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It’s So Easy: Slash (foreground) with McKagan and Weiland.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Appetite for Reinvention

By John Brodeur

Velvet Revolver, Alice in Chains

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 23

‘We are Velvet Revolver and we play rock & roll,” Scott Weiland announced early into his band’s set at SPAC. There was no need for the hard sell, though—for a raucous, riff-filled 90 minutes last Thursday night, Velvet Revolver’s music made its point over and over.

Kicking off with the barreling “Let It Roll,” the group was in high gear for most of their stage time, running through an even-handed selection of tunes from their two albums, Contraband and Libertad. Weiland’s vocals, often wimpy and reinforced on his recordings with former band Stone Temple Pilots, sounded strong and assured on this night—he even did a handy job imitating Axl Rose, the leader of three of VR’s members’ former band, on “Set Me Free,” during which photos of serial murderers flashed on a screen above the players (which is about a subversive a move as this group of former drug addicts would make).

Weiland mugged and posed through the set, pausing only for a brief “stripped-down” (read: sitting-down) trio of tunes that included Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song” (still, for my money, one of the best songs of the 1990s) and Guns N’ Roses classic “Patience,” which sparked the requisite sea of lighters and cell phones. Not to slight the band’s own material, but the show’s best moments were the Guns and Pilots tunes: Their run of “It’s So Easy” was an easy standout, with Weiland easily sliding into that song’s sleazy low register.

But Weiland, as another writer pointed out in this issue, is not the band’s true star. That honor goes to the one and only Slash. In his trademark oversize top hat, web of curly hair, and ever-present cigarette, Slash let his fingers do the talking; his soaring guitar solos were an undeniable highlight, if not a reason to have attended the show in the first place. (He even pulled out the classic-rock touchstone—a double-neck guitar—for the encore of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”) Second guitarist Dave Kushner seemed content in his role as such, generally blending in with the backline, while drummer Matt Sorum and bassist Duff McKagan, one of the great rock rhythm sections, were clutch. Sorum proved to be of particular worth in providing most of the night’s backing harmonies. You gotta love a drummer who dons the Henley-esque headset mic.

A reunited and fired-up Alice in Chains opened with a set of grunge-era classics. The set, drawn primarily from the Facelift and Dirt albums, found guitarist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney in fine form as they revisited their past glories. Kinney, in particular, was impressive; his creative, intuitive playing was a highlight of ’90s rock radio, and his prowess appears to have waned not a bit. New singer William Duvall, replacing the late Layne Staley at that position, was a capable and convincing vocalist; listening from out of sightline, Duvall sometimes could have been mistaken for Staley himself. And the songs, which really owe more to heavy metal than to the flannel set, were sharp as ever, with highlights including “It Ain’t Like That” and the band’s most concise and awesome song, “Them Bones.” Even the played-to-death dirge “Rooster” was a welcome reminder that Alice in Chains were, and remain, one of the best acts of the last decade. Let’s just hope they can carry this momentum over to the inevitable new album.


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