Review by Paul Quinton and photos by Rich Ward
Considering he’s surely one of the greatest of all metal guitar players, there’s always a certain degree of apprehension before a Michael Schenker show. His personal problems, culminating in some disastrous festival appearances a few years ago, are well documented, but more recently, he seems to have moved on and got his career back on track, and the last couple of times I’ve seen him, at JBs backed by most of the original MSG, and the High Voltage Festival last year, have been really good shows, and the make-up of his band this time around only added to the anticipation.
Strangely, he seems to be working with two different band line-ups at the moment. One in the States, where former MSG member Robin Macauley handles vocal duties, and an almost completely different European version, with ex-Rainbow and La Paz singer Doogie White behind the mic and Wayne Findlay playing the Paul Raymond role of keyboards and 2nd guitar. Not only that, but in Europe Schenker is now backed by the old Scorpions rhythm section of bassist Francis Bucholz and drummer Herman Rarebell, and the collective experience and confidence the original band members seem to have in each other, has resulted in a pretty fine band. White may have struggled to make his presence felt over the thunderous playing behind him tonight, but he’s a fine singer and sounded quite at home in this company.
It takes a certain degree of swagger to begin a set with an instrumental, but when the number in question is the almost iconic ‘Into The Arena’, it makes a lot of sense. And following that with ‘Armed and Ready’ really got the gig off to a great start. After that, it was a set list almost completely stuffed with classics from all parts of Schenker’s and his bandmates’ careers. An early highlight was a terrific ‘Cry For the Nations’, from the first MSG album, which, following the Scorpions’ ‘Another Piece Of Meat’, had the crowd absolutely bouncing, and not long after that the Scorps’ instrumental ‘Coast to Coast’ left noone in any doubt that this band was for real..
With only one more recent song in the set, ‘When the Devil Knows You’re Dead’, from his ‘Temple of Rock album, it was a set list that’s drawn criticism in some quarters, firstly for its over-reliance on old material, and secondly, when it came to Scorpions songs, for including songs that Schenker never originally played on. But you can forgive this, not only for the presence of Rarebell and Buchholz, but also because they were brilliantly played, especially a tremendous ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’, which had most of the singing along at full volume, conducted by Herman Rarebell. The only back catalogue song that didn’t really come off in this setting was ‘Assault Attack’, but that may just have been because its relative unfamiliarity compared to most of the other songs in the set.
The latter part of the main set was mostly UFO classics, including ending the main set with an absolutely mesmerising ‘Rock Bottom’, which gave Schenker an opportunity to show that not only does he appear to have fully overcome his problems of recent years, but also that he’s well on the way to approaching the heights he reached early in his career. Coincidentally, UFO themselves had played the venue only a few weeks before, which inevitably meant that comparisons could be made, but it has to be said that in a lot of ways, this was a much more enjoyable gig. Granted UFO played a much higher proportion of new material, but even so Schenker’s band and performance seemed to have a lot more freshness and energy. If, occasionally, UFO were smoother and more efficient, Schenker’s band had more of an edge, which took their set onto another level entirely. And you really can’t argue with a 3-song encore of ‘Holiday’, another huge singalong, a fast and furious ‘Blackout’, and finally ‘Doctor, Doctor’. I might alsoadd that there seemed to be more people here to see Schenker than were at UFO and this crowd seemed to be far into the gig than at the UFO show.
All being well, Schenker seems to be in a really good place at the moment. He clearly has a band he knows and has great confidence in, and he’s playing as well as he has for years. It’s great to see one of rock and metal’s biggest talents playing this well and so clearly having a great time while he’s at it. A great night and hopefully a sign of more great things to come from the man.
Set List: Into The Arena, Armed and Ready, Lovedrive, Another Piece of Meat, Cry For The Nations, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Coast to Coast, Assault Attack, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Lights Out, On and On, Let It Roll, Shoot Shoot, Rock You Like A Hurricane, Rock Bottom
Encores: Holiday, Blackout, Doctor Doctor
And you can see more of Rich’s shot’s from the gig (including support act Exit State) here: