When it comes to real life guitar gods, few are bigger or better than the legendary Michael Schenker. Not only was he responsible for helping create two of the biggest rock bands in the history of rock/heavy metal (Scorpions and UFO for those few poor souls who don’t know any better) but his solo stuff is arguably even better than all the timeless classic rock he created with said bands. If there ever was a German icon in rock music it most definitely would be Schenker’s statue we would be carving.
When I look back at the guitarists who first influenced me to pick up a guitar at the ripe old age of 11, Schenker is definitely among my top 5 of all time. He has the perfect blend of emotion and technicality in his playing, he is so fluid switching from style to style it’s absolutely mind blowing to watch him in action. And he has such a knack for composing some of the most beautiful melodies, yet will still rip your face off with the meanest of riffs. Whenever the legend comes to town, it’s a mandatory must see.
So Friday night, the Michael Schenker Group was back at the Key Club for the Temple of Rock Tour. It had been a couple of years since he last rolled through town and since I haven’t been to many shows lately, I was literally chomping at the bit to see the man in action. Last time around he had old singing pal Gary Barden with him. This time around it was supposed to be other former vocalist Robin McAuley fronting the band, but he was forced to cancel so former touring frontman David Van Landing was asked to fill in once again. There have been some great and not so great vocalists singing beside Schenker over the course of his career, David falls somewhere in the middle. Not a great frontman, but not bad by any stretch. Which is a good thing because with the set they performed Friday night, he would need to be at his best to not mess up a brilliant performance by Michael.
There are certain staples one expects to hear when seeing Schenker play. But I was actually in awe and totally blown away with the songs he broke out Friday night. Last time I saw him, it looked a bit like age and hard living had finally started catching up to him. But on Friday he came out spry and energetic, a huge smile on his face and looking lean and mean and ready to rock hard. First shock came when he ripped into a classic Scorpions tune from the Lovedrive album “Another Piece of Meat”. The up tempo rocker sounded raw and fresh and I was banging my head instantly. Not letting up he dove right into “Assault Attack” yet another surprise from the classic Graham Bonnet-era album of the same name. I knew this was going to be a special performance when after a new song he went right back to the jugular with “Into the Arena” from his first solo album. The classic instrumental allowed him to put all his brilliant skills on display and it was a true treat to see him flying all over the fretboard all the while a big smile plastered on his face like it was nothing.
With as many surprises as there were during the first half of the set, some of the biggest were still yet to come. Basically the whole second half was a blissful trip down memory lane as Michael played no less than SEVEN classic UFO tunes. “Shoot Shoot”, “Let It Roll”, “Love to Love” and “Natural Thing” were all like adrenaline shots to the heart, each unexpected and each just a blast of awesomeness. Despite seeing UFO last year and hearing these tunes live for my first time, there’s just nothing like hearing those riffs coming from the original master. And as much as I like the job Vinnie Moore has done, hearing Schenker play those classic riffs and hearing the solos the way they were meant to be brought tears to my eyes. To close out the show, the amped up audience were treated to mind blowing renditions of “Lights Out”, “Rock Bottom” and my personal fave, the quintessential Schenker song “Armed and Ready”. And what kind of UFO revival would this be without the ultimate UFO classic? That’s right, the well deserved encore would bring everyone together screaming the chorus to “Doctor Doctor” to close out the show.
It’s been my own personal Oktoberfest lately, last week was the Teutonic Terror Tour with Kreator and Accept (a must see tour if you haven’t yet!) followed by the immortal Michael Schenker Group. I don’t think I have to tell you to go out and see this living legend while you still can. This was an amazing, amazing performance, certainly the best I have ever seen him, and this was certainly one of my favorite performances of the year. There’s not much more I can say that hasn’t already been said about Michael, but I implore you to go see the man when he rolls through your town, quoting his last tour slogan, when you see Michael Schenker live, you are “In the Midst of Beauty”.