Sunday, March 03, 2013

Pictured Life

Uli Jon Roth
Vinnie's Bar & Grill, Concord, California
March 1, 2013

After another action packed work week I was really looking forward to this show, but I was not looking forward to going to Concord for it.  No offense to the far East Bay, but that drive can really suck on a Friday.  Thankfully I got a heads up about approximately when Uli would be going on and we left well after rush hour so the drive was not bad at all.  I can't remember the last time I was in downtown Concord, but I was impressed by how gloriously mall-like and polished it is here in the 21st Century.

As Uli later said from the stage, his 2013 Tour celebrates the 40th Anniversary of his time with the Scorpions.  To celebrate he is playing a set of all vintage Scorps songs, a good number of which the band never performed live.  Holy.  Shit.  A lot of old timers came out of the woodwork for this show and Vinnie's was sold out in advance with many turned away at the door.   The Uli-era of the Scorpions were a key part of my salad days and the albums from that time are sacred to me.  I can still recite the between song banter on Tokyo Tapes... "I hope we get a good feeling together.."

When I saw Michael Schenker last year his band bummed me out because, despite his great playing, they came across as very cover band-ish.  I was afraid Uli's latest touring troupe would have that same vibe, especially since the rhythm guitarist is evidently only 16 (SIXTEEN) years old!  However, I could not have been more wrong.  Uli's current band is really great and included original Electric Sun bassist Ule Ritgen, which was a nice surprise. It wasn't Tokyo 1978 but Uli played like it was; he was absolutely flawless.  His vintage solos are seared into my psyche and tonight they were all as fluid and breathtaking as on the original Scorps albums.  To be honest, it was pretty emotional as my Inner Teenage Metalhead witnessed a performance he thought he'd never see.

Thankfully the performance made me forget that I was watching one of the greatest guitarists of all time inside a suburban sports bar.  However, Vinnie's didn't make it easy since they left the half dozen flat screen t.v.'s on during the show!  So, as Uli and his band played a scorching version of 'We'll Burn The Sky' into a fantastic version of 'In Trance', they were accompanied by golf highlights on some screens and UFC highlights on others!  Also, a good bit of the stage lighting came from a large Bud Light neon sign at stage left.  What. The. Fuck.  It was so disrespectful. Anyway, old school Scorps fans, here is the mind blowing setlist:
  1. All Night Long
  2. Longing for Fire
  3. Crying Days
  4. They Need a Million
  5. Life's Like a River
  6. The Sails of Charon
  7. Your Light
  8. Virgin Killer
  9. Evening Wind
  10. We'll Burn the Sky
  11. In Trance
  12. Yellow Raven
  13. I've Got To Be Free / Band Jam
  14. Fly to the Rainbow
  15. Polar Nights
  16. Dark Lady
  17. Pictured Life
  18. Catch Your Train
  19. Speedy's Coming
  20. Little Wing (Hendrix cover)
Holy shit, right?!  Nineteen vintage Scorpions song  and the obligatory Hendrix cover to close.  Amazing.  My mind is still reeling as I type this days after the show.  It was the set that I had always dreamed of seeing Uli play dating back to my teenage years. Time travel does exist.

There were a noticeable number of drunk middle aged women in the house and during 'Yellow Raven' I moved towards the back to get a break from their sloppy 45-going-on-17 antics down front.  It was funny how the noticeably drunk people were female while the vast majority of the guys were completely geeked out watching Uli.  Right before 'Fly To The Rainbow' started I moved to the bar and the guy next to me asked "Are you Brian?" and it was Tom S., an original S.F. Metalhead from the very, very beginning.  I hadn't seen him in years (decades!) so I spent most of the rest of the set sitting on the bar (yes, ON the bar) with Tom watching Uli and his band work their time machine magic. Surprisingly, the bartenders were cool with us sitting up there.  Thanks, dudes.

That being said, as great as Uli played I couldn't help but feel sad at the same time.   Yes, the show was sold out at its 300 person capacity, but Uli should be playing a real music venue and not a sports bar filled with loud neon and flat screen t.v.'s.  Although I will give kudos to Vinnie's for having a surprisingly good sound system. However, at approximately 1:15am, as Uli and band launched into 'Dark Lady', the bar turned on the houselights to announce last call!  What. The. Fuck.   It was incredibly disrespectful but Uli didn't seem to notice.  He made up for it by slamming my face into a wall of heavy nostalgia by then playing 'Pictured Life' into 'Catch Your Train' into 'Speedy's Coming'.  My head was spinning at this point.  Incredible.  "Speedy's coming.. you live in his heart.."

Now it was almost 2:00am and, as Uli and band started the obligatory Hendrix cover to end the night, we headed back out into the East Bay night for long the drive back.  It had been over 2 hours of vintage Scorpions played by one of my earliest Rock Star heroes. Unbelievable.  Uli über alles!

If you bought one of every Uli merch item you would have paid around $115.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags.  It's not often that you have a childhood dream fulfilled, but that's exactly what Uli's set felt like.  When I was in high school I wrote Uli a letter... and amazingly he wrote me a letter in return and sent me some autographed items.  In 1982, Uli was my friend:

"Pictured life from yesterday.."