The atmosphere was supercharged and the excitement palpable as the gathered faithful, including luminaries such as Joe Stump, shred-god supreme, eagerly awaited Uli Jon Roth's first band performance in New York City since 1985. True, Uli has graced the scene with a few shows since that time, most recently supporting ex-Scorpions big brother Michael Schenker's tour with a set including backing tracks, keys and a female vocalist (similar to his G3 Europe tour with Satch & Mikey) but this would be the first time he would arrive loaded with the necessary band elements and the promise of a "surprise" set list guaranteed to include several classic Uli era Scorpions masterpieces.
Sea of Tranquility's Mike Blackburn, Ken Pierce, and Pete Pardo were on hand for this electric show at BB Kings, and bring this full concert review!
Mike Blackburn-Uli hit the stage dressed to kill as usual, (this man is a photographer's dream in terms of color and style) and armed with his gorgeous Sky guitar ready to impress in his calm Zen-like fashion. Impress he did. Uli and band served up a heaping two hours plus of classic rockers, thought provoking instrumentals (aided and abetted by several short film and image projections) and touching introspective musical motifs. Uli truly is a master of his craft and his instrument. Always in total control, he can make his instrument scream cry or whimper. He can play with the utmost technical flash or strike the single emotive note required for the occasion. He is one of the very few guitar masters that is at one, linked by his soul and mind through his fingers to the instrument. His band was also superb. Olaf Senkbeil has a fantastic vocal range and easily covered classic Meine territory with aplomb. Francis Bucholz was tight and concise on bass. He looks in fantastic shape, and along with Michael Eree on drums provided a tight backbone to these tunes. Remember, Francis and Uli started playing together in the band Dawn Road long before the Uli era of the Scorpions started in 1973. They know each other very well indeed both off and on stage and it shows. Ferdy Doernberg was a revelation to me. If there is anyone in the music game who enjoys his job more than Ferdy, I'd like to know who that is. He was constantly, smiling, mugging and posturing all the while ripping out staggering keyboard lines (including a superb electric piano version of "New York State of Mind" that brought the house down). He also delivered an excellent over the top slide guitar party piece that surprised many in the audience. That, and his right side stage persona contrasted very well with Uli's calm and methodical stage left presence. Catch this man in concert if you get the chance.
Musical highlights were of course everything, but for me it was the Scorpions material that rocked hardest and best. My personal favorite of those was "Sails of Charon", perhaps the tune single handedly responsible for unleashing the harmonic minor diminished scale into the lore of rock guitaring, a true classic in every sense of the word. The crowd could not get enough of those old tunes. Several punters were actually calling out for post Uli Scorpions material, in particular "The Zoo", written in fact by Klaus and the boys about Manhattan. The crowning moment for me was a super long version of "Fly To The Rainbow" played totally with fingers, no pick and which incorporated several Hendrixian riffs and moments. A jaw dropping demonstration of talent and control.
Openers The Lizards provided an excellent classic rocking set. Mr. Rondinelli (Bob) still delivers the goods on skins and the pint sized Snowy White look-alike (a very young Snowy that is) lefty guitarist served up heaps of classic Humble Pie/Bad Company type rock licks. One song had a riff very reminiscent of Rory Gallagher's "Laundromat". Those around me more familiar with this band indicated that they rock much, much harder live than on record. These boys were an excellent, never boring, opening act and seem destined for much bigger things.
I was so engrossed in the music that I did not jot down the precise set-list but recall it being something like what is listed below. I am also sure I heard the Scorpions "Speedy's Coming" incorporated into one of the encore tunes.
Ken Pierce-ULI JON ROTH! Those in the know just took a deep breath and a step back as they recalled the guitar playing impact this man has had on Hard Rock and Metal music. Yes, the original guitarist of the one and only Scorpions would return to the States for the first time in almost three years and while that might not sound like much of a big deal you need to know that before this Uli had not played in the States for some 18 years. Based on this information it would be an incredible piece of news for fans of the rock guitarist and to see him at B.B. King Blues Club would be the icing on the cake. When he last performed he played at the now defunct "Downtown" in Farmingdale and the also shut doors of "The Wreck Room" in Wallington NJ. He was part of the Michael Schenker Group tour that was coming through town but to be honest these venues were far too difficult to reach and as a result attendance suffered. Tonight in The Big Apple the reception for this talented player would be a different story altogether. I arrived with writing colleagues from The Sea Of Tranquility and while I expected a sit down setting, I was happily surprised to see no tables on the main floor. These have proven to get in the way of quality shots in the past but with no photo pit as well, I would have to fend off the ardent guitarist admirers in the audience. It would not be an easy task to say the least.
Opening the show would be The Lizards and this is a band that I have caught a few times already and enjoy each and every chance that I get to see them. They are fronted by Mike DeMeo (formerly of Metal powerhouse Riot) who in this group really showcases a Robert Plant influenced set of vocal chords. Musically the heavy on blues-based Rock band really lays it down and it is in part due to the stellar techniques of guitarist Patrick Klein. He is a wonderful performer and he has one of the cleanest sounds I have heard in this venue to date. Randy Pratt, their bassist also proves to be somewhat adept at the harmonica and it just brings the bluesy feel to the front all the more during their songs. Drumming is handled by Bobby Rondinelli so do I really need to say more on that? I don't think so because a player of his capacity after having worked with Rainbow, Blue Oyster Cult and a little band you might have heard of called Black Sabbath proves that he is possibly one of the best Hard Rock drummers alive. The band was a perfect match for this show and performed a couple of new numbers as well as stuff from "Cold Blooded Kings". The full sound of this band live is incredible and singer Mike steps away from the microphone to lay it down on the keyboards where he is also a very talented player. It seemed Mike was playing a lot more keyboards tonight than I recalled in the past and it just adds a little extra strength to their and he does that quite well for those curious. It's a band I recommend you see if at all possible and I look forward to their next CD. The as yet undisclosed title release and a compilation live DVD are due out soon. Watch out for them both as I think you will like them is this vibe is up your alley.
Now it was time for Uli Jon Roth and as I prepped my photo space and journalist guy head I noticed something. The club was packed and it was not easy to maneuver anywhere and to me this was a great way to receive this man. That Wreck Room gig I saw a couple of years ago had at best 125 people and I know I found it a depressing turnout for someone as notable as he is. The last time Uli performed he brought only a keyboardist and rhythm guitar with him. All of the strings, drums and other orchestrated elements would be brought to life via a laptop computer. Tonight the treat would be the presence of a full band and making it all the more special would be that Franz Bucholz formerly of The Scorpions would be handling the bass guitar. I felt a little bit like a stranger in a strange land as myself being a drummer wandered this literal landscape of guitar players. It made me wish I was looking for a band as any guitar player present who recognized Uli Roth was surely the type of player you want to work with. As I walked around this electrically charged atmosphere I ran into such notables as Chris Caffery (Savatage/TSO) and Joe Stump (Holy Hell). There were probably others around but I was not there to meet those folks, I was there for Uli. He came onstage very shortly after Lizards had ended and true to form looked like some Renaissance era minstrel decked out in that era's fashion sense wielding the one and only Sky Guitar. This is a piece of technical wizardry as its sound and look are amazing to behold. Uli was all smiles as his set began, and people stood there amazed at the level of playing he was doing. Clearly this man on recording is just as amazing and uses no studio tricks to make him look better. He was also mostly smiles through the performance and who could find fault in that. The room was packed to about a 750 person draw. Given I have been at this venue more times than I can recall my gauge of the attendance is generally only short by a handful of people. It was great to be part of the first full band performance of the man in over 20 years, this was almost historic. Uli had been reporting that his set would be one that the fans have been clamoring for and would not only include his mind-blowing instrumentals but also feature a hefty dose of his era Scorpions material. If you were a Scorpions fan that started with "Rock You Like A Hurricane" you would be lost, but quickly realize just how much this bands early stuff kicked ass. There have been strong rumors of a reunion tour of the members, and Uli has appeared with them onstage in Europe a couple of times. Let's hope this happens for it is a true Hard Rock treat and it will impact the music scene in a positive fashion.
Uli's singer for the tour would be Olaf Senkbeil and he truly hit the notes on this early Scorpions material. Klaus Meine is not an easy register to do and his work was definatley to be applauded tonight. On drums would be Michael Free who was rock solid and even did a drum solo for the audience. However, after seeing Rondinelli do his solo I found this a moot point. Keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg struck a chord with the folks in the audience as well since he seemed to be having almost as good a time as the people in the front. He was smiles throughout and played really well. A different dynamic on that side of the stage as opposed to the calm-collective Uli Roth who while he was enjoying himself was all the business of performance tonight. Ferdy at one point did an impromptu rendition of "New York State Of Mind" which for some was great and some just went right passed them. Given the setting I rather enjoyed the tribute and think it was done with the best of intent. Franz Bucholz also seemed to be enjoying the show and was decked out like an elder statesman of Hard Rock, classic and classy and he rocked along with Uli's instrumentals and the vintage Scorpions material. Sadly there are too many Hard Rock fans who don't know this material so lets hope some of these shows have been recorded to offer a modernized take on them and potentially expand the level of interest. Uli spoke to the crowd a couple of times and only seemed to cite one problem which was pre-show with the Sky guitar not responding or going on. Since this is the only axe he plays and brings it would have been a problem. Lucky for us it resolved itself and sounded just fine for the over two hour performance. There were a lot of smiles in the crowd tonight and a lot of minds have been expanded due to what they saw done during the show. The highlight for me was the classic Scorpions stuff but I am also a fan of his instrumentals, overall there was nothing bad to be taken away from this show and I look forward to his return. I'm sure based on the turnout and Uli's smile that this is already in the planning stages.
Uli Jon Roth is a part of the SPV Artist Roster and they have several DVD's and CD's to look into. Fans of newer Scorpions should also investigate the back catalog to see how it all began.
Pete Pardo-What more can I say that my compadres have already not stated so eloquently. This was a magical show from start to finish. Kudos to The Lizards who delivered a solid set of 70's styled hard rock that brought to mind such legendary acts such as Humble Pie, Bad Company, UFO, Deep Purple, and Captain Beyond. Featuring meaty, blues based heavy rock riffs, searing lead work, tasty organ, pounding rhythms, and powerful vocals, the music of The Lizards is fun to hear live and the band can really fit in nicely on a hard rock, metal, or prog rock bill. I think Bobby Rondinelli & Co. are going places folks-mark my words.
Uli Jon Roth and his band were spectacular to say the least. Whether you have followed this legends career from the beginning, there's no way to not be stunned by the sheer talent that Roth exudes through his music. Songs from throughout his solo career were peppered in the set, many of them instrumentals where the audience got to experience his amazing dexterity on the Sky guitar. However, the treat for many was to see the band perform many of the classic Scorpions songs that Uli made famous with the band back in the 70's. Come on, when are you ever going to hear "Polar Nights", "Virgin Killer", "Dark Lady" , "Sails of Charon", "Pictured Life", or "Fly to the Rainbow" performed live again? Really, the inclusion of these songs made for a historic evening-it's not often you get to see Uli Jon Roth in concert, let along playing these songs. A night to remember, and one that no one in the audience will ever forget.
Uli Jon Roth
Indian Dawn (Extended Ballad)
We'll Burn The Sky
Enola Gay - Hiroshima Today
Sails of Charon
Catch Your Train
Fly to the Rainbow