You've seen it before. The famous guitarist goes solo and hires a bunch of goons to stand behind him while he stands awkwardly in the foreground, trying to be both guitarist and frontman while the singer croons timidly, relegated to the side of the stage.
And then there's Slash.
While his name gets the top billing on the marquee, make no mistake; what you'll get if you venture out to see Slash on his current "solo" tour is a full band experience: Myles Kennedy front-and-center belting out each and every note, Slash occupying stage left in that omnipresent way only he can and a backing band — the Conspirators — full of capable musicians intent on putting on a great rock show.
("Everything I touch I turn into a fucking band," Slash told Rolling Stone some months back. "I still have my name on the marquee and everything, but I’m just not a dictator, I don’t want to rule anything. I like to hear what other people’s ideas are and so on and so forth.")
Slash and Co. took the stage just after 10 p.m. at New York City's Irving Plaza last night, launching into the one-two punch of "Mean Bone" from the second Slash's Snakepit album and "Dirty Little Thing" from Velvet Revolver's debut effort, Contraband. The band paused long enough for Kennedy to ask the crowd how they were doing before ripping right into Guns N' Roses' sleazy ode to cheap wine, "Nightrain."
It wasn't until the fourth number that the first song from Slash's latest album, Apocalyptic Love, appeared in the form of "One Last Thrill," a rager that begins with a Myles Kennedy wail and a Stones-on-steroids-style lead line from Slash and doesn't let up from there, with Kennedy unleashing a rapid-fire string of lyrics that barely let up throughout the song.
Slash's new tunes — which accounted for a fourth of the 20-song set — sat nicely against the the eclectic batch of songs from his eponymous debut solo album, which made up the largest portion of the set. It's a testament to Kennedy's prowess as a vocalist to be able to tackle songs originally sung by everyone from Scott Weiland and Axl Rose to Andrew Stockdale and Ian Astbury.
Photo: Rivka Einy
And he didn't play vocal chameleon, either. His high vocal range — while not as versatile as that of Axl Rose — is a natural fit for the Guns N' Roses back catalog, and he was able to breathe a whole new life into songs like "Speed Parade" and "Just Like Anything" from Slash's Snakepit, not to mention a raucous performance of the Velvet Revolver favorite, "Slither."
In the wake of the drama surround the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it would have been easy for fans to once again get caught up in the hopes and illusions of a Guns N' Roses reunion, but it was pretty clear that everyone in attendance last night was there to back Slash in whatever avenue his career would take.
When the band returned for their encore, a sweaty, newly shirtless Slash — who had addressed the crowd on and off all night — finally mentioned that this particular show was doubling as his record-release party. Indeed Apocalyptic Love was only hours old as the band launched into "Die By the Sword," and judging by the crowd reaction to new songs like "Standing in the Sun" and the title track, not to mention the already sing-along-friendly single "You're a Lie," it'll do just fine as the next chapter in a storied career.
As Slash lazily strummed a few chords before leading the band in "Paradise City," it was hard not to think about how nice it is that some things just don't change. That's not to say Slash hasn't evolved as an artist, and certainly his supporting cast is different, but hearing him play those notes, top hat in place and a slight grin belying the stoic expression on his face, all feels right with the world.
The power of Slash as a performer doesn't stem from his over-the-top rock star persona, but rather the allure of the shy kid who hides behind his sunglasses and hair and just wants to play rock and roll, venturing only reluctantly into the glaring lights of the stage. While he's without a doubt a can't-miss live act, you get the impression that Slash would be just as happy in his bedroom playing to no one at all, and that's what makes him one of the special ones.
Slash's new album, Apocalyptic Love, is out now. Pick it up on iTunes here. For the full scoop on his new album, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more, pick up the July 2012 issue of Guitar World, now available in our online store.