Iconic rock star still in tune with his fans, says Andrew Johnston
It has been a riotous summer so far for erstwhile Guns n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver guitar hero Slash.
The axeman’s debut solo album has stormed charts around the world, he stole the show at the UK’s Download festival and he won kudos for his cool handling of an over-friendly stage invader in Milan. The burly fan grappled with Slash midway through ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’, but the guitarist simply shrugged and played on. Axl Rose would surely have flounced off and cancelled the next 10 dates.
At tonight’s Belfast gig, things are no less intense, as a capacity crowd greets the top hat-wearing one’s arrival on to the tiny-by-his-standards Mandela Hall stage. Tickets have been selling for upwards of £100 on eBay, and this audience is in the mood to party like it’s 1989.
Happily, Slash and co – Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy on vocals, plus rock-scene veterans Bobby Schneck on rhythm guitar, Todd Kerns on bass and Brent Fitz on drums – are in the mood to give the people what they want.
That means some well-appointed Guns n’ Roses classics, a generous sprinkling of Velvet Revolver material and a selection of tunes from the self-titled solo release. There is no room for Slash standout ‘Beautiful Dangerous’ – sung on record by Black Eyed Peas diva Fergie – but Kennedy wraps his powerful pipes around ‘Ghost’, ‘Back from Cali’ and ‘Nothing to Say’, expertly backed by Schneck, Kerns and Fitz.
Between them, the guitarist, bassist and drummer have put in time on the road with Green Day, Weezer, Aerosmith, Faster Pussycat, Vince Neil, Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons.
The five-piece – with Kennedy on third guitar – also wheel out ‘Watch This’, an instrumental jam recorded on the solo CD by Slash, fellow ex-Gunner Duff McKagan and Dave Grohl. They even throw in a couple of numbers by Slash’s Snakepit, the guitarist’s first stab at a solo career.
‘Mean Bone’ and ‘Beggars & Hangers-On’ sound much stronger live than they did on the LPs. For the encore, Slash and chums blast through Thin Lizzy’s ‘Are You Ready’.
Yet, of course, it is the Guns n’ Roses songs that truly bring the house down. ‘Nightrain’, ‘Civil War’, ‘Rocket Queen’, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ and ‘Paradise City’ sound simply huge – and Kennedy sounds uncannily like Axl Rose.
Unlike the members of the current, travelling circus version of Gn’R, Slash has always remained a rock star of the people, in tune with what makes he and his fans tick.
Throughout this near-two-hour show, he maintains an aura of chilled-out affability, coupled with an amazing skill on the electric guitar. For a man who is probably the closest thing to a rock icon the 1980s or ’90s produced, Slash seems utterly down to earth.
There are no tantrums, no airs or graces and no ideas above his station – just driving, hard-edged music played with passion. Tonight’s sweat-drenched, fuzzy-haired performance is a masterclass in heartfelt rock ‘n’ roll.