BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Velvet Revolver is where rock stars go to die. It’s not quite heaven, and it’s not quite hell, but it will do. Perched halfway between artistic rehab and commercial purgatory, and hard rock in a hard place, Velvet Revolver is where empty-nester rockers — people like Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland and pretty much everyone in Guns N Roses not named Axl Rose — go to detox from a life of chemical sin and await the Second Coming of rock writ large, or at least lucrative. They would be the first to tell you that it could be a long wait. “We are Velvet Revolver and we still play rock n’ roll” Weiland told the rain-soaked, half-capacity crowd at the Tweeter Center Monday night.
That much cannot be denied.
Weiland was in fine form — wiry, rawboned and quite the decadent dandy in his Luftwaffe cap, his tuneful nicotine bleat and Bowiesque theatricality filling the vast reaches of the Tweeter. Slash is still Slash: The hammerhead of the gods shredding effortlessly on his patented sunburst Les Paul, smoking like a diesel beneath Abe Lincoln’s lid. Duff McKagan’s bass sounded like the groin thunder of the gods. And drummer Matt Sorum still makes the music go bang. In short, Velvet Revolver has everything — looks, pedigree, style, chops, Slash. Everything, that is, but songs.
These guys can play circles around most any hard rock band, and they have the live charisma to hold the moment, but never more than that. You don’t realize how innately forgettable their songs are until they start playing GNR and STP songs — “Patience,” “Vaseline,” “Interstate Love Song” (really well, I might add) — and all the rutting, shock-and-strutting of VR songs like “Pills, Demons Etc.” and “She Builds Quick Machines” are soon forgotten. As such, they are hardly the last great rock n’ roll band standing, but they are without a doubt the world’s greatest STP/GNR cover band.
In keeping with Monday night’s remembrance of things past, a re-activated and reinvigorated Alice In Chains opened the show, with William DuVall ably filling in for the departed Layne Staley. After a decade plus hiatus — necessitated by Staley’s debilitating and ultimately fatal drug problem — Alice sounded pretty much like a I remember them when they headlined Lollapalooza in 1993, which is to say when the band was at the height of its powers. With his Arthur Lee-like bearing and golden throat — able to nail all those distinctive Kansas-does-raga harmonies with guitarist Jerry Cantrell — DuVall brings a little much-needed touch of color to the pallid-cheeked ghost of grunge past.
[photos by JONATHAN VALANIA]