If I say, “guitar genius”, there would be umpteen contenders for that title. I suspect every rock fan will have a different list and will happily argue for their favourites for hours on end. But if I say, “German guitar genius”, the many possibilities (for me anyway) collapse to just one: Michael Schenker. Now, I appreciate that not everyone will agree with that assessment but clearly enough people do for someone to have come up with the idea of a Michael Schenker Fest!
The Michael Schenker Fest tour dates are, essentially, a celebration of his (almost) fifty years as a professional musician. He has gathered a group of artists from previous incarnations of the Michael Schenker Group (A.K.A the McAuley Schenker Group) including, not one but three vocalists. The band in question is:
- Michael Schenker – Lead Guitar
- Ted McKenna – Drums
- Steve Mann – Guitar, Keyboards
- Chris Glen – Bass
- Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley – Vocals
Having three lead singers would seem like a recipe for disaster… but here it works. Schenker is quoted as saying about the event:
It’s wonderful how we all got on with each other. It felt incredibly natural, as if it was always like this. Right from the start of rehearsal, the chemistry was great. No problems, just pure fun.
One of the concerts was recorded: Michael Schenker Fest – Live Tokyo International Forum Hall. As soon as they see the location of this gig, long standing fans of Michael’s work will think of his 1982 release: One Night at Budokan, an absolute classic of a live album. Does this new live recording measure up? In terms of musicianship, production and song quality: absolutely! But I do have a slight concern with the vocals.
Barden, Bonnet and McAuley are not as young as they used to be and they can’t hit the high notes with the power and precision of their youth. That said, they make up for any vocal deficiencies with a confidence that comes from years of honing their skills on stage. They are not mere vocalists, they are frontmen, capable of whipping up an already excited crowd to even greater heights. They do not just sing the songs; they perform them! I found Robin McAuley particularly effective in that role; there was a swagger to his performance and he looked like he was enjoying every minute he was on stage.
I say, “looked like” because there are a few different versions of Michael Schenker Fest – Live Tokyo International Forum Hall (see the end of the review) but the one I looked at was the two CD plus DVD combination. It is well worth checking out the video of the concert if you get the chance. The CD recordings sound awesome but seeing Mr Schenker and chums in action is a treat!
First though, a review of the music. The recording is of the whole concert: eighteen tracks in all, including intro music.
- Intro: Searching For Freedom (Temple Of Rock song)
- Into The Arena
- Attack Of The Mad Axeman ft. Gary Barden
- Victim Of Illusion ft. Gary Barden
- Cry For The Nations ft. Gary Barden
- Let Sleeping Dogs Lie ft. Gary Barden
- Armed And Ready ft. Gary Barden
- Coast To Coast (Scorpions song)
- Assault Attack ft. Graham Bonnet
- Desert Song ft. Graham Bonnet
- Dancer ft. Graham Bonnet
- Captain Nemo
- This Is My Heart ft. Robin McAuley
- Save Yourself ft. Robin McAuley
- Love Is Not A Game ft. Robin McAuley
- Shoot Shoot ft. Robin McAuley (UFO song)
- Rock Bottom ft. Robin McAuley (UFO song)
- Doctor Doctor ft. Gary Barden, with Graham Bonne and Robin McAuley (UFO song)
As you can see from the listing, the majority of the songs are drawn from the M.S.G. back catalogue, but Temple Of Rock, Scorpions and UFO tracks also feature. A really strong set list. Schenker knows how to write a riff. Practically every track grabs you and pulls you in from the opening few bars. I especially enjoyed “Into The Arena”, “Armed And Ready” as well as “Save Yourself” and the three UFO tracks at the end of the concert are outstanding. Having said that, there is not a duff track there.
So, if the music is that strong, and it is, why watch the video? One word answer: Schenker. As a performer, I find him endlessly fascinating to watch. When he holds the guitar above his head while still soloing, you realise just how appropriate the adjective “flying” is in the name Flying V guitar. When he tucks the bottom leg of the guitar under his thigh and crouches over, he and the guitar merge together and you know you are about to receive another outstanding solo. And all his guitars are beautiful and it is a joy to see them close up.
The camera takes us much closer to Michael than even the front row at the concert so we can see details that would probably have been missed by the people who were there. For example, there are four patches on his denim jacket: Scorpions; UFO; Michael Schenker Group and (closest to his heart) Temple Of Rock. But it is only when the camera zooms in and you see him in close-up that you see the little red “ex” embroidered in front of Scorpions and UFO!
It is interesting to see the rest of the band too. Chris Glen is a solid (in more ways than one) presence in the centre of the stage. Ted McKenna does outstanding work on the drums while making it look easy. And Steve Mann switches between guitar and keyboard apparently without missing a beat. (I like that he holds the plectrum in his mouth while adding keyboard fills!) Then there is the Marshall stack. I saw a band recently (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty) that projected a stack on a screen behind the band. No. Go and see a Schenker gig. That’s how a proper rock band does it!
This is a great recording of a belter of a concert and a worthy companion piece to M.S.G.’s One Night at Budokan. He may be approaching retirement age but on the strength of this release, Michael Schenker shows no sign of winding down.
Michael Schenker Fest – Live Tokyo International Forum Hall is released on 24 March 2017 and is available in the following formats: