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.."