May 17, 2019
The second leg of former UFO and MSG guitarist Michael Schenker’s “Michael Schenker Fest” made a stop in New York City this past week. As I mentioned in the Uli Roth article, Michael has taken his fans on a journey through his five decades as a Rock guitarist. He started with Scorpions, continued on with UFO, his own Michael Schenker Group (MSG) and most recently his Temple of Rock. His unique combination of speed, tone and melody is revered by professional and amateur guitarists alike. Having seen the tour last year, I couldn’t get enough of this amazing show. The wow factor was high and if like me, you had seen it once, you probably would want to see it again, so off I went.
It was a gorgeous Saturday as I boarded the train for the 90 minute trek into New York City. Arriving in Manhattan, I made my way to the subway where after four short stops, I arrived at Fifteenth Street. After walking only two blocks I arrived at Irving Plaza at 5:30PM; thirty minutes earlier than I anticipated. This worked out well because when I arrived, there were only five or six people waiting at the door. They hadn’t even set up the guide rails used to corral the patrons into lines yet. I could hear vocalist Robin McAuley doing his sound check inside. Someone told me I had just missed Michael coming out of the tour bus and into the venue a few minutes before. Singer Gary Barden was rumored to be sitting outside at the bar on the opposite corner about sixty feet away. I had probably walked right past him on my way to the venue. Later, someone said McAuley was out in front of the tour bus and motioned for everybody to wave. Robin, it turns out, was filming a live Facebook post out in front of the Venue a few feet away. We waved and went back to our conversation. I’m not a big fan of star worship – I treat them like I would anyone. I’m sure they get enough overzealous fans approaching them as it is. Several people in line went over to him, took selfies and made brief conversation but I resisted. If it was Michael I may have gone over as well. It turns out I could be seen in Robin’s video when it was posted online.
At seven o’clock they started allowing patrons in. At seven-thirty, the lights dimmed and Michael was the first to come on. He paid homage to two former band members who had recently passed; drummer Ted McKenna and keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond. He then launched into “Holiday” – an instrumental song he wrote for Scorpions before going right into the UFO hit: “Doctor Doctor” with vocalists McAuley, Barden, Graham Bonnet and Doogie White. Gary Barden remained on stage as the band performed the MSG songs “Are You Ready to Rock”, “Attack of the Mad Axeman”, “Rock My Nights Away”, “Messin’ Around” and “Armed and Ready.” Barden departed and Michael followed up with the Scorpions instrumental “Coast to Coast.”
Singer Graham Bonnet, who was the vocalist for Michael’s “Assault Attack” album, appeared on stage as they performed “Dancer” and “Searching for a Reason” before the MSG classic “Desert Song.”
Bonnet sang well and seems to have retained much of that voice that may have seemed a bit overpowering in his heyday but that now blends perfectly with Schenker’s songs. “Night Moods” and “Assault Attack” followed before Bonnet departed and Michael performed his classic instrumental: “Captain Nemo.”
Robin McAuley took the stage as he and Michael performed the MSG songs “Bad Boys”, “Save Yourself”, “Anytime”, “Heart and Soul” and the hit “Love Is Not a Game.” McAuley’s recordings with Michael proved to be the most radio-friendly of the MSG era. His vocals are a bit softer and in the upper-register range, blending well with the solos from “Mr. Melodic” as I like to call Schenker.
Next to appear on stage was Doogie White. White was the vocalist for most of the Temple of Rock era and still records with Schenker. He, along with Michael performed “Vigilante Man”, “Lord of the Lost and Lonely”, “The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes” and the awesome Dio tribute: “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” They finished up White’s segment with the singles “Take me to the Church” and “Live and Let Live.”
Barden, McAuley, Bonnet and White all returned to the stage as they took turns singing on the hit “Warrior” and UFO’s “Rock Bottom” as Schenker played an extended solo. They all took a bow and bid the audience goodnight before returning after a few minutes before performing the UFO hits “Shoot Shoot”, “Natural Thing” and fittingly, “Lights Out.”
Michael has lost nothing since his UFO days and is still a master of his instrument. His solos are brilliant, he doesn’t repeat himself and he is constantly smiling and two-stepping to the crowd as he plays. In prior years he was always a bit reserved and left the limelight to the lead singer but now he seems to revel in playing for the audience. Robin McAuley was the best of the singers, in my opinion. He has lost none of his range. Doogie White was also very good. He reminds me a bit of Ronnie James Dio in his delivery and mannerisms. The harder-edged vocalists such as Bonnet and in particular Barden have lost a bit of their vocal abilities and Barden’s voice seemed to fade rather quickly after the first few numbers. Bassist Chris Glen was solid had a good time on stage; frequently wearing laser goggles and pointing the green laser beams at the audience. Drummer Bodo Schopf; filling in for the recently deceased Ted McKenna on drums, was amazing. You could really feel the power he has with the sticks. Keyboardist/guitarist Steve Mann was excellent in Paul Raymond’s former role and played lead guitar with Michael on several songs.
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Playing for three hours, the band never slowed down and the audience, including myself loved every minute of it. Unfortunately the U.S. tour is coming to a close but if you can get to see them in the next few days, you’ll be treating yourself to one of the best tours of the year. I did happen to see Gary Barden out on the corner at the pub as I made my way back on Fifteenth Street to the subway. I patted him on the back and told him “great show” – it was.
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What’s your favorite song by Michael Schenker with his band, UFO or Scorpions? Favorite concert?