Shaggy, shirtless guitar star Slash -- formerly of iconic hair-metalists Guns N' Roses, currently of hirsute supergroup Velvet Revolver -- is a sublime musician but a shaky judge of character. After hitching a bumpy ride from the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s with the infamously unstable W. Axl Rose, who seemed to flake on more shows than he played, Slash has now partnered with wide-eyed wackjob Scott Weiland, the one-time Stone Temple Pilot.
Perhaps already sensing the inevitable meltdown of Velvet Revolver -- catch 'em while you can, kids -- Slash was a strutting, swaggering, all-or-nothing marvel at the 9:30 club Thursday, leading his much-hyped throwback band through a power-chords-aplenty 75-minute set that had a sold-out all-ages crowd of aggressive guys (and a few understandably skittish gals) eager to bang their heads -- and any other nearby noggins, as well.
"Boys and girls, we are a rock-and-roll band," the kooky Weiland -- initially clad in an airline pilot's cap, polka-dot tie and aviator shades -- promised a hungry audience that devoured every last ticket for this time-travel event in seconds flat. "And we're here to put the sex back in rock-and-roll." Soon enough, backed by a strobed-out light show, Weiland and his band mates -- which also include former GNR staples bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum, both looking absolutely muscle-ripped -- had doffed their tops, lit their ciggies and assumed those too-cool rock-star poses. After all, this is an L.A.-born band, and its sole function is to sell the naughty lifestyle of the Sunset Strip. Just as those goofy Brits the Darkness are playing it for real, there's nothing even slightly ironic about the old-school theatrics of Velvet Revolver. These days, that's a beautiful thing.
With his creepy stare, skeletal frame and herky-jerky dance moves that make him look like he's fighting his way out of a straitjacket, Weiland is an unsettling frontman. He doesn't have the glass-shattering howl that Rose used to welcome teens to the jungle, and he busts out the lame sing-through-a-megaphone trick far too much. But such anthemic Velvet Revolver burners as "Sucker Train Blues," "Do It for the Kids" and incendiary first single "Slither" -- the band's debut disc, "Contraband," arrives June 8 -- were such massive walls of cowbells, gongs, bass lines and feedback you couldn't really hear him anyway.
Besides, this was Slash's time to shine, and every amped-up song came equipped with one of the ax-wielder's frenetically bluesy solos. Playing most of his licks with his guitar sticking straight up -- a showoff move allowing everyone to see his masterful chops -- Slash gave a suitable greasy sheen to Stone Temple Pilots mock grungers "Crackerman" and "Sex Type Thing." He sweetly plucked out the pretty hook to "Patience"-esque new ballad "Fall to Pieces." And when he fingered out the opening riffs to Guns N' Roses classics "It's So Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone" -- both from 1987's "Appetite for Destruction" -- you could see a smile through the tangled layers of his sheepdog 'do.
"Before this tour, I never knew how popular this hat was," Slash said laughing when, late in the set, he unveiled his trademark black top hat to the gone-bananas delight of his fans. "I wish this [expletive] hat could talk." The crowd was still cheering on his headgear when Slash picked out the acoustic opening to GNR's anti-love song "Used to Love Her" (you know: "But I had to kill her.') The place, of course, erupted to the night's best surprise -- and even those nervous gals couldn't help but join the rowdy sing-along. Here's hoping Slash's next doomed band is just as entertaining.