, he hasn’t realized what has happened. The guitar tech guys come out, and are looking pretty pissed, mullet guy is pissed, we are all pissed, but laughing. You would think this guy would get the beating of his life, but, in the midst of the hilarity, he just kind of slinks away.

Tracii gets back to business with the bow thing, and then they go into “One More Reason.” I think I might be exaggerating when I say that everyone is singing along, but I am, and Heather is. So there. Tracii ends with the opening to “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” and then, then…s queals into “Electric Gypsy.” It would be nice to hear and watch this guy go “all night long” on the guitar; but he moves into the opening of “Crystal Eyes” from Vicious Circle, and then into “Ballad Of Jayne.” A nice surprise segue way, and after this slow, haunting version (Phil sounds terrific) comes some “old-school” LAG: “Rip And Tear.”

Now comes the encore: after the thanks and intros (new-guys…), comes the crowd baiting. Less than I have seen from many bands in the past, this encore comes swiftly…(Heather Big-boobs agrees), and out comes… Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis and Keff and Adam Hamilton and Steve Riley… and Phil, the most graceful and polite guy in rock, I think, thanks the crowd and intros the latest song from Waking The Dead (the latest L.A. Guns CD). It is the title song, and seems to please the crowd, as much as it does Phil and Tracii to play it. It is totally heavy for this band, with Phil and all. Wild. Then comes a moment of doubt, they all look around, and Tracii calls in “Psychopathic Eyes,” another new song.

BUT, the show is not finished there… Phil announces they will be out in “five or ten” minutes to sign shirts and take pics and stuff. Now… I have just seen a great show. A show I would recommend to anyone and everyone. Tracii Guns is a showman -- and anyone who doesn’t even know his stuff would be enlightened by simply showing up and WATCHING this guy… But that they would come out and sign stuff…? Too cool.

The only problem, as Heather points out, is that “five or ten minutes.” In L.A. Guns time is an hour or two in real time. Heather is driving back to The Cape, as she came to Newport from Truro to see this show, so, she bails. I didn’t even get her number to give to the LA Guns. *Sigh* I think this is my lot in life.

I do, however, stick around. I have with me a museum-class “Cocked & Loaded” tour poster that I mean to get signed. I will skip the additional observations about the late-evening shenanigans, except to say this: anytime you want to see my framed and personalized autographed poster of L.A. Guns, and hear about what Tracii had to say about playing with Johnny Thunders back in the day… well, Heather, if you’re reading this, you know how to reach me… just drive into Newport blasting L.A. Guns, the way you left that night… yelling at the top of your lungs: “L.A. GUNS FUCKING ROCKS!”

(SIDEBAR TO TRACII: Dude, don’t be so quick to overlook the songs you recorded without Phil. “Wasted” is a great song, and so are more than a few off of Shrinking Violet. Don’t neglect solid material; see what Phil can make of those songs, much the way Bruce Dickinson has been singing Paul and Blaze songs…)

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