March 17, 2012
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by James Villa
Michael Schenker Group
One of the most physically-gifted rock guitarists ever, Michael Schenker joined his older brother Rudolf's band, the Scorpions, in time for Lonesome Crow, their debut album in 1972. After opening a tour the next year for the venerable British band UFO, who knew talent when they saw it, Schenker was drafted into that band and proceeded to turn heavy rock on its collective ear, with a then unheard-of combination of high-octane riffing and a surprisingly lilting melodicism. Schenker's playing on UFO albums such as Phenomenon (1974), Force It (1975) and No Heavy Petting (1976) set a new bench mark for heavy rock guitar. Unfortunately his personal life overshadowed his musical gifts.
Marred by alcohol abuse and a confounding undependability (he often caused cancellations by disappearing mid-tour, sometimes going as far as walking offstage mid-song), Schenker set new records for UFO fans saying, "What the fuck?!" This erratic behavior wore out his welcome in the UFO camp and despite recording three subsequent gold albums with the band in 1977-'78 (Lights Out; Obsession and the unparalleled live set, Strangers in the Night), he left UFO in October, 1978. Showing a possible late maturity in his mid-fifties, Schenker's last three tours have commenced and finished without personal issues being an issue, and his latest Temple of Rock Tour featuring a re-tooled Michael Schenker Group, hit Trees in Dallas Saturday night.
Opening with, "Armed and Ready," Schenker quickly displayed some of the jaw-dropping virtues that made him a fretboard fan favorite in the 70's - lightning quick leads and pull-offs on his trademark black and white Flying V. Even to this day, his tasteful, tuneful riffing and a guitar tone is immediately recognizable and unmatched in any context, be it Scorpions, UFO or MSG.
Looking like a curious cross between David Johansen and Bon Scott, vocalist Robin McAuley, in his second stint with MSG, handled most of the material with panache and restraint, only failing to hit original MSG vocalist Gary Barden's highest notes on tracks such as, "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie."
If the passage of time has taught Schenker anything though, it is clearly that his strongest and most memorable material all came within the UFO context. After opening with a few MSG tunes and revisiting the Scorpions' Lovedrive album on songs such as the title track and "Another Piece of Meat," Schenker gave the Trees crowd what it undoubtedly longed for - almost an entire set of classic UFO tunes. For most in attendance, this decision seemed to be a no-brainer, but for those of us who remember that the Michael Schenker of the 1980's seemed hell-bent on ignoring the UFO years, this was a welcome respite.
"Shoot, Shoot" and "Let it Roll," from the Force It album, whipped this St. Pat’s Day crowd into a hard rock frenzy. It came complete with headbanging and the occasional, yet obligatory air guitar performance from those witnessing the moment. For those in the audience who recalled the songs in their original context, they were immediately transported back to 1975. And for the unfortunate one’s not old enough to recall those glorious hard rocking moment, they just seemed pleased to be along for the ride. "Natural Thing," from the No Heavy Petting album, surprised and delighted both the young and old in this widely age-diverse Trees crowd, especially considering that it has been relatively rarely played by UFO since 1978, when it was more often than not the concert-opener.
The climax of this night's show however, came with the band revisiting the Lights Out album. This recording has to be a permanent fixture on any discerning connoisseur's Top 20 Hard Rock Albums of-All-Time list. "Love to Love," sounded to be lifted from the album directly. It was polished and delicate during the keyboard-dominated intro and verses, shifting to overdrive and hitting a crescendo not once, but three times, during the song's bombastic, aural orgasm of a finale. Why "Love to Love" was not a hit when released in 1977 is anyone's guess, but that is probably due to another song on the LP which ‘was’ a hit, "Too Hot to Handle." While overplayed in my opinion, this version of the tune definitely sparkled. It showed why that no matter how many other guitarists try to perform this music, it is Michael Schenker's signature feel that’s always the missing ingredient. The title cut from the album, "Lights Out," was simply staggering in its intensity and would have been the crowning cut at any other concert, but this band was hot 'n ready and they weren't finished yet.
"Rock Bottom" and "Doctor, Doctor," both from Schenker's 1974 UFO debut, Phenomenon were alone worth the price of admission. The scorching versions of these two classic numbers did not disappoint on this night. Again, Schenker's leads here defied description, his fingers running awry on the neck of the guitar, squeezing out sounds which are the sweet dreams of mere mortal guitarists.
Though many rock historians may argue that Michael Schenker's seemingly good health and frame of mind of late are at this point a footnote in the rock pantheon, history books are written by the winners and this chapter certainly isn't finished yet.