Velvet Revolver at the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Friday (May 21). Sold out. All ages. Doors open 6 pm. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Duff Mckagan, former Guns n' Roses bassist , now holding down the bottom for Velvet Revolver, laughs when I tell him the last time I saw him play. It was in 1987, when GNR opened for the Cult at the CNE Grandstand. It was also the first time I ever got drunk and puked.
"Yeah, baby! C'mon!" laughs McKagan, on the phone from L.A. "Did you pass out? Did I rifle through your pockets?"
"We were so broke on that tour," he explains, "that for us to even call home or something we had to go out into the audience and ask for spare change to use the pay phone. In Toronto maybe 70 people knew who we were."
Modern metal's latest supergroup, Velvet Revolver, consists of McKagan, former Guns guitarist Slash and drummer Matt Sorum, Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Dave Kushner and Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland - or a junkie, a muppet and three leftover 80s metalheads. But I mean that in the best possible way.
Actually, they were all junkies at one time, but Weiland happens to have the highest-profile habit of the moment.
"Most of us have died at some point or another," says McKagan, now a clean, sober married father of two little girls. "Slash has died, like, four times. He's so hardcore, that guy.
"I remember one time he died, and when you OD on heroin they give you a shot of adrenaline in the heart (just like the scene in Pulp Fiction), so they did that and he came to and just said, 'We got a fuckin' gig! Let's go!' Like he couldn't give a shit that he'd just died. And we went and played the gig."
In 1994, McKagan's pancreas exploded. "The enzyme, which is basically acid, spills out between your intestines and skin, and mine dripped all the way down to my thigh muscles. So it's third-degree burns. Before most people die of this they slit open the stomach to let out some steam and relieve it." Eew.
"Somehow I survived, and my doctor let me know I was being given a second chance. I was in the hospital for 12 days, which was the longest I'd been sober since I was 14."
So the band has more than enough experience to provide a support system for Weiland. Working around his recovery program and court-ordered rehab stints, they managed to finish their debut album, Contraband, a balls-out, aggressive mishmash of straight-ahead rock, post-grunge and Sunset Strip 80s metal with flashes of early GNR and Jane's Addiction.
But by the day we spoke, they'd only played one gig together, over a year ago at L.A.'s El Ray Theater.
That one performance was amazing, says McKagan. "Slash, Matt and I knew what to expect of each other, but it was the first time we ever played live with Scott. Iggy Pop is a man possessed, and Scott is a hyper version of Iggy Pop if there's such a thing."
Weiland has the rock-star strut and slither in spades. The video for the aptly titled Slither is a virtual sex-fest, complete with crotch shots. Comparisons to Axl Rose may be unfair, but I can't help it. Silly as Rose is looking these days, in his heyday he was lyrically brilliant, with a god-given gift for phrasing, while Weiland's words can be self-referential and clichéd.
This coupled with a volatile attitude typified by promotional material that quotes him as saying those who don't like his lyrics can go fuck ourselves make him a tad difficult to like. I guess I'll just go fuck myself.
McKagan, on the other hand, is much more likeable, and displays a genial sense of humour about the "fuck-you element" intrinsic to VR.
"I was fortunate enough to grow up at a time when punk rock was really blossoming in America," says McKagan, "and I got to see the Clash in 79. I saw Paul Simonon grab an axe and chop down the barriers so the kids could get closer to the stage. That's fuckin' badass!
"And at a gig I played with Black Flag when I was 14, somebody threw a quarter at their singer and it split his nose open. He jumped off the stage, chased this kid out into the street and beat the shit out of him.
"That's just spontaneous rock 'n' roll. Not the ass-kicking part of it, but the sense of 'We're not gonna just go through the motions every night. '"