Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
Photo: Austin Nelson / Courtesy of Prime PR Group

Slash and Dead Sara Light Up San Francisco’s Warfield Theater

There’s no Guns N’ Roses songs, nor any from Velvet Revolver, but it doesn’t matter because Slash, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators are kicking ass on tour.

Slash Ft. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
Gibson Records/BMG
11 February 2022

It’s a Saturday night in downtown San Francisco here on the second weekend of February, and the Warfield Theater is open for business. For some fans, it’s their first time back to the venerable venue in two years due to the wretched COVID-19 pandemic. Slash from Guns N’ Roses is on tour with his band billed as Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators (SMKC), so it’s a banner night for hard rock fans. The quartet have just released their fourth album, titled 4, and it’s packed with tight guitar-oriented rockers as fans would expect.

The thaw of the 23-year estrangement between Slash and Axl Rose that led to a triumphant Guns’ N Roses reunion tour in 2016 has been a boon for rock ‘n’ roll, with Guns’ N Roses continuing to tour ever since. But they still haven’t put out any new material, and so it’s also great to be able to catch Slash playing fresh tunes in more intimate theater venues like this one. Kennedy is a dynamic vocalist in his own right with a wide range similar to Rose’s, which makes him a great songwriting partner for Slash. 

“I think we’re all kind of amazed and pleasantly surprised that after a decade, we’re still making records, and we’re all still in it… But that’s because we do love what we’re doing, and we really do like each other,” Kennedy explains at Slash’s website. The guitarist and bandleader concurs, saying, “The Conspirators is just such a simple, easy band, and it’s been like that from its inception. It’s a band where everybody just wants to get together and play, and there’s really not a lot of other stuff that gets in the way.”

There’s a good-sized crowd on hand for the opening band Dead Sara, a hard-rocking quartet from Los Angeles who have been building buzz for ten years now since their debut album dropped in 2012. Powerhouse singer Emily Armstrong is a first-tier rock goddess with an incredible voice, backed by a rare female lead guitarist in Siouxsie Medley and longtime drummer Sean Friday. Dead Sara have won high praise over the past decade from rock luminaries such as Grace Slick and Dave Grohl, yet mainstream success has unjustly eluded them. If Dead Sara had appeared on the scene in the ’90s, the mass marketing reach of MTV would likely have propelled them to platinum album sales and broader recognition. 

The title of the band’s latest album, Ain’t It Tragic, released in 2021, perhaps hints at this injustice. But Dead Sara carries on, and music fans are the winners. The short but sweet opening set leans on the new album, with the hard-hitting “Hands Up” cranking up the energy. The new “Hypnotic” is another highlight, with Armstrong commanding the stage over a mesmerizing groove as she rocks a stylish Ozzy Osbourne raglan. The new album’s closing track, “Losing My Mind”, begins slow but builds momentum until Armstrong belts out the chorus in a cathartic fashion. The incendiary “Weatherman” from their 2012 debut closes out the set with a fiery blast of full-on rock power, as Medley’s sharp riffs and big chords provide a platform for Armstrong’s voice to soar like an avenging angel. It’s only a shame that the set is over so fast.

The energy in the Warfield surges when Slash hits the stage with a trusty Gibson Les Paul and his ever-present top hat, with Kennedy and the Conspirators providing a powerful sound. “Shots Fired” from the band’s 2012 debut album Apocalyptic Love is an early highlight with Slash’s high octane riffs. “My Antidote” from 2018’s Living the Dream has a chord structure and wicked guitar solo that recall GNR’s classic “Night Train”, yet with Kennedy putting a different kind of vocal spin over the groove for a fresh sound.

Kennedy gives a notable shout-out to Dead Sara early on in between songs, imploring the audience to acknowledge their set when he remarks, “Those guys kicked fucking ass!” It’s too bad there’s no collaboration since it would be sensational to see Emily Armstrong make a guest appearance for a duet with Kennedy, but alas, such a team-up is not meant to be. The Conspirators continue rocking out with the new album’s opening track, “The River is Rising”,  another hard-hitting rocker. Slash is slaying everything, and it’s a genuine thrill to watch him tear up the fretboard on song after song, just as he’s been doing for more than 35 years now. Kennedy continues to shine as well on “Back from Cali”, where he sings out for a savior to “Carry me back to where I belong”, apparently due to hard time in “the angel city where the devils play”.

A surprise sonic treat occurs when bassist Todd Kerns steps up to the microphone to give Kennedy a breather as the band busts out an electrifying take on Lenny Kravitz’s 1991 classic “Always on the Run”, which of course was co-written by Slash. It’s a crowd-pleasing way to mix it up with a familiar sing-a-long chorus for the predominantly Gen-X audience. Kerns, drummer Brent Fitz, and rhythm guitarist Frank Sidoris dig deep into the infectious groove, while Slash delivers some extended face-melting lead guitar riffage that lights up the night on the song’s first guitar solo. The band keep rocking out, with Slash delivering some more smoking fretwork as a second solo seems to move into a jam space that recalls Aerosmith’s “Last Child”.

There’s some exciting contrast in the set with “No More Heroes” featuring melodic signature riffs that sound kind of like a cross between the Cars and the Strokes, while the new “Action Speaks Louder Than Words” blends a vintage Guns N’ Roses tone with an early ’70s classic rock swagger. “Fill My World” is one of the catchiest numbers from the new album, with Kennedy singing out for a loved one to “come back to me” over guitar melodies featuring a tempo and tone that recall the vibe of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine”.

At the end of the song, Kennedy reveals that it’s actually a love song about his dog and that the following number is about a cat.  Slash breaks out his double-neck guitar here for 2018’s “The One You Loved Is Gone”, which starts off sounding like a late ’80s pop-metal power ballad before evolving to more of a throwback to the ’70s. The studio track is less than five minutes long, but here Slash steps up to lead the band into a deep jam where he tears it up on one of his most extended excursions of the night with a glorious overflow of mesmerizingly melty licks. 

A cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” finds the band shining through some cosmic power ballad territory. The audience joins Kennedy to sing along on the chorus, and Slash delivers another heroic guitar solo at the end. “Nothing to Say” from Slash’s self-titled 2010 album that was filled with guest stars cranks the intensity level back up with killer riffs over a furious groove. Kennedy delivers a powerful vocal here that feels like it fits the national mood when he sings, “Don’t tell me it’s too late, cause I feel it too, we all love to hate and let others lead the way.” Slash shreds more molten hot riffage, and the Warfield is rocking out like old times.

The title track from 2014’s World on Fire closes the nearly two-hour set with a blast as the Conspirators throw down a hard-hitting number that feels like they might set the Warfield stage aflame, with Slash continuing to burn up the fretboard as he has all night. The band keeps rocking hard on the “Anastasia” encore, leaving the audience blown away.

There’s been no Guns N’ Roses songs, nor any from Velvet Revolver, but it doesn’t matter because Slash and Kennedy and the Conspirators are just flat-out kicking ass. Slash hasn’t lost a step and easily remains one of the greatest lead guitarists in rock history. The axe-slinger is still ready and able to create compelling new tunes, so fans can only wonder why the world hasn’t seen any new material from Guns N’ Roses when SMKC has now delivered two new albums since the 2016 GNR reunion. But Slash fans win either way since the SMKC tours provide the opportunity to see the legendary guitarist up close and personal.

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
Photo: Austin Nelson / Courtesy of Prime PR Group