Live Photos and Gig Review Credit: Duncan Everson (Photographer/Live Gig reporter Myglobalmind Webzine
I hadn’t seen Michael Schenker since he supported Whitesnake in 1988 and have been fan even longer, so to say I was looking forward to this gig would be a bit of an understatement. His last album, Bridge The Gap, is also one of his best, I think, so even more reason to get excited about this one. But first up were the support band Western Sand.
Having played with Michael Schenker at Hard Rock Hell festival in November and supporting him on this tour, Western Sand are a band whose star is definitely on the rise at the moment. I hadn’t heard of the band before this gig, so didn’t know what to expect but sometimes having no pre-conceived ideas is the best way to approach a new band. Coming on to virtually no fanfare, the band started their set with “Dark Horse”, which gave an immediate impression of both the quality and style of the band’s music – classic rock done very well indeed. Tyler Hains’ voice is ideally suited to this kind of music and as he shows, he’s also pretty talented on the guitar too. So too is the other guitarist Jimmy Bradshaw and between them they do a brilliant job of updating the old twin/harmony guitar sound when they choose to use that style, working particularly well on “Welcome To The Badlands”, where they play a very intricate harmony part perfectly. Very impressive stuff, as was their whole performance. Using the available space well to engage as much of the crowd as possible and using great stagecraft to connect with the audience, they played a perfect support band slot. Each song sounded better than the last and each song got people more involved and away from the bar, so by the last song, “Nothing To Lose”, the O2 Academy was filling up nicely. To sum up then, Western Sand are the best support band I have seen all year and are better than some headliners I’ve seen too. Their new EP is great and I look forward to seeing and hearing from these guys again soon.
Tyler Hains- Lead Vocals & Guitar
Jimmy Bradshaw – Guitar
Findlay Hotchkiss – Bass & Vocals
Nathan J. Kay – Drums & Vocals
After that excellent start, now it was time for the main man himself. Starting with a song that most bands would keep for an encore (including UFO) is a brave move but when you have a back catalogue as strong as Michael Schenker’s then you can afford to get a classic like “Doctor Doctor” out of the way early. Next we’re brought right up to date with “Where The Wild Winds Blow” from the last album and just the riff alone makes the hairs on my arms stand up on end. When you get goosebumps and it’s only the second song then you know this is going to be a great gig! And so it proves to be, with Schenker playing every song perfectly while recreating the studio sounds and also improvising brilliantly to add extra parts at other times. When played properly, then live music will beat recorded every time and sometimes a band will manage to do that with some of their songs in a set but at this gig, it’s exactly what happened with every song. Songs I wouldn’t have chosen for my ideal setlist like “Coast To Coast” (which I’ve never really liked) or “Lovedrive” are brilliant while the ones I would have chosen (“Lord Of The Lost And Lonely” or “Into The Arena” for example) are simply magnificent! The song from the new album that was played, “Vigilante Man”, was also another hit, having a really good, chugging riff, a brilliant vocal performance from Doogie White and an excellent solo.
It’s not all about just Michael either, the rest of the band are equally as charismatic and enjoyable to watch too. Wayne Findlay is excellent on rhythm guitar and keyboards, often at the same time – who says men can’t multi-task. During “Rock You Like A Hurricane” he also plays the lead solos perfectly proving he’s just as comfortable in the spotlight as he is in his usual supporting role. The Ex-Scorpions rhythm section of Herman Rarebell on drums and Francis Buchholz on bass do a fantastic job too. While neither are flashy or particularly spotlights-hogs (well maybe Herman is a little!) they provide the solid grounding that is needed for the guitar work to really shine and that’s a job they do superbly. Doogie White is a fantastic frontman, with an incredible voice that mimics Klaus Meine’s really well when required (on “Lovedrive” for example) but also has his own style too. His character comes through very well between songs with his easy banter with the crowd and also his way of involving the crowd by making them cheer and playing the sides against each other when he isn’t singing. The way he somehow made the innuendo of “Blackout” even ruder with gestures and pronunciation was a treat too!
But of course Michael is the main focus and his showcase performance of “Rock Bottom” was quite simply one of the most stunning pieces of live music I have ever seen. 13 minutes long (yes, I timed it!) and during that time, every aspect of his playing was highlighted, from his incredible speed and technique to the way he is also capable of playing beautiful, melodic guitar pieces too. During the last minute or so he also took a couple of pictures of the crowd with a camera, not a phone, and even took the time to frame the shots properly – while still playing with the other hand. Just amazing!
With the word legend thrown around so freely these days it starts to become almost redundant to use it but sometimes it’s actually justified. Michael Schenker truly is a legendary guitarist and this gig has further proved it to me. This was as close to the perfect gig as I’ve been to in a very long time and will be one I speak about for years to come. I’m not ashamed to admit that I will be worshipping at the Temple Of Rock for a long time and spreading the word with all the evangelical fervour I can manage. I’m off to start a countdown clock to 23rd March next year when the new album (“Spirit On A Mission”) comes out.
Doogie White – Vocals
Michael Schenker – Lead Guitar
Wayne Findlay – Guitar & Keyboards
Francis Buchholz – Bass
Herman Rarebell – Drums