Michael Schenker Fest – O2 Institute, Birmingham.
Tonight promised to be one full of memories as Michael Schenker took to the stage accompanied by an array of vocalists from times past performing the songs of the Michael Schenker Group, the Temple of Rock, the Scorpions and UFO.
Before the Mad Axeman appeared Eden’s Curse, a somewhat cosmopolitan melodic rock group, entertained for around 40 minutes brandishing their very entertaining musical talents which had been gathered from around Europe and Scandinavia.
The band enter the fray to ‘Reign of Terror’ playing in the background and get underway with ‘Masquerade Ball’ taken from their 2008 album ‘Second Coming’. Following this we were taken on a trip through 4 of the band’s five studio albums finishing with ‘Angels & Demons’ from the same album.
Between the sets those with approved photographical accoutrements were told that we would have pit access for 7 of the 29 song setlist – yes you read it right, a total of 29 songs were due to be played!
The introduction was the Scorpions ‘Holiday’, or at least a little bit of it, which Schenker himself sang along to before the rest of the band appeared closely followed by three of the four vocalists. As Barden, Bonnet and McAuley walked on stage the band got straight into ‘Doctor, Doctor’ and the scene was set.
Tonight’s band consisted of Michael Schenker, of course, as well as Steve Mann on guitar, Chris Glen on bass and Ted McKenna on drums.
The plan was that each vocalist would take the lead for half a dozen or so songs with the remaining Schenkettes providing backing vocals and first up was Michael’s current singer, Doogie White, who kicked off with ‘Vigilante Man’ (not Nazareth‘s version I hasten to add). ‘Lord of the Lost & Lonely’ followed. Two songs later came ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’, a song that was dedicated to Ronnie James Dio.
As Doogie rejoined the Schenkettes, Graham Bonnet stepped forward to continue the set starting with MSG‘s ‘Dancer’ and five songs later ended with the Scorpions ‘Coast to Coast’. I have to say that after hearing Doogie White blast through his contribution much of Graham Bonnet’s vocals were ‘industrial’ at best.
Graham Bonnet gave way to Gary Barden, complete with Ted Nugent disguise, who gave a powerful performance starting with ‘Ready to Rock’ and MSG favourite for many. ‘Attack of the Mad Axeman’ followed and a little later ‘Warrior’ during which each of the four vocalists took a turn leading the way. Barden moved back into the Schenkettes to the sound of the instrumental ‘Into the Arena’ and then Robin McAuley took his place at the front of the stage.
The epitome of rockness, McAuley was probably my ‘vocalist of the night’ as he belted his way through ‘Bad Boys’, ‘Shoot, Shoot’, ‘Heart and Soul’. ‘Only you can Rock me’. ‘Too Hot to Handle’ and, to finish the night, ‘Rock Bottom’ during which all the singers came forward.
After a brief respite the band returned to sing Happy Birthday to Chris Glen before closing out with ‘Lights out’.
Throughout the show Michael Schenker played magnificently, as did all of the band, interacting with the audience as best he could given that they were too far away for him to do his usual hand shaking at the stage edge. Whatever criticism had been raised against Michael over recent years egarding the standard of his playing has been well and truly dismissed. Chris Glen had an ongoing joke with Robin McAuley which, at times, had both in fits of laughter, it was great to see that no-one took themselves too seriously.
This was a fabulous night of music, the band were excellent, the vocalists, in the main, tremendous. If you’re going to catch any of the remaining dates I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
Words & pictures: Reg Richardson (Rock Stars Rising Photography).