October 22, 2013
House of Blues - Dallas
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by Jeff Jones
44 Years Of Sightings And The Rock Keeps Shining
Touring behind Seven Deadly, their 21st studio album since forming in 1969, the indefatigable UFO landed at the House of Blues in Dallas Tuesday night, still boasting three of five members from the classic, mid 70's line-up and sounding better than any band that has suffered over 40 member changes throughout the years have any right to.
To a backing track of Booker T and the M G's "Green Onions," vocalist Phil Mogg and company took the stage promptly at 8:30 and immediately threw down the gauntlet with an inspiring "Let it Roll." This 1975 track proved to be foreshadowing for the rest of the evening as the band would spend much time revisiting their fabled past, while sprinkling the set list with a handful of highlights from the new album.
Mogg turned 64 recently, but you wouldn't know it by how physically fit he looked or by the strength of his voice, which was as strong and clear as I've heard him going back to Will Rogers Auditorium 1977 with Rush. Though not an acrobatic mic-twirler like say, Roger Daltrey, the Mogg's histrionics with the microphone stand had also returned, after being absent for the most part during UFO's last 2 appearances in Dallas. The band and vocalist were in good spirits and Mogg proceeded to share humorous and self-deprecating banter with the audience throughout the evening.
"Let it Roll" segued into another tune from the Force It album, "Mother Mary," which displayed the band's stunning power, combined with its lilting melodicism. This tune remains a fan favorite and the upper balcony roared in approval.
The stage set was for UFO typically minimal: Two hundred-watt Marshall stacks on each side of the back of the stage, with drummer Andy Parker's cherry wine-colored, double bass Tama set given prominence under a red and black banner with the band's iconic, Hipgnosis-designed logo. UFO has always been fairly straightforward in presentation, preferring the medium to be the message, undiluted by technical tricks of the tail. Overhead lighting was subtle, but what little there was only enhanced the crystal clear hard rock being churned out onstage.
The opening two tracks from 2013's Seven Deadly came next and they dovetailed perfectly with the old classics. "Fight Night" and "Wonderland" showed the band's penchant for impeccably constructed, catchy tunes to be alive and well and UFO's solid to super recorded output is testament to their achievement.
"Baby Blue," took the crowd of about 1,500 by surprise and this song from the You Are Here album in 2004 has aged very well. UFO has a great knack to know which deep cuts to pull out of the attic and their set lists have always been graced by their making the effort to do this. The House of Blues crowd seemed to appreciate it, too.
After a rare false start, Mogg laughingly informed the audience that he apparently had a different set list than the rest of the band and that the crowd would be getting a tune UFO hadn't planned on playing. The result was a dexterous, yet inspiring version of "Cherry," the as of late seldom-played hit from 1978's Obsession album. The way the band nailed it and the boisterous audience response that ensued said that they might need to think about pulling this chestnut out more often.
"Lights Out" seemed a bit slow on this evening, the song's trademark thundering stampede replaced by an almost stately gallop. Surprisingly, this didn't really hurt the tune, but gave it another dimension with this particular interpretation. Another new one, "Burn Your House Down," especially stuck in my head and made me wonder why stations throughout the country weren't eating up its radio-friendly delight.
While replacing Schenker on lead guitar in the band will always be a daunting task, Vinnie Moore, with the band since 2003, handles the situation with more aplomb than the roughly 20 other guitarists given the task over the years. This was fully on display during the next two classic tracks, "Only You Can Rock Me," which led into the symphony set in stone, the immortal "Love to Love." Another song that FM radio missed out on, this track from the Lights Out album in 1977 is UFO at their best and this rendition was no exception. Rhythm guitarist/keyboardist, Paul Raymond particularly shined on this tune, multi-tasking on both instruments for the songs nearly 8-minute duration. Raymond has been a welcome re-addition to the band since coming back on board a decade ago.
The evening's biggest surprise came in the form of "Venus," another rarely played song, this one from the ‘94 comeback album with the classic line-up, Walk on Water. UFO hasn't touched this album live much since that '94 tour, possibly because of the sour way the tour ended with Schenker leaving yet again under head-scratching circumstances. A solidly satisfying tune, from a vastly underrated album.
A competent, yet obligatory "Too Hot to Handle" was next. But given the response from the Dallas audience for some of the rare tracks played, I found myself wishing for this tune to be given a rest for a while in favor of another deep cut. It being one of the band's signature tunes however, this is highly unlikely to ever occur.
A word must also be said about touring bass player Rob De Luca (ex-Sabastian Bach Band), who has been filling in for original bassist Pete Way during Way's debilitating illness for the last 5 Years. While De Luca's stage presence and physical energy can't hold a candle to Way's over-the-top showboating, which always competed with Schenker and Mogg for attention, his playing of Way's notes was top-notch. It also helped that the body and tone of De Luca's bass matched perfectly the bottom end of Way's trademark Gibson Thunderbird.
By this point of the concert, anyone who ever followed UFO even remotely closely could have predicted what was coming next, or for that matter even the rest of the set. "Rock Bottom" is one of the band's monsters and deservedly so. When released in 1974 it was practically a blueprint for heavy metal riffing that would gain in popularity by the end of the decade. In 2013 it is nothing short of classic. This tune hit several climaxes, yet dependably came back for more. No matter how many times I have seen this song performed live in 35 years, it has never become boring. It was a rightful cap to the band's set proper and UFO exited the stage to cascading applause.
Never a band to tease an audience, the UFO was quickly summoned back for more by the grateful House of Blues hordes. Most in this throwback crowd (average age about 47) knew what was coming next, but that didn't stop them from salivating in eager anticipation. As the opening notes to "Doctor, Doctor" trickled over the PA, the audience was whipped into a veritable frenzy. Mind you, this is a tune that Iron Maiden has been so smitten with over the years, they continue to this day to play it over the house PA at their concerts to signal they are about to come onstage. There is very good reason for this and if you haven't ever heard it, log off of your android device immediately and go out and track down a copy of UFO's 1974 album, Phenomenon. The title of the album is a rarity in itself: Truth in advertising.
"Shoot, Shoot," had the audience gyrating and singing along, most in the crowd knowing more than just the song's chorus. Anyone, who like myself, cut their teeth on UFO's live Strangers in the Night album in 1978 had good reason to smile. Several reasons, actually.
The smile would turn into a chuckle when UFO then launched into a ragged but right rendition of Chuck Berry's immortal 1958 anthem, "Johnny B Goode." Though they only made it through one verse and one chorus before calling it quits, the context of the tune hit the nail on the head. A nod to the band's early roots and rock solid foundation, this song too had the crowd in near hysterics and sent them bouncing into another big city night.