|DVD REVIEW: Michael Schenker – ‘Michael Schenker Fest Live’ (inakustik)|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Sunday, 12 March 2017 05:30|
The place held by Michael Schenker in the annals of heavy rock folklore is incontrovertible. For the past 47 years, he has been quite rightly been regarded as one of the greatest guitar “gods” of his, or any, generation.
He always has been a precocious talent. As well as prodigious, in every sense of the word. After all, he started out on his professional career at just 11, playing alongside his brother Rudolf in Scorpions. In 1972, and still only 17, he was recruited by UFO as lead guitarist, leading them to massive global success, before six years later quitting to return to his brother’s side. One album, and one ground-breaking US tour later, at the tender age of 24, he decided to form his own band…
Renowned as much for his fiery temper and his trademark Flying V, live albums have played an important part in Schenker’s career: he left UFO just after the release of ‘Strangers In The Night’ (still regarded by many aficionados as one the best of all time), and it was the ‘Live At The Budokan’ that cemented MSG’s reputation as a hard rockin’ tour de force. Like ‘Strangers…’, this latter album also marked a period of transition, as shortly afterwards original singer Gary Barden was replaced with Graham Bonnet for the ‘Assault Attack’ album before, in another ironic twist in the Schenker tale, Barden returned for one more stab in the spotlight. Eventually, Robin McAuley joined the party, the band was suitably rebranded… and the Schenker story continued to twist and turn. Another three albums later, the latter partnership dissolved, the ‘M’ in the band name reverted to the guitarist’s first one, album releases became more and more sporadic, line-ups became something of a revolving door until, in the early part of this decade, the man recruited another former Rainbow singer in Doogie White and rebranded again, this time as Temple Of Rock…
…Anyway, I digress! We’re were talking about live albums (weren’t we?). Which brings us neatly to this little package. A rather unique offering in that it sees Schenker reunited with all three of the singers who made up the various incarnations of MSG between 1980 and 1992: all at the same time, and all on the same stage. Yes, this inaugural “Michael Schenker Fest”, which took place at the International Forum in Tokyo (a city which has played an important part in the MSG story, not just through the ‘…Budokan’ album) in August of last year, saw Messrs Schenker, Barden, Bonnet and McAuley coming together – along with original MSG bassist Chris Glen, sometime drummer Ted McKenna and second guitarist Steve Mann – to run through his, and their, back catalogue from that era.
The setlist basically runs through their combined careers together in more or less chronological order, starting with songs from Barden’s first stint in the band, moving through Bonnet’s all-too-brief sojourn and then into the McAuley Schenker Group era, before turning the clock right back to the start (well almost) of Schenker’s career with a triptych of three of the biggest UFO songs he helped to write. (SIDEBAR: The double CD version of this release is conveniently split into Barden and Bonnet on one disc and McAuley’s contribution on the other).
Unfortunately, the picture quality on the DVD sent to us is atrocious, with everything except the close-up shots looking they had been shot on ancient ‘phone (nearly as bad as some of our Facebook live posts, in other words)… but, may that was deliberate, to prevent us from selling it on or doing something else highly illegal with it. But, we’ll battle on and ‘Into The Arena’ regardless, as Herr Schenker introduces proceedings with a rare moment of vocal elucidation… Barden strolls on stage looking every inch the middle-aged semi-retired rock star, complete with almost customary fedora. He looks fit and healthy, and he has had to drop his range a bit – his scream on ‘Attack Of The Mad Axeman’ is definitely a few octaves lower than I remember it; he also recognizes who the star of the show is, and that he and his fellow singers are very much playing second fiddle to the man in the woolly hat who stomps and writhes around the stage beside and around. The result is an energetic and enthusiastic, if somewhat journeyman, run through of the aural highlights of his period in MSG, from the aforementioned ‘Attack…’ through ‘Victim Of Illusion’ to fairly pedestrian versions of ‘Cry For The Nations’ and ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’ – on both of which Barden really struggles to hit the notes he did back in the early Eighties – to a suitably thumping version of ‘Armed And Ready’ (it’s hard to believe that this powerhouse rocker actually was a hit single, given the complacency of today’s chart crap).
Despite these quibbles about Barden’s voice, however, Schenker’s own performance, as for the rest of the show, is exemplary, and he is most definitely enjoying this trip “back to the future” as shimmies and shakes his way back and forth across the stage, and delivers flawless, note perfect solos throughout. Chris Glen and Ted McKenna are equally precise and perfect in their contributions, not missing a beat throughout, even when Schenker decides to extrapolate on a riff (which, to be honest, he rarely does, given the obviously very carefully rehearsed nature of this show).
Schenker punctuates the changeovers between the various singers with instrumentals. For the first it is a faithful rendition of the ‘Coast To Coast’ workout from his Scorps’ “comeback ‘Lovedrive’: he shows that he’s in great form and truly at ease in front of a Japanese crowd who are eating up every cascading cadence of his fretwork.
Graham Bonnet, fully suited in line with his current image, launches straight into ‘Assault Attack’ with fervid conviction. Again, age has meant that he has had to drop his vocals, but he does so with much more conviction than his predecessor. Perhaps the fact that he still includes this and other MSG tracks in his own solo repertoire means that, being much more familiar with the material, he knows how to make it work for him. With only three songs to do, Bonnet does push himself a wee bit on the screaming effect, and also has one great advantage over Barden in that he never turns his back on the crowd and interacts with them through hand and facial gestures. ‘Dancer’ sees the three singers “united” for the first time, with Barden and McAuley stepping up to the backing mics, and the result is a decent rendition of what is perhaps the most commercial, nay “pop”, song Schenker has ever written or recorded.
A rowdy rendition of ‘Captain Nemo’ proclaims the arrival of the singer with whom Schenker collaborated the longest in this context: surprisingly, they extract only three songs from this era, but perhaps they are aware of the audience expectation to hear the “big pops” that are to come a bit later. Out of the three singers, McAuley’s voice is still the most impressive, rich and vibrant as he declares that ‘This Is My Heart’. Again, he obviously recognizes that this is Schenker’s “party”, giving the guitarist the appropriate amount of stage room but also stepping forward with practised ease to whip the crowd into a frenzy (well, as much as he can do with those damn inscrutable Japanese crowds, who only seem to lose it in the quiet between the songs). But, just as with Bonnet before him, his innate charisma shines through and he proves that this is one Eighties-era singer who still most definitely can deliver the goods.
As mentioned above, the show finishes with three UFO songs: ‘Shoot Shoot’, an epic ‘Rock Bottom’ and ‘Doctor Doctor’. They are each delivered with enthusiasm and panache by both McAuley (who is joined by Barden and Bonnet for the show closer) and especially Schenker, who can’t help but let the smiles shine through the intense concentration he puts into each and every element of each and every song in his desire to produce the best performance of each.
Overall, this is a very good capture of what was obviously a very special night for all concerned, and especially for those on the stage. There are some extremely dodgy Seventies TV show style camera angles, and, as I said, the overall picture quality on our version was abysmal. But, for fans of the Schenk, this is most definitely in the “must have” stakes, as, by and large, the quality of the overall performances, and the memories contained, herein are exemplary and the man in charge was obviously having a lot of fun. It would be great to see him reproduce a show like this on European – or preferably British – soil (although maybe Gary Barden might want to get in a bit more practice next time).
‘Michael Schenker Fest Live’ is released on Friday 24 March.
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