Velvet Revolver, Hammersmith Apollo, London

Slash's new hybrid 'supergroup' prove they can deliver a barnstorming performance to pull in the younger fans - though it's the old Guns N'Roses numbers that get the biggest cheers

Velvet Revolver
Hammersmith Apollo
London W6

This is as entertaining as it is unlikely. The resurrection of three drug-damaged ex-members of Guns N' Roses, the former singer from Stone Temple Pilots and a guitarist from Suicidal Tendencies; the rock 'supergroup' go and record a grunge-tainted album, stick their middle finger up at the detractors and take it out on tour.

Naysayers dismiss them as little more than an ageing Guns N' Roses tribute act, subsisting on fading triumphs and scavenging fans who are awaiting the next GN'R album; even their moniker is a jokey play on the past. But their album Contraband, released last June, was the fastest-selling debut in the US and they've gone on to shift more than two million copies worldwide. Admittedly, their early shows were populated by leathered-up, middle-aged men but they've quickly acquired a younger audience who are dimly aware of their loaded history.

Bassist Duff McKagan was on the brink of death in 1994; his poisoned pancreas exploded from the effects of two litres of vodka a day. Slash, the father of two young children, has been revived from at least three smack-induced 'deaths'. Front man Scott Weiland, who walked out on grunge stars Stone Temple Pilots after a backstage fight, was arrested for drug possession shortly after joining up.

In fact, band members have described the creation of Velvet Revolver as no less than their salvation. The effort of conjuring a debauched aura of rock mayhem on tour gives them an unlikely focus to stay clean.

This is their second consecutive night at the Apollo - they've sold out two more shows here and a night at Brixton Academy. The Hammersmith venue, with its capacity of 5,500, can't be described as intimate but it provides a more intense atmosphere than the sterile feel of an arena.

In front of a stage backdrop that bears the unnecessary prompt to 'rock and fuckin' roll', the group burst into the heads-down roar of 'Suckertrain Blues', barely visible in a maelstrom of dazzling white lights. Weiland, in a military peaked cap and big sunglasses, struts and preens across the stage groin first. He looks as if he's been possessed by the spirit of an effeminate Jagger impersonating a whirling dervish.

The band play with swashbuckling fervour, milking every moment of theatrical pomp from tracks like 'Big Machine'. It's as if the last 20 years had been a newfangled mirage, and we are in fact back in the halcyon days of the Sunset Strip. During the power ballad 'Fall to Pieces' Slash teases out squealing guitar solos and pouts beneath the black mop of his luxuriantly curly hair.

As it hots up, Weiland and McKagan shed their shirts to reveal strangely preserved sinewy torsos inked with tattoos. Their bodies look mismatched with their faces, which are etched and drawn from the excesses of their rabble-rousing lifestyle. At opportune moments, accompanied by Slash, they pose at the front of the stage like chiselled statues, instruments held aloft in salute.

It's agonisingly loud, setting your ears ringing in the fleeting moments between songs. But, for all their noisy bluster, Velvet Revolver don't really depart from the durable formula of chugging American metal. From a detached perspective it feels like a well-rehearsed pageant. But it's a spectacle and an evening of escapist fantasy for their fans, an array of furtive geeks and unreconstructed metallers.

It's frontman Weiland who adds an excitingly sinister edge. Coloured in equal parts by his peacockish self-obsession and loathing, he has an uncomfortably nervy aura. His vocals are belted out in an aggressive manner that's more punk than rock.

While fans greet the GN'R numbers eagerly, songs such as 'It's So Easy' and an encore of 'Mr Brownstone' only highlight how VR's grown-up, cleaned-up persona jars with their swaggering past. Weiland's painfully personal lyrics on VR album tracks such as 'Dirty Little Thing' ('My mind is racing demons and all of my feelings are numb') and 'Do It for the Kids' ('Went too fast I'm out of luck and I don't even give a fuck') tie in well with the nihilistic sentiments that angsty nu-metal kids relate to. And alongside Dave Kushner's modernising guitar crunch, the group have successfully dirtied up the sound of GN'R for a new wave of teens. But it's unlikely that they'll ever colonise the popular consciousness as the original gun-toting group did.

· Velvet Revolver play Manchester MEN Arena (tonight), Birmingham NIA (Tue), Cardiff International Arena (Wed), Brixton Academy (Fri) and Hammersmith Apollo (Sat and Sun)


Sarah Boden

The GuardianTramp

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