Welcome to the Jungle Gym

WRITTEN BY
Caryn Ganz

On a frigid December night in 2002, Guns N' Roses played what mighthave been their last show in New York City at Madison SquareGarden. Tonight, one year later, a different version of the band isplaying its first concert several blocks downtown at CBGB's 313Gallery. The two performances are quite similar–not manyoriginal members are present and both close with raucous renditionsof "Paradise City"–except this time the lead singer is anine-year-old girl from Ramsey, New Jersey.

Thegig marks the debut of Li'l Gn'r, the first (and presumably only) GunsN' Roses kids tribute band, on their "Appetite for Instruction" tour.The group, assembled by New York City comic Mark Malkoff, spend moretime dancing with Mister Rogers than Mr. Brownstone-Li'l Slash is afive-year-old boy-but under Malkoff's tutelage they retain the realGN'R's flair for cockiness, excess (Krispy Kreme on demand!) and, ofcourse, showmanship.

"Guns N' Roses are my favorite band of all time," Malkoff says.

"I want to bring it back to the kids. And hearing five-year-olds talk about Use Your Illusionis great." A short video shown before the kids take the stage documentsMalkoff handpicking his li'l stars, forcing them to agree to changetheir names and rob liquor stores for the cause. By the end, the microrockers are trashing hotel rooms and chilling in limos.

While waiting for the performance to begin (like theirgrownup counterparts, apparently Li'l Gn'r tend to be tardy), twokindergarten-age girls frolick to the PA's steady stream of '80s metalfavorites, including "Cum On Feel the Noize." One band member's mom issqueezed into a pair of silver velour pants, but no one is showingtheir boobs or scoring dope in the bathroom. Instead, someone yells,"Grandma's sitting down over there!"

Then, behind a shimmering curtain emblazoned with theirlogo, Li'l Gn'r appear. The opening riff of "Welcome to the Jungle"cranks over the sound system, and the curtain drops, revealing the tinyband. Li'l Axl struts and headbangs, ripping into the "sha na na na nana na na knees, knees!" section. She offers an enthusiastic "Goodevening, New York! It may be cold outside, but it's hot in here!" Li'lAxl is flanked by one of the two other li'l girl rockers-Izzy, 11, whoshares vocal duties. She thanks her supporters: "Mommy, Daddy, mybrother."

Since Li'l Slash's motor skills aren't fully developed andthe other kids aren't prodigies, all the songs are done karaoke-style,with the band miming while they hold mini instruments. But the groupretain an air of professionalism and don't even blink when a shirtlessadult fan jumps onstage and is removed by two bouncers. They blazethrough a rendition of "Sweet Child o' Mine" and a subdued"Patience"/"November Rain" medley and are only momentarily distractedby falling red and black balloons during their finale. Afterward, theband unwind backstage and assess their performance.

"I thought we rocked the house," Li'l Axl declares,adjusting the black leather cap perched atop her red bandanna. "Butwhen we can afford a new manager," Li'l Izzy confides, "we're going toget rid of Mark."

So how are a band that are supposed to "get up around seven/ Get outta bed around nine" (as the GN'R song goes) able to operatewhen everyone needs to be tucked in before then? Li'l Axl offers anexplanation: "My bedtime is at 9:30," she says. "But tonight is anexception."

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