Even here in Los Angeles, the city where he made his name with Guns N’ Roses, there’s something breathtakingly wonderful about seeing Slash take to the stage in a room as intimate as the Whisky. It’s not even a particularly new and rare thing; since forming his Snakepit band back in ’94 when he initially parted company with Axl & Co., he’s found himself returning to the sort of smaller rooms that Guns played at the very beginning, through a combination of choice and circumstance. With the Whisky, it’s a case of going back to a happy hunting ground.
Let’s face it — Slash could get up and play scales all night, and people would flock to see him. Velvet Revolver reached some respectable heights, and a glance at his current tour itinerary reveals that this solo band is playing some fairly sizable venues elsewhere in the country. Indeed, on Oct. 16 he’s back on home turf for a bigger gig at the Hollywood Palladium. So however you look at it, this Whisky show (the second of two this week) feels special.
It’s also serving as the perfect warm-up for this tour with Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators after a couple of years on the road with the main gig.
“I'm looking forward to going in and doing these little theaters with the Conspirators because it's just going to be fucking fun. It's very raw and everybody's on a small stage — it's just primal,” Slash told us recently.
He also told us that this band won’t be playing as many Guns N’ Roses songs as they have on previous tours, because he’s now able to get those tunes out of his system with Guns N’ fuckin’ Roses. That, plus this group now has three full studio albums under their collective bullet belts.
So Slash and his band took to the stage in front of a heaving, sweaty Whisky crowd to a predictable hero’s welcome, Slash sporting his trademark top hat, sunglasses, leather pants (they’ve gotta be hot in this room) and a red Alice Cooper tee that splashed the words “Solid Rock” across his chest. As if we needed reminding.
Kennedy greeted the crowd like the consummate pro; he knows full well that, in this band, the lead singer isn’t the focal point for a change. But he doesn’t seem to care. Rather, he gets up and soaks in the fact that he gets to be in a band with one of the all-time guitar greats.
The band opened with “Avalon” from 2014’s World on Fire, and followed it up with “Halo” and “Standing In the Sun” from 2012’s Apocalyptic Love. That’s a telling move — Slash and the boys are clearly confident that the tunes from their previous two records together are now strong enough, known enough, to launch a set. No need for “tricks,” like a big Guns number, this early.
Everything clicked. The band ticked along smoothly after weeks of rehearsals and Tuesday’s show. The sound was spot-on, and the crowd was besotted. “Ghost” was next up, originally sung by The Cult’s Ian Astbury on Slash’s 2010 self-titled debut solo album.
Kennedy himself sang two songs on that record, and it’s clear that Slash made a wise choice when he initially decided to tour with him: Kennedy might not be the most charismatic frontman Slash has been in a band with, but he has a powerful voice and, arguably more important, he’s versatile. He can rock a Guns N’ Roses tune, Velvet Revolver, Snakepit, or anything off of that first solo album. That’s priceless.
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Next song “Back From Cali” is one of those that Kennedy sang on the 2010 record, and it’s not until the seventh song that we get a tune from the new Living the Dream album, the excellent “Mind Your Manners.” If the band were concerned about the crowd’s reaction to the new material, they needn’t have been. The Whisky faithful lapped it up and, honestly, Slash & Co. could have pulled out more new tunes and a few less from World on Fire.
“Dr. Alibi,” originally sung by Lemmy on the 2010 album and belted out by bassist Todd Kerns in tribute here, was a highlight, as was the following “My Antidote,” one of the best songs on the new record, and “Rocket Queen,” the one GNR song of the evening.
Excellent new tune “Call of the Wild” and “Anastasia” from Apocalyptic Love closed the show, and Slash and the guys can feel quietly pleased that they’ve put together a killer set that doesn’t rely on the famous ax-man’s past glories.
Earlier, opening band Hillbilly Herald from Indiana did a great job of warming up the room, despite the fact that it was already red-hot. These guys are great; they literally look like they’ve been swept off of a dive bar floor and piled into a van, then shoved onstage. Wild, raucous and nasty in all the right ways, this hairy rock seems inspired by the likes of Turbonegro, Nashville Pussy and Supersuckers, as well as old-timers like Motörhead and Steppenwolf (they rocked a solid cover of “Born to Be Wild”). Keep an eye out for them.