- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

Fans of Guns N’ Roses, a band that imploded before its sell-by date, will take their GNR fix any way they can get it. If frontman Axl Rose assembles a band of imposters and calls it “Guns N’ Roses,” as he did two years ago, so be it; “Guns N’ Roses” will sell out arenas. When Mr. Rose blows a gasket, fans will look elsewhere. Waiting, hoping…waiting some more.

The ex-Gunners themselves aren’t much different from the fans: They haven’t given up on the magic yet, even if they’ve given up on the terminally erratic Mr. Rose.

Hence Velvet Revolver, an outfit formed by GNR alumni including guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. Another ex-Gunner, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, hung with VR last year, jamming and writing songs. Mr. Stradlin declined a slot in the permanent lineup, which went to Dave Kushner (Wasted Youth, Suicidal Tendencies).

The trick was to find a singer — and VR tried out several — including ex-Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, according to press reports. Scott Weiland, of Stone Temple Pilots and Los Angeles County Jail fame, got the job. Then he got busted again last May for heroin possession. VR was only temporarily derailed, as the former Gunners were empathetic to Mr. Weiland’s plight.

But everyone’s finally clean and sober, or so they claim, and the game is on. An album of all-new material, “Contraband” — heh-heh — is out next week, and VR is on the road, ahead of its release.

The hard-rock supergroup stopped at the 9:30 Club Thursday night, playing to a sellout crowd for about 80 furious minutes of fast, stampeding guitar riffs and blow-the-joint-to-smithereens percussion.

Wriggling and hip-swiveling in an airline captain’s hat, Mr. Weiland was part Village People, part Mick Jagger. Slash hasn’t changed much. He still wears his coarse black hair over his face; the trademark top hat came out later. Mr. McKagan appears to have spent his GNR downtime in the gym, making a point to de-shirt for the encore.

New songs such as “Sucker Train Blues,” “Slither” and “Headspace” went over well, inasmuch as they were loud, fast, sludgy and nuance-free, and there was an obligatory power-ballad, “Fall to Pieces.” Miniature arena-show lighting rigs flashed and flickered behind Mr. Sorum’s gigantic gong, which loomed over the stage like a sunset.

VR is all about breaking new ground — Mr. Weiland extended an STP hiatus to do this — but it wasn’t above a dip or two or three into the glorious early ‘90s. From the STP back catalog came “Sex Type Thing” and “Crackerman.” The GNR archives saw three pullouts: “It’s So Easy,” “Used to Love Her” and “Mr. Brownstone.”

Mr. Weiland couldn’t squeal like Mr. Rose — he barely tried on those screechy “oooh yeahs” of “Used to Love Her” — but the heroin-soaked decadence of “Brownstone” was a perfect fit.

The band ended with a puzzlingly obscure Nirvana cover (“Negative Creep” from the pre-“Nevermind” album “Bleach”) but the band succeeded in its symbolic mission to, as Mr. Weiland put it, “put the sex back in rock ‘n’ roll.”

Now, before everyone says “Axl who?,” let’s see if Velvet Revolver can keep the drugs out of rock ‘n’ roll, too.

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