To say I had been looking forward to this one was something of an understatement. I’ve been a fan of Michael Schenker since buying the “Dancer” 7″ single from a Sunday Market near Edinburgh back in 198*cough*. Although I’m a massive fan that has never blinded me to the fact that some of Michael’s live shows have been less than spectacular, but in recent years he has very much got his shit together and has been in the form of his life. Few who saw it will forget his performance at High Voltage last year, and after his headline show at Holmfirth Picturedrome last year (a gig particularly memorable for bassist Pete Way being pissed out of his box and headbutting the stock of his own bass) hopes were high that Michael could finally be on the verge of a proper return to greatness.
The Temple Of Rock album and this run of gigs weren’t billed as “MSG” though, not quite sure what the thinking behind that was…..
Support on the current run of dates is provided by impressive up and coming band Exit State, who did a sterling job of getting the crowd warmed up for the main event.
Now, for me, one of the things that as held Schenker back (apart from the booze) was the musicians that he associated himself with. On the MSG 30th anniversary tour while Michael was on stunning form Gary Barden’s vocal delivery… well… let’s just say that it hadn’t improved with age. This time around there are no such issues. If ever the term “supergroup” was appropriate then this is it, as Michael has assembled a live lineup consisting of Ex-Scorpions Herman Rarebell and Francis Bucholz, former Rainbow frontman Doogie White and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Findlay, who played such a key role with the latest incarnation of MSG.
The band arrived on stage, minus Doogie, for the traditional set opener of Into The Arena. Although Michael is obviously still the center of attention (with his own, white spotlight) it’s immediately apparent that the whole band are on ridiculously good form, and are clearly loving the response that they are getting. Francis Bucholz in particular knows how to work a crowd, and speaking as a noob, he is a photographer’s delight.
Although this gig was supposedly to promote Michael’s latest Temple Of Rock album it was going to be a set crammed full of undisputed classics. As the opener ended Doogie White bounded onto the stage and we were treated to another standard of the MSG live show, Armed and Ready.
Now I’ve been an admirer of Doogie White’s recent work with NWOBHM legends Tank, and his performance tonight certainly demonstrated that he has an amazing voice. More than that though, he has an impressive stage presence which provides Schenker with his best vocal foil since the days of Robin McAuley.
This was the most classic of classic rock shows. After Armed And Ready had raised the tempo a notch the amiable frontman told us that the crowd barrier was there for our safety, as “There are three live Scorpions on stage”. Given the lineup I’d hoped we’d be making a few trips to the Scorp’s back catalogue, and so it was, the first of many being Love Drive.
Honestly… guitar god, all star line-up, awesome songs, this was rapidly shaping up as one of the gigs of the year.
Well, if Love Drive got the place rocking, then what followed threatened to blow the roof off the Ritz. We all knew it was coming but there’s just something about seeing this lineup doing Another Piece Of Meat, especially as Doogie White has the vocal range to deliver Klaus Meine’s high notes.
Things were wound back down a touch with another couple of MSG standards in Cry For The Nations and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. Mind you I suppose given the advancing age of many in the audience (including me) the breather was appreciated.
This is a band which has an obvious chemistry, whatever substantial egos may be on display they certainly didn’t get in the way of the music. Is there anyone on the planet who looks happier than Herman Rarebell? I mean does he EVER stop smiling?
After another brief trip to the Scorpions back catalogue, which saw Schenker demonstrating that he has lost none of his incredible talent as a virtuoso guitarist, came my highlight of the evening. Assault Attack was the album that really converted me into a fully fledged rock fan, and the inclusion of the title track was one that I doubt anyone here would have any complaints about.
It was at this point in the evening that the band finally slipped in a new track. You know, from the album they’re touring to promote. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is one of the highlights on Temple Of Rock, and as a track co-written by Michael and Doogie I guess it was the obvious choice.
Of course, Michael has more than MSG and The Scorpions in his extensive back catalogue, some of his other stuff was not bad too…
Lights Out was the first UFO song to get an airing tonight, (and no, no prizes for guessing the others). Doogie and Wayne were clearly having a great time with this one, the frontman sharing the vocal duties with imposing, too cool for his own good, keyboardist / guitarist.
Wayne Findlay is one of the most unheralded and underrated musicians around. He is, erm, instrumental to everything Michael does now, providing a solid rhythm as a backdrop for Michael’s fretboard magic and the on-stage chemistry he has with Doogie White was a joy to behold.
Although Michael, naturally, is the six string center of attention Wayne is a brilliant guitarist in his own right, throwing in the odd blistering solo of his own.
MSG’s On And On followed before the UFO double tap of Let It Roll and Shoot Shoot. Looking round the audience it was great to see such a range of ages here. Although many of the crowd weren’t born when these songs were created this type of classic rock seems to span generations.
And I like gigs where I’m not the oldest one there 😉
Doogie walked up to the mic to introduce the next song, only to be rudely interrupted by Michael launching into a riff that sent the crowd over the edge, you know, THAT riff, the Rock You Like A Hurricane one. This had pretty much everything, included Herman standing up behind his kit leading the sing-along and Wayne delivering one of the solos of the night….
The set ended with another cover, an extended (and I mean VERY extended) version of UFO’s Rock Bottom. Of course there were going to be encores, no way we were letting the band off that easily. Doogie introduced the first of these with “This is your song, you know it, so I’ll just join in the bits I know. Like I’ve been doing all evening”. Fair enough I suppose, judging by the volume of the audience most of us were familiar with Holiday.
The frankly incredible gig ended with Blackout and predictably, Doctor Doctor. Michael’s career has, at times, been a little chaotic and he has not always surrounded himself with musicians who do him justice but at the moment the celestial bodies have aligned.
He’s always had the talent, and he’s always had the songs. Tonight he also had the best band I’ve ever seen him play with.