Velvet Revolver and Motley Crue don’t have a whole lot in common—artistically at least. But these two outfits, comprised of law breakers, drug takers, and general trouble makers, are both making a lot of noise by touring (separately, of course) this spring. While the Crue is more famous for providing simplistic, metal-lite strip club anthems, Velvet Revolver’s pairing of former Stone Temple Pilot vocalist Scott Weiland, alongside three ex-Guns N’ Roses members not named Axl, gives it similarly decadent credibility.
Both Stone Temple Pilots and Guns N’ Roses were a cut above most of their brethren. Although Mr. Rose may have been behind the wheel of that shiny fast car we fondly knew as G N’ R, drummer Matt Sorum, bassist Duff McKagan, and guitarist Slash comprised the hardworking guts beneath the hood of that famously wayward suicide machine. This reconfigured spare parts unit, if you will, fueled by Weiland’s natural charisma and anchored to a few of his likeminded, like-troubled rock buddies certainly burned rubber a few times beneath this California sky. Given the apparent deathwish these musicians have been coping with for so long, it’s amazing they’re still alive, let alone still playing music.
And these guys showed a lot more energy than you might have expected. Throughout the evening, everybody in the band—save, of course, the stationary drummer—made it a point to continually crisscross the stage, giving every part of the arena a good long look at their wrinkled rock skin. Much of the music was fast and furious—it must have presented quite the workout for these non-so-spring chickens. Maybe it really is true that what doesn’t kill you ultimately makes you stronger.
Weiland, presumably the life of any party he attends, is the natural focal point. Dressed in an outfit that included a loud, red necktie, Weiland pranced about the stage like a less self-destructive Iggy Pop, mixed with a younger, more tattooed Mick Jaggar. (Every member of Velvet Revolver has tattoos, by the way. One assumes inking is a rite of passage. Like a heavy metal bar mitzvah or something). While he sang, sometimes directly into a handheld megaphone, Weiland’s eyes bulged widely, while his body contorted to squeeze every last emotional ounce out of the songs.
You might say that Slash is the co-star of Velvet Revolver’s show. With his shaggy mane, pierced nose, omnipresent guitar, and the omnipresent cigarette between his lips, Slash played guitar hero to the hilt. But unlike a lot of today’s and yesteryear’s highly exalted heavy metal gods, Slash is by no means a slick and smooth operator. Instead, many of his solos tonight came off a little on the messy side. But this is a good thing, my friends, since it also indicated that he was playing with true feeling and spontaneity, rather than just showing off. Now and again, second guitarist Dave Kushner, the one non-ex-Guns/Stone member of the group, took solos as well. Additionally, McKagan was quite visible behind the bass. Matt Sorum looked the least rock and roll of the gang, despite his tight Harley Davidson t-shirt. With his short hair and focused facial expression, Sorum came off as a hardworking, professional musician. For him, rock and roll was not just an adventure, but a job.
Velvet Revolver’s logo looks something like the chick figures you often see on the mud flaps of 18-wheelers. This dark, feminine image decorated the video screens flanking the stage prior to the band’s arrival. Presumably, this saucy little number, which is basically a half-naked and weapon-armed silhouette, is the sort of woman that inspired songs such as “Dirty Little Thing” off of VR’s debut album, Contraband. Although lyrics about such femme fatales are all too common in Velvet Revolver songs, other tunes, such as “Big Machine” and “Headspace”, revealed that this group has more than just crotch values on its mind. Adding to this concert’s dizzying atmosphere, many song performances were enhanced by psychedelic video images one moment, then violent footage of Evel Knievel or kickboxing the next.
Compared to the veteran Velvet Revolver, opener Hoobastank came off like the young, fresh fellows they actually are. On this big stage, the group appeared tiny, a stark contrast to Velvet Revolver’s grizzled, larger than life appearance. At one point during their set, two women with stripper/pornstar breasts wearing low cut tops passed right by me on the way to their seats. I was half-tempted to do the parental thing and just cover these boys’ innocent-looking eyes. But innocent looks aside, Hoobastank do at least have a grown up, hard rock sound in tow. They rocked with “Out of Control”, and then revealed their softer side with “The Reason”.
Shortly into Velvet Revolver’s set, a banner that read “Rock ‘N Fuckin’ Roll” was displayed behind the stage. This blunt phrase alone sums up what VR is all about. The members may have significantly minimized the “drugs” in its original sex, drugs and rock and roll motto, but clearly the two other essential elements are still very much in practice.