JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

April 10, 2015
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by Michael Insuaste

Michael Schenker

Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock Shakes Trees

Photos Courtesy of Michael Schenker Facebook
Photos by Frank C. Duennhaupt

Someday in the not-too-distant future, the "Schenker Lilt" will enter the classic rock lexicon and be recognized by musical historians as sonic exquisiteness coming from the hands of a singular, six-string auteur; just as the genius of the "Lubitsch Touch" has been recognized by scholars and students of classic film. That riffing-and-strafing equivalent of a metal Luftwaffe bombed a packed house at Trees in Dallas Friday night for a lesson in Rock History, embodied by ex-Scorpions and UFO guitarist Michael Schenker. That Schenker brought a rhythm section comprised of two members of the Scorpions' seminal '70s lineup only deepened the audience's anticipation and underlined the pedigree of chops that would be displayed onstage this evening.

Taking the stage dressed in his typical solid black, Schenker was flawless on the frets and fingerboard throughout the evening. Francis Bucholz (bass) and Herman Rarebell (drums) proved to me again just how great of a band the Scorpions really were in 1979, the year I saw them open up for Sammy Hagar at Dallas Convention Center.

Reaching back to 1974 for the opener, the divine tones of "Doctor, Doctor" told this Deep Ellum audience immediately that they were in the presence of nothing less than Rock Royalty. That trademark lilt and ceaseless Messerschmitt-like riffing were immediately on aural display and this version of the tune was pretty phenomenal.

This was Schenker's 3rd time to play at Trees in 5 years, so obviously he knows a good-sounding venue when he hears one. The house sound tonight was, as usual, loud and crystal clear, one of the preciously few venues in Dallas where this is consistently the case.

"Live and Let Live," from the brand new Spirit on a Mission album, went full-force into a pummeling "Lights Out," an anthem usually reserved for an encore. This signaled that Schenker and company were not intending to take any prisoners on this night and indeed, they didn't. Tonight's set would be comprised of songs spanning Schenker's career-to date: the Scorpions, UFO, as well as some choice cuts by the Michael Schenker Group.

Simply put, Schenker's dumbfounding dexterity on his signature black and white Flying V over the last 40 years puts him in the rare class of only 3 or 4 other guitarists in hard rock or heavy metal. The tastefulness and tunefulness of the notes he plays, combined with a lilting melodicism and the climaxing crescendos of his solos are nothing short of genre-defining. That Schenker was one of the few guitarists (and the only heavy guitarist) to audition for the Rolling Stones after Mick Taylor's departure in 1975 should hardly come as a surprise and he proved why tonight.

Two tunes from the two best early 80's MSG albums came next and new vocalist Doogie White handled the material with elan, managing to sound enough like Phil Mogg, Klaus Meine and Gary Barden to keep the crowd of about 600 sufficiently satisfied. "Armed and Ready" and "Victim of Illusion," in particular, featured more of Schenker's patented pull-offs; soaring, sensatory slivers, which mutated into dense, delay-pedal-driven, dive bombs.

Songs from the UFO catalog seemed to take a bit of a back seat tonight, compared to the numerous deep cuts of previous years and deservedly so, given the backing cast. No, this show seemed to be all about celebrating the Scorpions' legacy, and "Lovedrive" (which lyrically seems to be the German's take on Queen's, "I'm in Love With My Car"), had this predominantly late 40's to-late 50's aged crowd in trance.

The majestic instrumental, "Coast to Coast," followed, as did the not-too-politically-correct crowd pleaser, "Another Piece of Meat." Both sounded tight enough to have been culled from the album of the same name and would be the third of four songs to be played off of Lovedrive. An utterly timeless hard rock album, Lovedrive sounds as fresh, crisp and modern today as it did back in 1979. No home should be without one.

"Into the Arena" featured some panoramic synthesizer work from keyboardist/rhythm guitarist, Wayne Findlay. Findlay's work was fair to competent throughout the night, but nothing particularly special. It must be said however, that he seemed to be the odd man out onstage, in his image and attire. Finlay seemed to be a guitar player out of a late '90's grindcore band like Cannibal Corpse rather than one in this context. I wonder what Matthias Jabs is up to these days?

What would have been an obligatory, "Too Hot to Handle" followed, but three-fifths of the Scorpions pounding it out lifted it beyond the mundane. It was clear by the level of playing being churned out by the crucial three that these guys are still into the music and will not be playing the Catskills anytime soon.

I had been hoping for "Natural Thing," and when it came, it seemed to surprise many in the audience. That crunching, scintillating guitar tone of this tune is present on both the No Heavy Petting studio album and the classic Strangers in the Night live album and it was notably present at Trees this evening. Although "Too Hot to Handle," and "Cherry" have become UFO's Classic Rock radio staples, "Natural Thing" would fit in well with them.

In possible deference to both Bucholz' and Rarebell's subsequent mega success in the 80's, Schenker even proved himself to be a good sport by playing a few Scorpions hits that he didn't record. "Rock You Like a Hurricane," from 1982, was not necessarily a song I wanted to hear, but it was played with enthusiasm, notably with Rarebell pounding away on his much scaled-back, single bass drum, 5-piece, orange Vistalite set (which seemed to be an homage to the one Zeppelin's John Bonham played from 1972-'75).

The opening strains to "Rock Bottom," while not unexpected, have never failed to elicit near hysteria at any UFO or MSG gig I have ever attended, so why should this capacity crowd in Dallas be any different? It wasn't different and Schenker and crew rang the neck of this old warhorse for all it was worth, with Bucholz and Schenker exchanging razor-sharp leads with pulverizing, guttural bass notes, for the entirety of the song's 12-minute duration.

The real surprise of the show, however, was "Holiday," a song which was overlooked by the public for over 25 years before suddenly becoming recognized as the massive power balladit is. "Holiday" may just be the first power ballad ever, though one could make the argument for "Child in Time" and "Stairway to Heaven." Vocalist White was notably good on this one and I much prefer his voice and style to that of former MSG vocalist, Robin McCauley.

After leaving the stage briefly to thundering applause, Schenker and crew returned for another somewhat surprising post-Schenker Scorpions song, "Blackout." My one criticism of the show might be that Lonesome Crow, the first Scorpions record, was not touched live, but this is a relatively minor complaint and this Dallas crowd seemed to enjoy their "Blackout."

Tonight was a band celebrating its place in the rock pantheon, having a great time doing it and a hard rock show of an extremely high order. Judging by the rapturously ecstatic reaction of the audience, the Rock History lesson was duly noted by the students and class was let out early for the summer for good behavior.