Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Concert Review: Velvet Revolver/Alice in Chains

AIC/VRThis was one hell of an amazing night of rock n' freaking roll! I never imagined while growing up as a teen in the 90's that I'd get to see Scott Weiland, Slash and Alice in Chains all play in one night. But they did, at the Snowden Grove Amphitheater on October 9th, 2007, and it will be a night to remember for a long time to come.
Artist: Alice in Chains
Genre: Grunge/Rock/Alternative
From: Seattle, WA (Home of Grunge)

People can be apprehensive, cynical and wary when a once famous band gets a new singer after their original kicked the bucket or just left the band, while hoping to restore lost glory. AC/DC and Black Sabbath did that successfully, Van Halen did it twice,so did INXS, Drowning Pool with lesser success. Decased Alice in Chains vocalist Layne Staley had a powerful voice, screaming without shrieking and modulating as necessary. After his OD less than a decade ago and guitarist finding mediocre success with a solo career, the band members got together and recruited "Comes with the Fall" frontman William DuVall to sing for them.

DuVall makes an excellent addition to the band, whilst not a replacement to Staley. However, he does sound similar to his predecessor, only as close as another guy can get. Classics such as "Would?" and "Man in the Box" were sung and played faultlessly and were a great joy to listen to live for the first time! VR's/former Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Slash was invited to play along for AiC's final act "Rooster" - and the air was all about the 90's at that point.

Besides DuVall's voice, he also plays guitar, which in my opinion is a plus - a band with two guitarists always sound complete to me. Wouldn't need extra rhythm for every song, especially none of the classics AiC recorded as is. But moving forward if they actually plan to record a new album, DuVall's backup strumming would come handy. Yes, AiC didn't play any new song that night. Not sure if they even have any yet. But it was good to see them play classics, nonetheless. I finally saw an actual grunge band in concert!

Even though Velvet Revolver was the main performer of the night and the tour, a lot of attendees had AiC shirts on and a good majority of them looked like they teleported from the early 90's.

Artist: Velvet Revolver
Genre: Hard Rock/Post-Grunge
From: Hollywood, CA

After AiC concluded their setlist, the arena was all dark while the stage was being setup, and interestingly the song playing in the background to introduce the band was "Straight Outta Crompton" by NWA. Who would imagine using a rap classic to introduce a rock band? The announcer then introduced VR as a band from Hollywood that put the "Punked" back in "Punctuality" - poking a fun at GnR's vocalist Axl Rose who has always been beyond notorious for being tardy at concerts. The next thing you hear is a lead guitar solo, and a silhouette of Slash standing behind a curtain for a minute before the curtains fall, and the lights go full bright with all the band members performing "Let it Roll" - the first song from their latest and sophomore CD Libertad.

Following the first track, singer Scott Weiland (formerly of Stone Temple Pilots) introduced his band in his usually notorious words "We're Velvet Revolver, and we play m-f'n rock n' roll!" Which is true, they're the only band that play any old school rock n' roll these days. They continued with new songs including "Get Out the Door," "She Mine" and songs from their first album Contrabrand :"Superhuman" and "Big Machine." All of a sudden they sat down on coffee shop stools and started playing semi-acoustic ballads - somewhat bizarre but a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Ballads included their latest single "Last Fight" and GnR/STP covers "Patience" and "Interstate Love Song." I might be/have been in a daze, but Scott seemed do have a better job than the original singer Axl Rose at singing "Patience." These softie songs did mellow down the air quite a bit even though they were a delight to listen to, and the band rose to the occasion and went all electric again.

The spotlight fell on Slash alone, who played a guitar solo of the Led Zeppelin classic Heartbreaker brilliantly for a few minutes before resuming jamming with the band. A buddy of mine happens to be an Led Zeppelin fan, and was all praise for Slash's mastery at strumming like Jimmy Paige.

Scott Weiland
Slash - My Idol!
Photos courtesy of http://vr.rated-art.com/
VR continued with their originals "Set Me Free," "Do it for the Kids," their best ballad "Fall to Pieces" - which saw a lot of lighters go up in the front rows, and new releases "Just Sixteen," "She Builds Quick Machines" - which I like best from their new album. They continued with GnR covers of "It's so Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone" along with STP's "Sex Type Thing" which excited the crowd of nearly 6,000 to no end. Scott Weiland's continues serpentine dancing and leaping, climbing over speakers and anything he can get his limbs on, along with Slash semi-dominating the stage with his guitars and top-hat presence were the visual highlights of the show, along with the splendid and constantly varying lights. VR has really grown as a band, and improvised exceptionally as far as stage presence and value added-glamor such as the light-show.

The evening ended with VR's greatest hit ever/so far - "Slither", an elongated version with an obviously longer guitar solo and follow up vocals. The only downsize, and a minor one, may have been bassist Duff's soar voice lagging behind in backing vocals.

Overall, this was the greatest arena concert that I have attended till date, and VR continues to be my current favorite band. Too bad they didn't play "American Man" from their latest CD, but they did well enough too fill their nearly 2 hours of un-dragged performance. Having Alice in Chains tour with them and the pranks exchanged between these two bands showed spirit and support for fellow rock n' rollers of the 90's.

Keep on Rocking!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Movie Review: The Kingdom

Movie Title: The Kingdom
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom and Jeremy Piven
Directed by: Peter Berg
Genre: Action/Drama/Thriller
My Rating: 8/10

Summertime is over and early Fall movies are here. This doesn't mean the worst movies are released, but definitely not the heavily crowd-gathering kind. The goal for movies released in this period are to make money at the box office mostly due to less competition. Kingdom isn't exactly a masterpiece or a classic-to-be, but far away from disaster, moreover. The occasional bouts of action and suspense kept one awake well during the flow dominated by thought processes for basically nothing.

Irregularly, I started appreciating this film right from the opening credits! Yes, they have the so-and-so presents, a so-and-so film, editor: so-and-so, but in between the credits they showed the proven and factual parts of the history of Saudi Arabia ever since monarchy came into power in the early 20th century, followed by the discovery of oil, and the Arab-American joint venture for oil digging (ARAMCO). That followed the unbiased summaries of how the US-Saudi relations got stronger through the years and minor political snippets similar to what you may have seen in Fahrenheit 9/11 without the bashing.

The actual movie starts with a social softball game on an American compound in Saudi (probably oil workers/engineers) and a bomb blows up killing many. An American team of 4 FBI-ers is sent to investigate the same in the ultra-hot, ultra-conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The team comprises of an investigator (Foxx), a bomb-expert (Cooper), a forensic specialist (Garner) and an intel gatherer (Bateman). Good casting. Jamie Foxx now commands a strong screen presence ever since his Oscar win, and did great justice to his role. Garner wasn't exactly the ALIAS girl we know well, but a humble and less-talky geek girl who can kick ass if the occasion arises. Cooper was under-used, but filled his shoes just fine without an extra sole, and Bateman did what he does best. Joke around. He didn't exactly transition to a serious role in this very serious movie, but provided the momentary comic relief which wasn't mistimed at all. Witty sarcasm can always be a good addition to a thriller of a movie.

Middle Eastern actor Ashraf Barhoum impressed as the local cop (titled a Colonel though) who was assigned to escort this team. Jeremy Piven plays a suck up the Prince who's a partner of the oil digging firm. Seriously, after playing Ari Gold on TV's Entourage and winning so many awards for the same, and landing a leading role in Smoking Aces - Piven could have thought better than being miscast for this role. Come on, he can put the a back in a-hole.

Conspiracy theorists won't be adding anything to their bank of theories by watching this movie. Haters will less likely to hate more too. An average and sensible movie appreciating guy could just enjoy this movie like any other action thriller. I have thorough respect for a screenplay where facts are not bent for bias.

8/10 - won't make a bad rental or Netflix queue member. You will need at least half a good stomach to watch this, when compared to a real war flick like Black Hawk Down.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sweeney Todd: Only Johnny Depp

Upcoming is a dark movie, set over a 100-150 years ago, costumes, blood, faces looking silver gray, even Tim Burton as a director. The only ingredient left to marinate this thriller with is by casting Johnny Depp in the leading role. But of course, nobody else can play such a dark role in a costume drama thriller. Depp's other similar characterizations were in:

  • From Hell
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Dead Man

    Plus, these set in the present day:
  • The Ninth Gate
  • The Astronaut's Wife, and
  • Secret Window.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is about a creepy barber (Depp) with homicidal tendencies who chops off his customers and does the weirdest things with the body parts. Grossed out? Well, I would assume anyone who's seen 2 out of the 6 movies mentioned above would be able to handle this one as well. To add to the director and actor combo, Burton's wife Heleno Bonham Carter joins the cast, along with Alan Rickman (Snape from the HP series), and Sacha Baron Cohen (BORAT!). Mind you, this is not a comedy. A bit of an absurd musical maybe, but definitely not a SBCohen-isque comedy at all.

Check out the trailer and poster. I can't wait till this comes out!