No Goon Rants
It was only a few years ago that Guns N' Roses were perhaps the most popular band on the planet, even if it feels like another lifetime altogether. Since the group's late-'80s/early '90s heyday, grunge has come and gone, the hip-hop nation has declared independence, and bubble-gum pop has cloyed its way to the top of the charts. I wasn't exactly what you'd call a GNR fan, but the current climate is almost enough to make one yearn for the days when Axl Rose was the most cretinous and annoying rock star on the scene. Headband Boy was a deep thinker in comparison with the Dursts and Kid Rocks in our midst.
But while Axl's Robert-Plant-Having-His-Pubes-Ripped-Out caterwaul and frequent goon rants to the press effectively prevented me from ever embracing GNR, my ears perked up whenever I heard Slash rip into a guitar solo. His work has always been nimble, fleet-fingered and aggressive without being overly flamboyant. He's much more than a cartoon-metal shredder; his timeless style has more in common with such classic blues-based axe-slingers as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck than it does any hoodly hoodly showoffs from the hair-spray-metal era. Slash doesn't like what he sees and hears on the pop landscape these days any more than I do, with all the negativity and aggro posing on the one hand and the featherweight flitting about on the other. With his post-GNR band, Slash's Snakepit, he hopes to carry the torch for old-fashioned rawkers into the next generation.
"Everybody's complaining about something these days, and I don't even know what the problem is," he says. "But everyone is basing it on something. It's weird. It's negative and it's persistent. So Snakepit is just sort of the antithesis of that. It's just a simple rock & roll band that sings about what we might be going through at the time, and we have a good time doing it."
Snakepit's new CD, Ain't Life Grand, doesn't recall the bombastic and theatrical GNR so much as it does such older hard-rock groups as early Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith. No one's going to defend this as important or groundbreaking, but if it sounds good, feels good, and makes banging your head seem like fun again, why get overly analytical?
Finally liberated from the self-important dramatics of Axl, Slash is in his element. "Guns got so depressing—it was, like, 'I don't like my job anymore,'" he says. "It was like fucking my ex-wife's mom or something. It came to the point where I just quit. I'm still friends with all of them. The only guy I haven't talked to since I quit is Axl because once that came down, I never looked back. It was business and musical differences between me and Axl. But I still hang out with all the other guys; they all quit the band at the same time I did."
Following GNR's breakup in 1995, Slash cleaned his slate completely, hiring new managers and attorneys, getting a release from his record label, and searching for a new start. "It's refreshing," he says. "Guns was completely fucked: bad management, missing band members, just all-around screwed up. Axl took off on some weird tangent. I've just been doing the same thing since I was 15, trying to perfect what I like doing. When I first started playing guitar, it was just basic '70s rock & roll: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Mott the Hoople, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, old Rod Stewart, all that kind of stuff —the obvious stuff. And being that I'm half-black, my mom's side of the family listened to nothing but blues and jazz. So I got raised on Otis Redding and Muddy Waters and B.B. King, too. And I'm still trying to perfect playing off my influences. I stay on the straight and narrow. I do what I do."
Strip it down with Slash's Snakepit when they appear Sunday night at the Galaxy Concert Theatre.
Keely "I USED TO BE MARRIED TO LOUIs Prima"Smith has fashioned a new career on the heels of the swing revival, following several decades of obscurity. That's okay with me—if anyone deserves to cash in, it's the lady who sang on all those cheesy old Prima hits such as "Jump, Jive & Wail," "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," and "Oh! Marie" (the best thing I can say about the criminally overcovered "Jump, Jive & Wail" is that my nephew misinterprets the Brian Setzer version as "Drunk Drivers Go to Hell"). The years have been kind to Smith's vocals, though truth be told, she was never what one would call a top-shelf jazz or swing crooner. She was more of a sheer presence in her close-cropped 'do and glitzy Vegas duds. She acquits herself competently if not inspirationally on her latest release, the cleverly titled Swing Swing Swing, even if an appalling lack of subtlety on the part of the huge horn section is enough to make the ears bleed. Put on your two-toned shoes and hey-baba-rebop, if you must, when Smith appears Friday and Saturday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
For a dose of earthier, more stripped- down jump/swing this week, check out Greg Piccolo & Heavy Juice on Friday night at the Blue Cafe. Piccolo used to be the singer/saxophonist for Roomful of Blues —who were playing swing eons before it became trendy—and embarked on a solo career in 1994. His Illinois Jacquet-influenced tenor work is a particular joy, as Piccolo kicks out obscure covers by the likes of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Ray Charles and Duke Ellington, along with a bunch of solid originals. Piccolo also picks a decent guitar and strays into the realm of funk-jazz from time to time, but hot jump remains his forte.
SLASH'S SNAKEPIT AT THE GALAXY CONCERT THEATRE, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA, (714) 957-0600. SUN., 8 P.M. $17.50. ALL AGES; KEELY SMITH AT THE ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 556-2121. FRI.-SAT., 7:30 & 9:30 P.M. $54. ALL AGES; GREG PICCOLO & HEAVY JUICE AT THE BLUE CAFE, 210 THE PROMENADE, LONG BEACH, (562) 983-7111. FRI., 9 P.M. $6. 21+.
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