"The Spaghetti Incident?"

Set lists and a little bit of Rock

Monday, 13 August 2007

They all said Velvet Revolver would never last.

They all said Velvet Revolver would never last.

This article is by Ben Rayner, Pop Music Critic....

The music business is stingy in granting its icons successful second acts, but the rock gods have been uncommonly generous to Velvet Revolver. It was warily regarded upon its creation five years ago as another "supergroup" of dubious motivation, a late-career time-waster for several aging rock 'n' roll enfants terribles with proud pasts and similarly proud, shared appetites for chemical self-destruction.

But now Velvet Revolver is an ongoing concern, with a couple of million in record sales under its belt, enviable commercial-radio muscle and the growing – if grudging – approval of numerous critics who have witnessed the Los Angeles quintet's live shows and conceded evidence of some real, no-foolin' "band" fireworks onstage.

The meeting of charismatic Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, long-unemployed Wasted Youth guitarist Dave Kushner and half the Use Your Illusion-era lineup of Guns N' Roses – ringleted guitar hero Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum – on 2004's Contraband didn't exactly yield an Abbey Road or an OK Computer. But, with apologies to perpetually overlooked '80s-hardcore hero Kushner, it did sound reassuringly like the GNR of old fronted by the Scott Weiland of old, and the disc went down just fine after half-a-dozen beers with the lads or piping out of the car stereo on a summer road trip.

All requirements the members of Velvet Revolver would surely agree are integral to the breed of metallic, Sunset Strip sleaze they purvey.

"We still have the same influences we've pretty much always have," drawls the laid-back, chatty Slash (a.k.a. Saul Hudson, 42) from Sturgis, S.D., where Velvet Revolver is about to play at a legendary local biker rally some 500,000 riders strong that he pronounces "the pinnacle of the culture."

"We're genuine. That's where we come from and that's the only style of doing things that we really know because that was the stuff that first turned us on. And that stuff is just the really great rock 'n' roll that's come out in – well, the past 50 years.

"You can always expect there's going to be a watered-down version of that music on the radio that's gonna be heavily marketed and all that stuff, but that's just the way it is. We don't have anything to do with that. The band's coming from the purest place."

The cynical might be inclined to point out the marketing of Velvet Revolver's rise has been a tad heavy, but Guns N' Roses never pretended to be anything but an extra-debauched distillation of such arena-rockin' forebears as The Rolling Stones, the Stooges, Aerosmith and Thin Lizzy – at least until Axl Rose's god complex set in, anyway – and Stone Temple Pilots were always quite open about the correlation between "grunge" and '70s c--k-rock. Just because the results tend to sell records doesn't negate their honesty; there are musicians, after all, who don't view "fun," power ballads or mass adulation as enemies of their art.

In any case, Velvet Revolver was braced for the haters when Contraband came out, perhaps even more so when it went on to hit double-platinum sales in the U.S. and Canada. And, says Slash, all involved feel somewhat "vindicated" now that "the brouhaha over the band being a `supergroup' has moved to a more respectful area" since the release of its second album, Libertad, last month.

After an energizing, pre-release teaser tour of small venues this past May that included Toronto's Kool Haus, Velvet Revolver upsizes to the Molson Amphitheatre tonight.

"I don't think we knew what exactly to expect, but we were taking it seriously from the get-go. It was something we were all very passionate about," he says. "We had no ideas that it was going to be, like, a quick thing, even though some people in the beginning kinda looked at it like that.

"It sort of goes with the territory. I know, being a big rock fan myself, you can be very judgmental when somebody who was in a band you're a huge fan of all of a sudden takes a left turn. I can think of a lot of bands who have made dramatic personnel changes or broken up and it's hard to accept and, for whatever reasons, some people can't get over that. But actually being in a band – especially after you've worked with one band for so long – to turn around and find that same chemistry with a different group of people, that's a huge accomplishment. You get very inspired when that happens and you just sort of go with it, regardless of what anybody else is thinking."

Doubts of Velvet Revolver's longevity were definitely circulating during the making of Libertad.

Original producer Rick Rubin was dismissed early on for Brendan O'Brien, delaying the record's projected release date. Weiland – whose initial involvement in the band was curtailed to mere months by enforced rehab and jail time related to a relapse of his infamous drug habit – and Sorum both lost brothers to addiction-related mishaps within the space of a few days. Meanwhile, the former's wild-child reputation was further solidified in March when a spat with his wife led to the trashing of a ritzy Burbank hotel and her subsequent burning of his expensive wardrobe outside of their home. Slash, for his part, has confessed to an OxyContin "smack binge" and a stint in rehab following the comedown from the Contraband tour.

It's almost as if, having established itself as more than a passing whim with Contraband and its subsequent tour, Velvet Revolver collectively, even subconsciously, required further adversity to fire itself up again.

"You almost look for a difficult time because it gives you that edge to give it the right kick, I suppose," Slash says. "You do everything the hard way on purpose. But there's a certain kind of integrity in doing what you want to do and having to put up with the struggle.

"Music is also the catalyst that lets you survive the hard knocks that life throws at you. There's something very cathartic about the music we do and just being a musician and a member of a group, so that helps work a lot of stuff out."

The grizzled Velvet Revolver crew can also derive satisfaction from forging ahead against the lure of the lucrative greatest-hits circuit that Slash acknowledges has rendered many of his contemporaries "bitter" automatons enslaved to their back catalogues.

At least, he says, Velvet Revolver sees enough teens and early 20-somethings in the crowds each night to reassure itself it's not playing to "just a bunch of old STP and GNR fans out there clinging to the dream."

"They're out there, don't get me wrong. I read Blabbermouth and all that and there are all these people out there blogging about Guns N' Roses today," he says, carefully sidestepping the observation Velvet Revolver has more claim to GNR authenticity than the Axl Rose solo show occasionally making the rounds today. "I don't even really pay attention to that to the extent that I wanna get into comparisons. But it was 10 years ago, okay? Who knew that Guns N' Roses was going to sustain that kind of enthusiasm for so long? It's absolutely a phenomenon that I was part of, so that's cool. But it's also interesting to see the amount of time people spend dwelling on it.

"Ever since I first started doing this, I've really, really had this unbridled passion for rock and the whole kind of energy that goes with it and playing guitar ... and that never changes in me. As soon as that starts feeling stagnant or not as fun anymore, then you need to sort that out or move on. It's not like you can go back and learn something else, so you'd better have a good f---in' time. But I know a lot of musicians, a lot of peers, who are definitely not thrilled to be doing it anymore and I'm fortunate not to be one of those."

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