Velvet Revolver / The Datsuns, Hammersmith Apollo, London

Look carefully... this man used to be a punk poodle
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The Independent Culture

'Motherfucking London!" shouts the slightly balding man with the cherry spikes. "We play one kind of music. And what is that?" Motherfucking London, using the helpful painted backdrop for guidance, replies as one: "ROCKIN' ROLL!" Scott Weiland, convicted coke fiend and smackhead, rehab refugee and prison survivor, and sometime singer with the very rubbish Stone Temple Pilots, smiles with satisfaction. Assent has been granted.

'Motherfucking London!" shouts the slightly balding man with the cherry spikes. "We play one kind of music. And what is that?" Motherfucking London, using the helpful painted backdrop for guidance, replies as one: "ROCKIN' ROLL!" Scott Weiland, convicted coke fiend and smackhead, rehab refugee and prison survivor, and sometime singer with the very rubbish Stone Temple Pilots, smiles with satisfaction. Assent has been granted.

By rights, though, this was never supposed to happen. Back when Stone Temple Pilots were in their pomp, Guns N'Roses were supposed to be antithetical, The Enemy (remember Axl Rose's threat to Kurt Cobain at the 1992 MTV Awards: "Shut your bitch up or I'm taking you to the pavement!"). Then again, GN'R were always the punkest of the poodle rock crew (fittingly, the first ever Velvet Revolver gig included a cover of Sex Pistols' "Bodies"), and STP were the most corporate whores of the grunge generation, so perhaps it isn't so surprising that they've now found a certain amount of common ground.

Velvet Revolver, you see, are essentially Guns N'Roses with a different singer, and certainly have a greater moral (if not legal) right to the GN'R name than the troupe of mercenaries Axl himself occasionally assembles for a festival date, or to work on his farcically overdue (and quite possibly mythical) Chinese Democracy album.

In addition to Weiland, the VR line-up consists of former Gunners Slash (lead guitar), Duff McKagan (bass), Matt Sorum (drums), and an LA session hack called Dave Kushner (rhythm guitar) who was drawing welfare before Mr Curlytop came knocking. To the eyes, they've barely changed. Slash, his swelling manboobs visible through his open-necked shirt, and Duff, bandannas tied to his belt loops, are still rocking the vagabond-glam look. Kushner, who closely resembles Steve Wilkos, the security guy from The Jerry Springer Show, is somewhat out of place. And already, they've reprised some of the inner tensions which made GN'R such a grimly compelling freakshow: Weiland has publicly dissed Sorum for his groupie habit (the rest of VR being happily married), while Sorum has slated Weiland for his political statements (pro-Kerry, incidentally) before the election.

Weiland is, essentially, a pair of hired lungs, and not even especially powerful ones. He does, however, have the crucial combination of egotism and idiocy which are the prerequisite of a heavy metal frontman. Before long, he's whipped off his shirt to show off his tats (good bod for a man of his age), and harangues us through a loudhailer while wearing fluffy bunny ears. You wouldn't, it's safe to say, get Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder doing that, so fair play.

You can see what's in it for Weiland. But why is the millionaire Slash doing this? The answer becomes apparent when you see the relish on his face as the front row throws satan signs at his soloing. You can't get that fix from sitting by the swimming pool.

The downside of this satanic pact, for someone who would presumably like to feel that he's a still-relevant artist, is that everyone wants to hear the old stuff. The cuts from Contraband, VR's debut, bear a pronounced aural similarity to GN'R songs, with those tubular top-string signatures, and those dirty smog-belching riffs (there's a flurry of excitement when everyone thinks Slash is launching into "Sweet Child O' Mine", and another for what initially seems to be "Paradise City").

"Fall To Pieces" is introduced as "a song about love and a song about drugs" and it opens with the line, "It's been lonely since you've been gone". If you were looking for subtlety and wit, you came to the wrong place. They are, Weiland would have us believe, "the feelgood band of 2005", nothing more, nothing less.

Speaking of which, consider the fate of tonight's main support act The Datsuns, a troupe of lank-haired Kiwi feelgood garage merchants for whom lack of subtlety and a contrived witlessness are their stock-in-trade. Their second album, Outta Sight/Outta Mind, displayed such a steep decline in quality from their first, that you just know they will never fill this place on their own, even if they keep making records for another 20 years. They can, however, still undoubtedly kick it live, and there's something oddly poetic about witnessing their inevitable parabolic trajectory back to being a decent bar band (which is, perhaps, all they ever were in the first place).

Eventually, Slash, Scott and co do give the hungry hordes what they crave, and play an actual Guns N'Roses song, the magnificently callous and nihilistic "It's So Easy". Later, we get "Mr Brownstone", and "Used To Love Her". It's enough to make you wish that the fat recluse with the high voice and the rights to the GN'R name would stop performing alongside a guitarist who wears a KFC family-sized bucket on his head, and reconcile his differences with the feller with the corkscrew curls and the teetering topper.

Don't hold your breath.

s.price@independent.co.uk

Velvet Revolver: MEN Arena, Manchester (0161 950 5000), tonight; NIA, Birmingham (0121 780 4133), Tue; CIA, Cardiff (029 2022 4488), Wed; Brixton Academy, London SW9 (0870 771 2000), Fri; Hammersmith Apollo, London W6 (020 8748 8660), Sat and 23 Jan

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