By BRUCE DENNILL
Kings Of Chaos / Sun City Superbowl / 30 November
Everyone needs a hobby, and as hobbies go, getting a bunch of neo-classic rockers together to tour the world and play each other’s music once every couple of years is a goodie.
Neo-classic? Yes, that’s now a thing. This show makes it necessary to update the notion of classic rock in that the latter conjures up images of long-haired, hard-living, hit-making, groupie-loving, tattoo-adorned, skull ring-wearing musicians from the Sixties and Seventies. Now, it’s all about long-haired, hard-living, hit-making, groupie-loving, tattoo-adorned, skull ring-wearing musicians from the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. The Eagles have had to take a step back, and the gap they’ve left has been filled by Bon Jovi. For anyone for whom Glastonbury is more important than Woodstock, that may seem reasonable enough, but from a wider perspective, it’s a little terrifying.
Matt Sorum (pictured), Duff McKagan, Gilby Clark, Steven Tyler, Billy Gibbons, Robin Zander and Nuno Bettencourt have played for, between them, Guns N Roses, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Extreme, Velvet Revolver, ZZ Top, The Cult, Jane’s Addiction, Heart, Queens Of The Stone Age and Alter Bridge. Nobody needs any encouragement to get to the front of the stage and perform, and everyone has earned the right to do so while the others strum and gurn and sing and support.
But not everyone is as good at playing their roles as everyone else. The absence of conflicting egos is refreshing, but it’s not enough. With as much experience as these musicians have, delivering on their reputations should be second nature.
In the positives column, Sorum, the driving force behind both the Kings Of Chaos and, from his seat behind the drums, each version of the band, is exceptional, his style showing off both structured discipline and unconcealed delight in what he’s doing. He’s ably aided and abetted by the imposing figure of Duff McKagan, who with his mirrored shades and lined face suggests Clint Eastwood as a rocker – and he radiates similar authority.
These two, along with Clark and Bettencourt, are the house band for the night, with the others wandering in and out to take the lead, often performing their own songs and occasionally adding an extra guitar and some shrieked high notes to someone else’s standard. Of the rotating cast, Gibbons – unfeasibly cool in his trademark bear, shades and hat ensemble, with a custom Telecaster to match in terms of over-the-top style – is easily the stand-out, as charming as he is convincing. One of his many party tricks is the one-handed solo; holding the Tele up with his left hand and hammering on the notes while pointing at members of the crowd with his right forefinger. It’s consistently impressive, but when he starts out way up the neck and then drops and catches the instrument as part of the solo, rookie axe-men and women in the audience know just how much work remains to to be done before they can claim to be a cut above the rest.
Robin Zander does well, especially considering e South African context, he’s likely the least well-known mega-selling musician in the room. Suffice it to say: it takes some singing to overcome dressing like the bouncer at a gimp convention.
To Steven Tyler, then – the nominal headliner. His tendency to parody himself via appearances on reality shows and dressing like a white-trash grandmother in his down-time is well-established, but, other than its manifestation in the Jane Fonda gardening outfit in which he steps onto the stage, its irrelevant. What’s more pertinent is his apparent lack of preparation when it comes to some rather obvious setpieces, chief among them More Than Words, during which he misses his opening cue and never recovers, peering past a hapless Nuno Bettencourt’s to what might have been a partially obscured teleprompter, judging from the way the Aerosmith man squints at a point somewhere near the front of the stage.
Bettencourt had other challenges too, leaving the stage a couple of times to have a word with the soundmen – who also failed to properly set up a keyboard for Tyler at one point.
Also on the technical side, it’s worth asking why, during a concert designed to showcase the skills of world-famous heavy rockers, the producer organising the feed to the stage-side screens did not brief his cameramen to zoom in on the blurred fingers of Bettencourt, Clark or Gibbons during their solos. It’s impressive stuff, and worth celebrating.
Without the polish the skill of these musicians demands, the Kings Of Chaos show becomes what many will have feared it might descend to all along – an expensive karaoke session that people have to drive two-and-a-half hours to see, and which doesn’t feature nearly enough Guns N Roses material, possibly because without Miles Kennedy on this run (or Chris Cornell, or Pat Monahan, or Ian Thornley, members of that small group of artists who can handle Axl Rose’s range and whose numbers are probably in Sorum’s little black book), Welcome To The Jungle the song would be about as convincing as Welcome To The Jungle the Sol Kerzner décor scheme.