notes from the coast: UFO @ The Key Club, 9/24

Cruelly underrated and overlooked throughout the history of rock, there are five names that should always be mentioned when talking about one of the greatest rock bands EVER. They are Phil Moog, Michael Schenker, Pete Way, Andy Parker and Paul Raymond, otherwise known as UFO. With the thunderous rhythm section of Way, Parker and Raymond powering the majestically gruff yet melodic vocals of Phil Moog and the jaw dropping licks and electric riffs of Michael Schenker, they simply went on to release some of the most electrifying rock records ever put to vinyl. Back in the day they must’ve been a sight to behold, and while I was too young to see them in their heyday, it’s never too late to catch a glimpse of the glorious past and that’s exactly what I did Saturday night.

Now here’s the kicker, the modern version has no Michael Schenker or Pete Way. For many, this is a deal breaker, and I had some mixed feelings about this myself, seeing as Schenker is one of my all time favorite guitarists and Pete Way was the backbone of this group. But the fact of the matter is the songs have always been the stars, with the shred-tastic Vinnie Moore handling the axe duties, Phil still manning the mic and Andy and Paul still handling the rhythm, I had no doubt this would be a fantastic show. The band did not fail to deliver.

The openers did threaten to sour my mood as they were utterly crap-tastic . At least the first band had some decent rock songs. What made it horrible was the singer. He sounded like a dying seal and looked like he was about to slip out of his way-too big leather pants. If you remember the lame pop singer from the Ford Fairlane movie with Dice Clay then you are on the right track. Following them was a terrible, out of place, pop-punk band comprised of twelve year olds, at least they looked and sounded like it. If it wasn’t for my friend discovering the cool Judas Priest cover band playing downstairs and saving the mood, it might’ve scarred my memory of UFO‘s performance. But that wasn’t to be. They were so good all the bad just evaporated when they came out onstage.

Phil Moog certainly looks as old as he is. His mobility was even more limited as he was feeling a bit under the weather, but once the band launched into Mother Mary all that old age crap went right out the window. The sound was crisp and booming, a perfect mix as I could hear Phil‘s distinct voice and he sounded fantastic. Andy Parker was pounding away at the kit with a vengeance while the rhythm section of Paul Raymond and bassist Barry Sparks kept everything air tight. But with the moment everyone was waiting for finally here, all eyes were on Vinnie Moore to see how he would perform in the shadow of the legend.

Now, Vinnie is no stranger to guitar hero stardom. He was one of the Shrapnel shredders from the 80’s standing, delivering next to guitar greats such as Yngwie, MacAlpine, Chastain, Gilbert, etc…. The only album I’d ever heard of his was the Mind’s Eye solo album he released oh so long ago. I knew he had the chops, but it’s another thing entirely to join a storied band, step into the shoes of a guitar great and not only handle your own but more importantly, not change the sound so much that you lose the original feel of the band. I was really curious to see if he would put his own stamp on these songs or just settle for playing Schenker‘s licks note for note. As he’s been in UFO since 2004, he looked extremely comfortable up there ripping away. The first five songs were a back and forth between old (Mother Mary and Let it Roll) and new (two off The Visitor, one off Walk on Water). I have to say I was seriously impressed with Vinnie as he did an excellent job staying very true to Schenker‘s solos and licks on the older songs while blending and incorporating his own style on the newer ones, all the while keeping the UFO sound and style consistent throughout every song.

With all the reservations out of the way, it was time to get down to business as the band pumped up the crowd with Only You Can Rock Me before surprising everyone with an obscure gem called Ain’t No Baby off the Obsession LP. One of the things I love about UFO is that aside from the obvious hits, the rest of their catalog is littered with great songs that are worthy of their own praise, Ain’t No Baby being one of them, a personal highlight for me. After that it was back to business as they rocked the anthem Lights Out, Rock Bottom, complete with mandatory extended blistering solo by Vinnie and the scorching Too Hot to Handle. Of course for the encore they came back with uber-classic Doctor, Doctor before finally closing it out for good with heavy rocker Shoot, Shoot.

The only glaring omissions I from what I could tell were Natural Thing and Love to Love but I could go on and on thinking about all the songs I wanted to see performed which would’ve made for a five hour show. As it was, the band played a stellar set, sounding powerful, tight and most importantly, passionate. Though many may scoff at the thought of old guys rehashing their old songs for a buck and an extra minute in the spotlight, it seemed perfectly clear to me that this is a band that still has plenty left in their tank. After all, this isn’t a comeback for them, they’ve been releasing good albums consistently since reforming in ’98 and are still going strong. And while they will never escape their storied past, they’ve settled in nicely with a fantastic guitarist who’s now made this his band and they are still cranking out some great old rock n roll. Still underrated and still one of the best, catch em while you can. UFO rules!!

Setlist:
Mother Mary
Saving Me
Let It Roll
Hell Driver
Venus
Only You Can Rock Me
Ain’t No Baby
Too Hot To Handle
Lights Out
Rock Bottom

Doctor Doctor
Shoot Shoot