Slash Noodled Through a Marathon Set at South Side Ballroom on Sunday

With Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators and Fozzy
South Side Ballroom, Dallas
Sunday, May 24, 2015

Through no fault of my own, I've now seen Slash play guitar live on three occasions in the past year. This should be a big deal for me; Guns 'N Roses were my favorite childhood band. I wrote the lyrics to “Patience” in a note to my 7th grade girlfriend, Appetite for Destruction was the first cassette tape I hid from my mom, and G-‘N-F’n-R was first thing I ever carved into a desk. But at this point in my life, a live appearance by Slash is a nice bonus, like getting an extra $50 on your tax return or finding a smokeable roach rattling around in your center console.

And yet, when I’ve heard him peel off the lead parts on “Welcome to the Jungle,” I’ve still gotten chills. I first saw Slash play live last April, when he stepped out of the fog before Motörhead’s encore to join them in “Ace of Spades”. I saw Slash again in August, opening for Aerosmith at America Airlines Center, backed by some band I didn’t know called Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. And he's back in Dallas for third time on Sunday night to headline on Sunday night at South Side Ballroom.

It turns out that Myles Kennedy is the frontman of Alter Bridge, the band formed by members of Creed when Creed officially disbanded. I don’t know what an Alter Bridge song sounds like, and if I hear one later, I’ll assume it’s something from the album the band, officially called Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, is playing. The opener this time around is Fozzy, a band fronted by a far more interesting character than Myles Kennedy: pro-wrestler Chris Jericho. Fozzy is kind of a dumb band, but it's dumb by design, and it's also pretty fun.

When Slash and his band appears, the crowd, already charged with what is presumably 40,000 watts of (anticipation for) maximum rock, gets loud and then louder during the opening cowbell count of “Night Train.” This is my second-favorite Guns ‘N Roses song, and I lose my mind along with everyone else. Slash has a Stubbs BBQ tank top on, because Texas; throughout the night, he and Kennedy tell the crowd how great it is and how Dallas is the perfect city to end a tour. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I might have seen them at the beginning of the tour when I saw them with Aerosmith. Perhaps because that set was shorter, it seemed particularly front-loaded with more G ‘N R material, but with a couple hours to stretch their legs, there's an equal amount of songs from the band’s 2014 album, World on Fire.??

I’d be lying if these songs interested me at all. I listened to them in the car, and they mostly sound like ideas for Guns ‘N Roses songs that never made it past the demo stage. Even with Slash Slashing away, the non G ‘N R stuff just sounds like so-called “active rock”, the kind designed for singers to lead an audiences in fist-pumps and choruses of “Hey!” This one, called “Standing in the Sun” should’ve been named “Rage Against the Stone Temple Benjamin.” My mind wanders; I wonder if Myles Kennedy and his band ever back other standalone performer: Tim Reynolds, perhaps, or Yngvie, maybe the singer from Evanescence.??

Finally, after what seems like an eternity of new songs, the drummer launches into the intro to “You Could Be Mine.” The bass riff comes in and, for a second, I’m 13 again, rewinding Use Your Illusion II over and over until the tape breaks, trying to figure out how to render the chrome of a Terminator skull in ballpoint pen on notebook paper. But it’s not how I remember the song sounding. It’s because Myles Kennedy, however competent (and he’s a pretty incredible vocalist, even if I don’t care for his music), is simply not Axl Rose. And though he’s probably technically perfect, the drummer sounds like he can’t perfectly replicate Matt Sorum’s feel for the song. I sing along anyway, even though these nitpicking thoughts lodge in my head like splinters.

??Slash breaks out a double-neck Gibson SG for yet another track off World On Fire, but blessedly, the next song is “Rocket Queen”, my third-favorite Guns ‘N Roses song. ??Slash slides into a solo that suggests he’s a fan of ZZ Top and it’s arguably the grooviest part of the show (and pretty fucking rad, all told), though after a while I start to wonder how different a given modern Slash solo is from the next. I get that this noodling is part of why you watch Slash, but after about what feels like the third hour of Viper Room hotlixxx, I start to think his notes are fighting the groove. Did he do this 25 years ago, and did it bother Matt Sorum?

Perhaps that’s Slash’s ultimate trick, though: Just when you get bored with him, he makes something magical happen. Unfortunately, when he launches into “Sweet Child O' Mine” (on a gold-top Les Paul, an extremely important detail to 14-year old me), the magic is a little pitchy. The crowd sings along, but like “You Could Be Mine,” there’s just something, I don't know, saggy? Can a song sound saggy? Or is it because my brain wants it to sound like the first time I ever heard it? It’s probably the latter, but either way, I don’t get the thrill I thought I would.

I stick it out for the encore, and luckily it’s “Paradise City.” While a couple of the other Guns ‘N Roses songs left me wistful for middle school, this song redeems them. When Myles Kennedy raises his arms at the exact moment Slash lays into that opening G chord, it occurs to me that right at that second, Myles Kennedy has the best job on earth, because participating in that instant must be an incredibly powerful feeling. The bass player blows a whistle at right spot, and I fall into a few minutes of blissful reverie. Then the room explodes in confetti, each piece a rectangular slip with “World On Fire” and “Slash” printed on it.

On the drive home, I consider giving his album another listen, but I queue up Use Your Illusion I instead. It’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain, but it’s even harder to hold a candle to the Slash that solos in my memory, no matter how much he shreds — even when he’s shredding live and in the flesh.

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