Michael Schenker Fest @ Institute, Birmingham – Tuesday 6 November 2018

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Review by Dean Pedley, photos by Rich Ward

With no fewer than four vocalists to choose from it is something of a surprise that Michael Schenker was the first to the mic as he sung a few lines from Scorpions’ classic ‘Holiday’, and in the first of a couple of swipes at his brother he reminded the crowd that much of his contribution to the Lovedrive album went uncredited. After a few successful years re-establishing himself as a live performer under the Temple of Rock moniker the maestro of the Flying V has changed his focus to celebrating the era of the Michael Schenker Group and reuniting with former vocalists Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley. This quartet are accompanied by Doogie White, Steve Mann (guitars and keys) and the hard hitting veteran rhythm section of Ted McKenna and birthday boy Chris Glen. What followed was two and half hours that encompassed all of Schenker’s long and illustrious career and had the crowd engaged from start to finish.

The show was divided into four parts with each frontman having more or less an equal share of the spotlight. As their turn came to an end there was an instrumental interlude that saw Schenker, Mann, McKenna and Glen blast through ‘Captain Nemo’, ‘Coast to Coast’ and ‘Into the Arena’; each one featuring the gurning bassist sporting green laser specs that dazzled the crowd. First at the mic was Doogie White for Temple of Rock highlights ‘Vigilante Man’, ‘Take me to the Church’ and Dio tribute ‘Before the Devil Knows Your Dead’ along with UFO classic ‘Natural Thing’. White is evidently comfortable sharing a stage with Schenker and it is good to see him included as part of the current set-up as he remains a solid hard rock vocalist.

Graham Bonnet’s tenure in MSG was all too brief with just the Assault Attack album and a single warm up gig before he was unceremoniously fired. All of that of course is now in the dim and distant past and Bonnet regularly tours with his own band. The shorter stage time suits him well as he can go full throttle on the voice knowing he only has half an hour or so on stage and he duly belts out the likes of ‘Dancer’ and ‘The Desert Song’. Assault Attack is something of a favourite album here at Midlands Rocks HQ and to see the pairing of Bonnet and Schenker sharing a stage and giving 100% was a welcome sight indeed. Also of note is that Bonnet’s short hair and shirt and tie image that was often remarked upon back in the 80’s now seems very befitting for a 70 year old!

Gary Barden will always be identified as the “classic era” MSG vocalist by virtue of the first two studio albums and One Night at Budokan. The audience afforded him a warm welcome and you certainly couldn’t knock his enthusiasm and effort although, sad to say, his voice was painfully thin and frail reducing ‘Ready to Rock’, ‘Attack of the Mad Axeman’ and ‘Armed and Ready’ to pale imitations of the originals. Having him on stage as part of the show certainly makes sense given his history with MSG but perhaps reducing his time front and centre would be the best way forward.

Arguably the strongest singer of the night was Robin McAuley who immediately hit the spot with a rousing ‘Bad Boys’ and was the featured vocalist on the mini set of UFO classics that included ‘Shoot Shoot’, ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ and ‘Too Hot to Handle’ before concluding with an epic ‘Rock Bottom’ that saw Schenker in superb form during the obligatory extended solo. After a birthday nod to Chris Glen all concerned were called back to the stage for the climax of the show with ‘Lights Out’. The current configuration has enabled Schenker to revisit his past with both nostalgia and authenticity by having key individuals involved and in interviews the guitarist has hinted of his wish for both Klaus Meine and Phil Mogg to be involved in the future. Far-fetched perhaps but stranger things have happened!

Setlist:-
Holiday
Doctor Doctor

Doogie White Set
Vigilante Man
Lord of the Lost and Lonely
Take Me to the Church
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Natural Thing
Captain Nemo

Graham Bonnet Set
Dancer
Searching for a Reason
Desert Song
Night Moods
Assault Attack
Coast to Coast

Gary Barden Set
Ready to Rock
Attack of the Mad Axeman
Rock My Nights Away
Messin’ Around
Armed and Ready
Warrior
Into the Arena

Robin McAuley Set
Bad Boys
Shoot Shoot
Heart and Soul
Only You Can Rock Me
Too Hot to Handle
Rock Bottom

Encore:
Lights Out

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