You cannot overestimate the importance of L.A. Guns in the history of the 1980s Los Angeles rock scene. Originally formed by guitarist Tracii Guns in 1983, L.A. Guns not only left their mark on the Sunset Strip but also helped give birth to Guns N’ Roses. It was clear from the opening notes on this night that the band hasn’t lost any of their swagger as they blew into the Wall Street Theater in Norwalk, CT.
As the lights went down, the audience was treated to a little “guitaryoke” by Tracii Guns. The Ozzy Osbourne classic “Diary of a Madman” played on the PA while Guns, standing offstage, played the Randy Rhodes guitar part to the recording. Once that track ended, the full band hit the stage to the monstrous “Cannonball” from 2021’s Checkered Past.
Unlike most of their Sunset Strip peers (Stryper is maybe the only exception), L.A. Guns is still regularly putting out strong, quality records with songs that seamlessly fit into a set with the classics. In addition to “Cannonball”, the current set also features “Speed” from 2017’s Phil Lewis/Tracii Guns reunion record “The Missing Peace”, as well as “You Betray” and “Diamonds” from their current release Black Diamonds.
The current lineup of the band features not only Lewis and Guns, but also bassist Johnny Martin, guitarist Ace Von Johnson, and touring drummer Shawn Duncan. For a band that has gone through countless lineups, this is probably the strongest musical lineup they’ve ever had. Martin and Von Johnson feel as though they have been in the band for decades, they just belong there. They both bring a high level of musicianship, great backing vocals, and a killer look to the band, while touring drummer Duncan, previously of Odin (yes, THAT Odin from Decline of the Western Civilization, pt II) is probably the best live drummer this band has ever had.
Along with the new music, the band definitely hits the classics. Lewis reminded the crowd how “One More Reason” and “Sex Action” were the tracks that really launched the band. One of the highlights of the night was a combination of the Hollywood Vampires track “Crystal Eyes” and the mega-hit “Ballad of Jayne”. They even touched on one of my favorite records, Waking The Dead, with “Hellraisers Ball”. My one complaint is that the show was relatively short (a little under 90 mins), I would have loved another 3 or 4 songs.
As the show went on, a few things became very apparent. First, Phil Lewis sounds amazing. His voice is strong as ever and he is one of the most underrated frontmen of the L.A. scene. Second, Tracii Guns is one of the great guitarists in rock. In between songs, he would add riffs from classic rock tracks, and was just mesmerizing to watch. Third, this is a GREAT live band. Every note, every word was played live.
L.A. Guns may never have achieved the level of success that some of their peers saw. They may not be headlining stadiums like those bands still do, but seeing them live there is no doubt they are closer to their classic form than any of those bands. This is a band that does not rely on backing tracks or extra musicians. They take the stage, kick your ass, and move on to the next town.