L.A. Guns Survive a Long, Strange History to Do Some Straight Shooting at the Yost

L.A. Guns (courtesy of the band)

Benjamin Franklin famously said that in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.

Veteran Sunset Strip rockers L.A. Guns, however, seem to favor the wisdom of Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who claimed that change is the only constant in life. How else can you explain the fact that 49 different musicians have been in the band at some point during the group’s 36-year career? The latest turnover happened only last Friday, when drummer Shane Fitzgibbon – whose three-year stint with the band was positively Ripkenesque compared to some – left the group, just one week before the release of their twelfth studio album, The Devil You Know.

As another famed philosopher sang, though, the show must go on – and one way or another, L.A. Guns has always found a way to make sure that maxim holds true. To that end, when the band plays a record release show at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana tonight, they’ll not only introduce new material but also new drummer Scot Coogan, who previously played alongside founding guitarist Tracii Guns in the early 2000s supergroup Brides of Destruction.

Interestingly, that short-lived band – which also featured Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx – was the group that Tracii, an original member of Guns N’ Roses, quit L.A. Guns in 2002 to join. For the next dozen or so years, the guitarist and the band he founded as a Fairfax High teenager in 1983 were estranged, with L.A. Guns having a revolving door of guitar players – most notably, former W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes and former Alice Cooper/current Night Ranger guitarist Keri Kelli. Tracii, meanwhile, rode the Brides wave until it crashed in 2005 in the wake of a Motley reunion, after which he formed The Tracii Guns Band. Soon after, though, he changed his band’s name to something more familiar – L.A. Guns. For the six years that followed, competing incarnations of the group toured around the world under that moniker, with members of one frequently smack-talking their counterparts.

Tracii eventually pulled the plug on his version of L.A. Guns in 2012, but he’d soon prove that he had another trick up his sleeve. In 2016, he hit the road for his first-ever solo tour, in which he was backed by drummer Fitzgibbon and bassist/Ramones doppelganger Johnny Martin. That same year, he announced a series of shows with vocalist Phil Lewis, who’d continued fronting the other version of L.A. Guns after Tracii’s departure. (Despite trading numerous barbs over the years, the pair finally began patching things up in 2013, when they reunited on stage to perform several songs at a Las Vegas charity concert.) For several months, there were once again two versions of L.A. Guns – with frontman Lewis doing double-duty in both – but at the end of the year, the incarnation anchored by longtime drummer Steve Riley disbanded, yielding the group’s name to Tracii and Lewis.

Since then, the reunited duo has recorded two albums with Fitzgibbon and Martin and toured nonstop. They even managed to keep a stable lineup for a good 15 months, until they fired the group’s second guitarist and replaced him with another – who lasted precisely three months before quitting. So did his replacement. And just when you think things couldn’t get any more complicated, Riley – who co-owns the rights to the band’s name – recently announced that he’ll perform at an East Coast ’80s rock festival in May under the L.A. Guns moniker with two of the group’s former members.

Truth be told, though – and with all due respect to Riley, the group’s longest-tenured member – as long as Tracii and Lewis are together, it doesn’t really matter who they’re on stage with. While not as iconic as Page and Plant, Tyler and Perry, Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash, the pair are unquestionably survivors – during a recent appearance on the “Sound Matters” podcast, Lewis joked that they’re “cockroaches” who “refuse to go away” – who continue to wave the flag proudly for a genre of music that might not currently top the charts, but which still resonates worldwide. (The group released a live album last year that was recorded in Milan, Italy.)  

And to their credit, Lewis and Tracii aren’t content to rest on past laurels, as The Devil You Know and its 2017 predecessor, The Missing Peace, capably prove. Granted, most of the band’s setlist at the Yost will surely be drawn from their first three albums, including satellite radio station Hair Nation staples “Never Enough” and “The Ballad of Jayne.” Still, it’s hard enough to get most ‘80s rockers to make a new album, much less two in 18 months. For that – and for stubbornly continuing to fight the good fight regardless of how many members have come and gone along the way – we tip our caps.

L.A. Guns – whose new album, “The Devil You Know,” is out today via Frontiers – performs tonight at the Yost Theater, 307 N Spurgeon St, Santa Ana, $25. All ages.

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