Judge Victor Valdivia formed a supergroup with other DVD reviewers, but they squabble endlessly over who's the bigger star.
It's a funny thing about supergroups: sometimes the whole really is less than the sum of its parts. Take Velvet Revolver, the collaboration between former Guns N' Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum, and Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. On paper, the meeting of two hugely successful hard rock bands should lead to some spectacular high-grade arena rock. Instead, what it actually leads to is some reasonably diverting music that doesn't hold a candle to the two bands that originally spawned it. It plays fine when you're listening to it but you'll be hard-pressed to remember much of it when it's over.
Live In Houston was filmed on June 18, 2004 (not 2005, as claimed in the liner notes) at the Verizon Wireless Theater in Houston, Texas. Weiland, Slash (guitars), McKagan (bass), and Sorum (drums) are joined by guitarist Dave Kushner. Here is the se tlist:
• "Sucker Train Blues"
The set encompasses many songs from Velvet Revolver's 2005 debut album Contraband, as well as two songs each from GN'R and STP. Unfortunately, that just highlights what a disappointment Velvet Revolver ended up being, since the GN'R and STP songs are far more memorable and entertaining that even the best new songs. Part of the problem is Slash and McKagan, the musical heart of the band, have come up with music that's reasonably accomplished without being particularly noteworthy. What prevented GN'R from being just another hard rock band was that the band's music was a collaboration between the more straight-ahead style of Slash and McKagan and the more offbeat and quirky sensibilities of Izzy Stradlin and W. Axl Rose. Here, Slash and McKagan essentially write the music and give it to Weiland, who doesn't contribute nearly as much apart from his lyrics.
Which brings us to an even bigger problem: Weiland himself. It's not that he's a bad singer; he can certainly hit the notes. It's that he's so shamelessly derivative. When he's not aping Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, it's because he's too busy aping Alice in Chains' Layne Staley, the Doors' Jim Morrison, David Bowie, or even, most embarrassingly, Axl Rose. In STP, this lack of originality worked because STP was, for all intents and purposes, the alternative band for people who didn't like alternative music. It was their job to take the ideas and styles of darker, weirder alternative bands and shave off the rough edges to make songs that sounded great on the radio. Here, however, Weiland's lack of originality only highlights just how undistinguished the music is. The upshot is that Velvet Revolver sounds like little more than a competent hard rock band with Weiland singing. It's not STP, because the music has a harder and bluesier edge, but it's not an actual collaboration either, because Weiland just isn't a strong enough performer to impose any sort of personal stamp to the music. It's why, even as admittedly riveting as the band's hit single "Slither" sounds, and as amusing as it is to see Weiland's Eno-esque synth improvisations during "Illegal I," the only thing you'll truly remember after watching this concert are the cover versions of "It's So Easy" and "Sex Type Thing." Those are pretty much the only songs that sound like actual songs, instead of words and music stitched together awkwardly.
Technically, the DVD isn't bad. Shot on DV, the anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is crisp and clean with no grain and only one or two instances of artefacting. It would have been nice, however, if the show's director had toned down the excessive use of downright tacky video effects. The 5.1 surround mixes are clean and well-separated, but surprisingly not that loud. The guitars aren't really that beefy and the drums don't kick that hard. They get the job done, but you're in no danger of disturbing the neighbors unless you really crank the volume up. There are no extras, although interspersed between songs are snippets of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as random bizarre shots of Playboy Playmate Irina Voronina dressed in a Nazi uniform spouting arty political statements. So there's that.
Ultimately, Live In Houston is really only for the most devout fans of the musicians seen here. Neither the music nor the performance is exceptional and the DVD doesn't come with any extras or new material worth caring about. It does serve as a nice souvenir for the faithful since this line-up is no more: Weiland parted ways with Velvet Revolver acrimoniously in 2008, after the band's second album, 2007's Libertad, was even more of a critical and commercial disappointment than Contraband. Those fans can watch this concert and reminisce while savoring the one or two truly great moments seen here. Then they'll likely file it away and go back to listening to GN'R's Appetite for Destruction or even STP's Purple, two albums that are easily far more memorable and entertaining than anything on this DVD.
Guilty of being adequate but not all that great.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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