Showing posts with label Michael Schenker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Schenker. Show all posts

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Let It Roll

Michael Schenker
Heritage Theater, Campbell, California
February 13, 2014

Again, I must point out how far behind I am with writing these days... so please bear with me as I attempt to relive events from over 2 (TWO!) weeks ago. Anyway, the legend who is Michael Schenker visited Downtown Campbell?!  Downtown.  Campbell.  If you had told me when I was a teenager that The Mad Axeman would be playing in the middle of suburbia in a former high school theater I would not have believed you.  Also, here in the 21st Century, Schenker sold out the 800 capacity venue.  I'm pretty sure this was the first time I've seen Schenker in a proper venue instead of a sports bar or other weird venue since the 80's.  The crowd was mainly the expected aging old school Rock people but the energy in the lobby was younger given how obviously special it was seeing Schenker in such a civilized space.

Evidently they ran out of beer at the concession stand, but thankfully I had one with dinner earlier in shockingly posh downtown Campbell.  While waiting in line for the Men's Room a random guy randomly asked me "Aren't you that book guy?"  Awkward.. but Murder is everywhere I guess.  Thanks, dude... but can I take a piss first?

After my brush with fame at the urinal, we took our seats up in the old man balcony section that gave us an unobstructed view of the stage.  However, as the set began the venue's past as a high school theater became obvious from the lack of stage lighting (the house lights were dimmed but the lights over the stage were left on the entire set) and the small PA... which actually didn't sound that bad but it looked funny having literally only 3 speakers on either side of the stage.

On paper the setlist was pretty solid:  Starting with MSG and solo songs, then easing into a couple of Lovedrive-era Scorpions songs, some rudimentary new songs, and then finishing up with the expected run through of UFO classics.  When they started 'Let It Roll' I was waiting for Schenker to hit the solo to see if he was really *on* tonight.. and he NAILED it. It was rather breathtaking actually.  Listening to The Mad Axeman play here in the 21st Century is as close to having a time machine as you can get.  He's still got *it*..

Unfortunately, Schenker's band on this trek bordered on amateur night.  The bassist jumped around and literally danced half the time and I swear he was only playing half the time as well because he was posing so much.  He looked ridiculous; I'm not a musician but a Rock bassist should hold things down and not jump around. The singer has worked for Yngwie Malmsteen and Ritchie Blackmore in the past but I was hard pressed to believe his resume because he said silly things between songs and tried to lead crowd cheers during a couple of Schenker solos (!?).    I'm not a frontman but a Rock singer who is basically the hired gun for a legend should know his place a bit more.  He also twice got on the drum riser and started gyrating (for lack of a better term) to the point where the riser itself was moving back and forth at an alarming rate and looked like it would fall over. The drummer looked pissed.  Given that we were in an old high school theater you'd think 1/2 of Schenker's band were still in high school.  Seriously.

Thankfully Schenker was amazing and flawless but it made me wonder how much better he'd be with a more solid and professional backing band. He must really get along with these guys and it might be a trade off: No band drama instead of a better band.  It's sobering to realize that one of the greatest guitar players of his generation still charges only $20 for tickets while more mainstream guitar "greats" have ticket prices up to 5x that but they have far less relevancy now.  Of course, Schenker is still playing old high school theaters backed by 2nd or 3rd string players.  Sad... but on his upcoming tours of Japan and Europe he will have the rhythm section of Scorpions veterans Francis Buchholz and Herman "Zee German" Rarebell (!!).   Can you imagine?  I can't because I still have visions of the hopping bass player in my head..

If you bought one of every Schenker merch item you would have paid around $80 I think.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. I made the long commute to this show because I want to see my old heroes whenever possible before they're gone. However, I unexpectedly came out of the show inspired from seeing Michael Schenker's virtuosity in person again.  At least for the drive home, I felt the same as I did after the first time I saw The Mad Axeman in 1980 on a rainy night in Oakland.  Time travel does exist.

"When our nerves were razor sharp and we'd all let it roll. Let it roll.. Let it roll."

Friday, October 05, 2012

Rock Bottom

Michael Schenker Group
Rodeo Nightclub, San Jose, California
Rocktober 4, 2012

Attending this show meant returning to my suburban homeland.  Before heading over to the venue there was an epic hang session with Murder In The Front Row veterans Brad, Big Wayne, and Timo at Gordon Biersch.  Food 'n Beerz were consumed and Old Metal war stories were told.  Brad was back visiting from his current foreign land home for the first time in 5 years... It's crazy how time flies.

The Rodeo Nightclub is a Mexican Country & Western bar that recently started dabbling with booking Metal / Rock shows... However I heard that experiment is ending soon; I guess the economics of hosting local Metal / Rock shows isn't working for them.  Ironically the space was a Metal / Rock venue back in The Day and in 1986-87 hosted a Kreator / Voivod show and also a Megadeth show that ended up being cancelled.

The Rodeo is a weird place.  The stage sits awkwardly in the middle of the room facing sideways from entrance.  The side of the club directly across from the stage is open to the outside and into a large patio bar / smoking area.  There was a guy wearing an Elvin Bishop shirt.  Who the fuck knows who Elvin Bishop is here in the 21st Century??   I wanted to ask him if he had a Pablo Cruise shirt at home.  You can take the 1970's out of San Jose, but you can't take San Jose out of the 70's... I guess.  The vibe of the place was like a big trashy neon beach-themed bar in Reno. 

We missed the first band (Spiral Arms featuring Craig Locicero of Forbidden) but unfortunately caught the middle band.  They featured a guitarist who evidently has won a Guitar Center contest and they played a cover of the Rush instrumental 'YYZ' in the middle of their set.  Dude!  A Rush cover... They should have closed with 'YYZ'.. Just saying.  Wank 'N Roll.

Anyway, this was the 2nd show of Schenker's current 32 show North American Tour.  Our world weary Guitar God walked on to the small stage behind his current anonymous band at around 11:00pm and kicked the set off with a vintage Scorpions double shot of 'Lovedrive' into 'Another Piece Of Meat'.  The set then meandered through a mish mash of early MSG songs ('Assault Attack'.. 'Into The Arena'..) and a couple of newer songs... I think... I'm not sure because I didn't know them.  Then for the rest of the set it was full tilt, pedal to the metal UFO songs with 'Shoot Shoot' / 'Let It Roll' / 'Love To Love' / 'Natural Thing' / 'Lights Out' for the rest of the main set.

I had to ignore Schenker's band because they were too cover band-ish for me, but Schenker's playing was surprisingly great all night.  When he went into his insanely melodic solo during 'Let It Roll' I could feel everyone in the room say "HOLY SHIT!" because it was so good.  'Love To Love' brought the romantic hammer down... which felt awkward since the dudes to chicks ratio in the room was at least 5 to 1.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

However, as great as Schenker played, I couldn't help but feel sad at the same time.   Schenker should be bigger than this.  Schenker should be playing in front of way more than 100 or so people in a suburban neon Country & Western bar that's across the street from a strip mall. 

Despite his current disturbingly gaunt physical appearance, when Schenker is onstage he is like a God who has fallen to Earth and who is ill-fated to wander amongst us mere mortals.   He deserves so much more than that, especially when so many other bullshit guitarists are garnering more fame and fortune with far less originality and influence.  Evidently Pearl Jam's guitarist has a Schenker-era UFO cover band called Flight To Mars. Discuss amongst yourselves.

The late night ended with the 3-song encore of 'Armed & Ready' that led into his signature song 'Rock Bottom' and closed with 'Doctor Doctor'.  The last song featured a guest appearance by fanboy Phil Demmel of Machine Head; that was a nice Bay Area Metal moment.  Thankyougoodnight!

I didn't do a merch audit, but Schenker's merch designs were depressingly uninspired.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags.  Now go listen to the UFO live album Strangers In The Night and ponder why Schenker is still playing to empty depressing clubs here in the 21st Century.

"Minutes pass so slowly by the hands on your clock... Heaven's door don't open when you can knock.. Rock bottom.."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Let's Do The Time Warp Again - Part Two

The sequel to Let's Do The Time Warp Again - Part One!

Michael Schenker Group
The Avalon, Santa Clara, CA
June 23, 2007

Umlaut saw Cheap Trick and the Michael Schenker Group ("MSG") on the same bill in 1980.. Now here in the 21st Century I saw both bands again within 24 hours of each other, and the contrast in how I reacted to each show is profound. One made me feel alive; the other not so much.

Back in The Day, the space that The Avalon occupies was a Bullwinkle's theme restaurant (complete with a dancing waters show); Timo still has a Boris Badenov bendy figure from the place. Sadly the dancing water show is long gone, but the interior of the place still looks like a restaurant with the stage weirdly placed in the middle of the room where the dancing waters used to be.

As we walked past Schenker's tour bus I offered Timo $20 to pound on the door and shout "Rock Bottom! Rock Bottom!!".. but he wanted $25 and that was too rich for me. In lieu of that I shouted (using my best fake German accent) "MICHAEL!! COME INTO ZEE ARENA!!"

Umlaut and The Mad Axeman's Tour Bus

While Cheap Trick are still going strong with their original lineup, on the flipside there's Michael Schenker. Herr Schenker has gone through something like 7 different vocalists, 8 different bassists, 4 different keyboardists, and 8 different drummers in the various incarnations of his band dating back to 1980. In the beginning he had established backing musicians like his former UFO sidekick Paul Raymond and legendary drummer Cozy Powell; in the 21st Century his band is an annoying mish mash of anonymous hired guns whose stage demeanor screamed "Dude!! I'm onstage with Schenker!" which only magnified the feeling that I was watching a cover band.

I could use some fancy adjectives to describe the extremely suburban venue with its extremely suburban crowd, but I think this bit of overheard dialogue sums it all up:

Chick #1 to Chick #2: "No, that was the night we saw the Tesla tribute band."

Schenker Enters The Avalon (Pic by Umlaut)

It's weird how seeing old heroes can be so different: Cheap Trick reminded me of the innocent joy of being a Music Geek. On the flipside, I'm gonna be brutally honest and say that the MSG experience made me feel like dust trapped in a vacuum cleaner.

Cheap Trick' vintage songs sounded fresh and alive in the hands of the original lineup. Schenker's vintage songs sounded *off* in the hands of his hired gun band, especially the Dio wannabe vocalist who added little falsetto bits to the end of every line he sang. I'm sorry, but when it comes to Old Metal, I'm a purist and Schenker's vintage songs had strong, bluesy vocals and not a Swords 'N Sorcery singer. Also, Rick Nielsen probably threw a couple of hundred guitar picks into the audience at the CT show; Schenker was selling his picks for $3 each at the merch table. Rock bottom.

Since the venue was only 10 minutes from where I grew up, I had the sense that this is how my high school reunions must have been like (since I haven't attended any of them). There were way more Hawaiian shirts in the audience than denim vests; in fact I didn't see one Old Metal denim vest. It was tripping me out watching dudes who were probably my age (but who looked 10 years older) wearing Hawaiian shirts and getting shit faced pounding Budweisers on a Saturday night. There but for the grace of Dog, go I...

Okay, eventhough my heart isn't into this, here's something for the Old School: The 3rd song of the set was 'Let It Roll' and I thought to myself "If Schenker doesn't nail the solo it's going to be a long night.."... Thankfully he did nail the solo (with its iconic melodic part)... However he completely botched and abbreviated his solo during the set closing 'Rock Bottom'. Egads.. He waited until 1:07am to play his trademark song and he fucked it up. Game over man, game over.

I will say that during the show I realized that in his heyday, nobody wrote better opening riffs to songs than Schenker. When the first chords of songs like 'Only You Can Rock Me', 'Rock Bottom', 'Too Hot To Handle', and 'Armed & Ready' rang out my spine tingled a little bit..

Despite the bummer effect the band had on me, the evening was still a treat since I got to hang with Umlaut Nation members Timo, Johnny, Teri, and Ray. When Teri was 13 she told her mom that when she died she wanted her ashes put inside of Schenker's Flying-V; I love that story! Also, prior to the gig Johnny gave me a cool hardcover book about the Messerschmitt Me262 that was published by the Smithsonian Institute in 1980.

The Sword shirts = 1 (mine). If you bought one of every MSG merch item you would have paid $128. However, they were only selling Men's XL size shirts and the merch girl said that's all they had printed, which says alot about Schenker's fanbase these days. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Please do me a favor and tell me about some new bands and new music; I gotta wash the stagnant dust from the MSG experience out of my psyche. I'm still not ready to exist only in 1982 and pound Budweisers on a Saturday night.

"Only you can rock me, rock me... kicking out just like a hurricane.."

Monday, April 18, 2005


Queens of the Stone Age - The Fillmore, S.F. - 4/16/05

Earlier in the day I had to attend a birthday party for 3-5 year olds in the Deep Dark 'Burbs.. It was a good reality check for Umlaut. Tickets for this sold out show were selling for up to $111 EACH on Ebay. I know, neither would I...

Dude, they opened with Regular John and followed it with 5 more songs from their first album! A very nice Old School way to open the show and confuse their new fanbase. A laugh was shared when Queens gave props to S.F.'s own Huey Lewis by throwing in a bit of I Want A New Drug during Feel Good Hit Of The Summer.. However, Nick is definitely missed in the lineup. It's the Josh Show now and the results are mixed IMO.

The Weekend Warrior "I'm fucked up on 4 beers"-vibe slowly washed over the crowd as the show progressed.. It spiked when the two jockish guys in front of me had their arms around each others' shoulders and clumsily tried to shake their fists in the air to the music. The band's fanbase is odd these days.

Capt. Fireball: "When was the last time you were at a show with this much pot smoking?"

For the first time in many moons, Umlaut and Joey Acid King were alone together in public unchaperoned. I had flashbacks to a Jesus Lizard show or two. "Give me something to stop the bleeding..." Thanks to S. for letting Joey come out to play.

Beer count = 2. On the way back to the car some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. In the car Joey and I discussed String Theory... and after I dropped him off Zeppelin's The Lemon Song came on the radio. Natch.

As if the Queens show wasn't enough for a Saturday.. There was this too:

Dude! The Michael Schenker Group on Rockpalast from Hamburg, Germany - January 1981 on DVD!! As Umlaut said to Capt. Fireball: "Holy Fuck!"

Screencap from Rockpalast DVD... "Rock Bottom!!"

In December 1980, Umlaut stood in the rain for 7 hours waiting for the doors to open in Oakland to see MSG on their 1st tour. We didn't use umbrellas because we didn't want to look like pussies waiting for a rock concert (stupid kids!!). Once inside, my clothes were soaked and I was crushed down at the front waiting for MSG to hit the stage. Steam rose off of the crowd from the body heat and wet clothing. As the houselights went out and the crowd crushed forward I can still hear the announcement "Oakland!! MSG.. Armed and ready!!!" in my 16-year old ears. In hindsight, it was a defining gig for Umlaut's Music Geek development. Standing in the rain for 1/3 of a day to see an opening act and then being crushed by a couple of thousands people while watching them. I wore the MSG 3/4 sleeve tour jersey I bought that night until it literally fell apart.

I went to the show with my cousin, with whom I'd originally gotten into Hard Rock (KISS, UFO, Ozzy, MSG...). Sadly, he grew up and now does regional sales for a huge industrial chemical company. If I were to tell him about the MSG DVD he would probably say "I haven't listened to them since I was 15.." Meanwhile, I haven't been this geeked out about something since... oh... last week. Hope I die before I get old.

Thanks as always to Capt. Fireball for the DVD hook up!


Umlaut and his Geek allies can be so fucking scary... This image is courtesy of the Capt. Fireball Archives:

The 1980 MSG tour jersey... I never thought I'd ever see it again. Tis like seeing the face of long dead love again... Trapped in time... never to fade.... or something like that.

"That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die..." - From "The Nameless City" by H.P. Lovecraft