Friday, 9 October 2009

Velvet Revolver @ Birmingham

Velvet Revolver
23rd March 2008
Carling Birmingham Academy
plus support: Aura and Pearl

It’s Easter Sunday and the choice between labouring through an extended edition of Songs of Praise or popping down the ‘academy’ to witness the only real rock n’ roll band left on the planet in all their glory seems fairly obvious. Unfortunately, the TV’s on the blink…so it looks like we’ll be celebrating the resurrection of Christ with hard-rock supergroup Velvet Revolver.

Velvet Revolver formed in late 2002 and by the look of things is set to break up in March 2008 (Yes, that is now!) For those of you who don’t know about the turmoil, here’s a brief overview of the events that have so far taken place.

Singer, Scott Weiland, cancels the Aussie leg of the band’s world tour for a quick trip to rehab; the rest of the band gets annoyed and do the mature thing by totally ignoring him for the next 3 months. Singer announces the band “dead in the water” at a show in Glasgow three days prior to tonight’s show. Drummer, Matt Sorum, writes a blog (like a diary entry but on one of those computer thingies; get it? No, neither do we!) In which he tells fans about how a certain lead vocalist has been acting like a baby. Singer retaliates with another blog; calls the drummer “immature” and stands by his words that VR is over bar the few remaining dates of the UK tour.
So at this exact moment in time, the future of Velvet Revolver lies within these last few shows, so let’s see how things on stage go down.

The clock is ticking and has been since support act Pearl left the stage nearly an hour ago. Some members of the crowd are in a restless and impatient mood. The stamping of feet and aggressive hand claps are followed by deafening ‘boos’. Birmingham is definitely a city that does not like to be kept waiting. But as 10pm rolls around, the lights go down and the mayhem begins.
The roars of the crowd are drowned out by the ferocious bass beats of NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’. An unusual choice of entrance music for a band the sells themselves as “the only band that knows how to play real rock music” nevertheless it all adds to the atmosphere.

With every band member on stage (guess who which one they were waiting for) the hardcore rap music comes to a sudden stop. In the darkness, a voice surges over the tannoy system, “Birmingham! The band that puts the punk in punctuality…Velvet Revolver!” The irony is wasted on the crowd of Brummies as the opening riff to Let It Roll fills the Academy. The whole place erupts into utter hysteria; crowd-surfing, bottle-throwing, manic headbanging and the occasional person actually watching the band and singing along.

Let It Roll ‘rolls’ blissfully into the funk infused She Mine; a song written by drummer Matt Sorum about his volatile relationship with his somewhat younger girlfriend. The song has many levels and was obviously written to be performed live and Weiland takes full advantage of this opportunity. Strutting up and down the stage like a peacock but this peacock has a severe chip on its shoulder and he’s not afraid who knows it. Throughout the song, Weiland pounces around the stage without even giving a glimpse to his fellow band members and of course they’re doing exactly the same. The song finishes abruptly without the usual ‘let’s hit the shit out of each cymbal and make an enormous racket’ sort of attitude. A rapture of wild applause follows. Now is the part of the show where the singer addresses the crowd, the band all have the same wary expression on their face. What is their ‘singer’ going to announce tonight? However, Weiland is in more of a civil mood and simply shouts the usual “we are Velvet Revolver and we play rock n’ roll!”

The band carry on belting out the hits. The hard rock monster which is Sucker Train Blues is ferociously beaten out like a demon inside each of their instruments. Do It For The Kids is met with delight by the fans, a true rock anthem which calls for the voices of every single person in the audience. Just Sixteen, Get Out The Door and American Man (three of the weaker tracks from the band’s latest album, Libertad) are over quite quickly and met with a mediocre reception.

“Time to open our jukebox a little bit more,” announces Weiland as the band launches into a cover of the Guns N’ Roses classic, Patience. The crowd are lapping up every ounce of this song and the cameras are out to snap an iconic picture, guitar-hero Slash complete with top-hat playing a double-necked Gibson Les-Paul. This is the sort of stuff that can make a grown man scream and go weak at the knees.

The set carries on flawlessly, songs like The Last Fight and Big Machine go down a treat with the fans. However, a poignant moment arises when the band dive into the power-ballad Fall To Pieces (a rather suitable title for this segment of the band’s life). The lyrics represent the break-down of a relationship, but at this stage everyone in the band knows that the words are no longer specific to a relationship. Trying to hide any sort of emotion, the band gaze into the crowd while Weiland sings stationery with his eyes shut through most of the song.

The main part of the set closes with a rip-roaring rendition of Velvet Revolver’s first ever single, Set Me Free. A menacing rock tune with a riff so powerful long exposure to it could probably make your head explode. Weiland swaggers across the stage, with the audience held in the palm of his hand. Slash is the epitome of cool; cigarette dangling from his mouth, guitar wielded behind his head in tribute to his childhood hero Jimi Hendrix. Duff McKagan and Dave Kushner stand fixed to the mic stands providing perfect backing vocals and a solid rhythm section and Matt Sorum…well he’s just the drummer.

After what seems like hours the band return to the stage to play the cliché rock encore. Slither is on the cards. The band’s biggest hit. A song of epic proportions, it’s the perfect way to end a rock concert. The song incorporates everything that every red-blooded male loves about rock n’ roll; a pounding rhythm, sneering vocals, a heavy guitar riff and an ear-piercing guitar solo.

Scott Weiland falls to his knees and kisses the fans goodbye, for the final time? Who knows? But one thing we do know, even when on the verge of a breakdown Velvet Revolver know how to put on one mother of a rock n’ roll show.

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