It’s a Friday night in Nottingham and, in two neighbouring venues, two cracking metal gigs are taking place. In the Rescue Rooms Max Cavalera and his troops of doom in Soulfly are playing and, in Rock City, Michael Schenker is leading his awesome Temple of Rock project into battle. It’s an unfortunate conflict because it threatens to divide the audience somewhat, but happily Rock City is still comfortably full and the air is laden with anticipation for a concert that promises to showcase material from across the spectrum of a truly extraordinary career.
First, however, are venrez. Venrez truly impressed SonicAbuse last year with their excellent album ‘Children of the drone’ and live they don’t disappoint. Superficially, the band have a somewhat incongruous look. With a bassist whose icy cool recalls Brigitte Nielson’s character in Beverly Hills Cop 2 and a drummer who seems to be Dave Grohl’s evil twin (and boy can he hit those skins hard), the band simply tear into the audience, laying down the hardest riffs this side of Schenker himself. Venrez has a voice that could level buildings, powerful and full of emotion and Jason Womack is one of those rare guitarists who somehow sounds like there’s at least three other guitarists playing on stage along with him. With huge spacey leads and tasty harmonies that vaguely recall Alice in Chains, Venrez kick out the jams infusing their hard rock with a proggy element that’s seriously cool. Highlights include the full throttle blast of ‘Yesterday has gone’, ‘Children of the drones’ and the closing beast that is ‘hang the predator’. In our review SonicAbuse suggested Venrez deserve to be huge, and it’s certainly heartening to see them playing support to the force of nature that is Michael Schenker. Hopefully this will lead the band to bigger and better things because music this good deserves attention.
The atmosphere builds palpably as the stage is cleared of gear to make way for the arrival of Temple of Rock. Michael has made it clear that the project is a celebration of hard rock and, true to his word, every song is delivered with an air of celebration that has all the force of an A Bomb. Drawing upon a catalogue that most guitarists can only dream of, the set list is made up of classics from UFO, MSG and Scorpions alongside new cuts from the Temple of Rock project itself (most notably the stunning ‘spirit on a mission’ album). Notably those new cuts slot right in as if they’ve always been there, and the crowd go into meltdown with each new riff. Seemingly unable to stop smiling, the rapport Michael builds with band and audience is based around a rare and very genuine love for the music and he’s come a long way from the shy virtuoso who wanted to play without any of the hassle of public show. That former reticence is arguably the biggest reason that Michael Schenker remains one of the most underrated guitarists on the planet, although that appears to be changing now, and it is my contention that Michael deserves to be revered alongside Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Joe Satriani as one of the great guitarists. His playing style is varied, his delivery unique and when he wails on his guitar you can’t take your eyes of him.
The Temple of Rock project is not just about Michael. Also on stage are Francis Buchholz and Herman Rarebell, two Scorpions alumni who have developed a near psychic connection that enables them to lay down the sort of thunderous backdrop that most guitarists can only dream of. Also on stage is Wayne Findlay, a prodigious talent who has toured and played with a list of hard rock veterans that reads like a who’s who, and who spends the whole set head-banging joyously and communing with the audience as he effortlessly switches between guitar and keyboards. Finally, there’s Doogie White, a veteran singer who has worked with some of the hard rock greats including La Paz, Rainbow, NWOBHM bruisers Tank and, of course, Michael Schenker. Doogie does not always seem to get the respect he’s due, but with the Temple of Rock project he sings his ass off and there’s a strong argument to support the view that he’s currently at the very peak of his game. An enthusiastic and engaging frontman, Doogie jokes with the audience, interacts beautifully with the band and belts out the classics like a man possessed. In short, it’s hard to imagine a better, more talented line up for Michael Schenker to be working with, and the interplay between the band suggests that they all feel the magic.
The band start with ‘Doctor Doctor’. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. They start with a song that most bands would hold back for an encore, and from that moment on the entire audience is strapped in for the sort of hard rock thrill ride that comes along only once or twice in a life time. Almost every song from that point incites a mass sing along. When the audience are too tired, or hoarse, to sing, they clap, scream and head bang and the sweat flies. Doogie introduces the band and tells the audience he hopes they’ll love the new material as much as the old classics. There’s no need for hope. Songs like ‘live and let live’ are classics in waiting and the band’s delivery of that opening track from ‘spirit on a mission’ is nothing short of explosive. There’s so much energy both on and off stage that songs like ‘rock you like a hurricane’ become communal anthems based around shared experience and for many it’s like travelling back to a time when bands were gods who walked the earth. Highlights fly thick and fast – UFO get a good representation with tracks like ‘Light’s out’, ‘natural thing’ and a monumental, earth-shattering ‘rock bottom’ (which concludes the main set) whilst the three former Scorpions in particular take great pleasure in belting out ‘lovedrive’, ‘rock you like a hurricane’ and ‘black out’. What remains are the very best moments of MSG and Temple of Rock and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the Temple of Rock tracks simply roared with energy and vigour. ‘Vigilante man’ packs a punch that makes Batman look like Peter Parker, ‘Saviour Machine’ is a hulking monster and ‘before the devil knows your dead’ nearly swings the bolts in my neck loose and the sparks simply fly around the auditorium.
This is what hard rock shows should always be like. With Michael incapable of staying still (he roams the stage like a five year-old after a pound of sugar), Doogie belting out the high notes like a demon and the band trading licks as if this is their first ever headline jaunt, there’s not a moment wasted and the hour and a half long set flies by in what feels like a matter of minutes. When the venue empties out, the audience suddenly very aware that they’ve been battered by a force as magical as that seen in any fantasy movie, there’s a sense of quiet elation that speaks volumes about the shared experience we’ve just had. Michael Schenker is a man reborn. His career has had its ups and downs and, although his talent has never been in question, no-one could have predicted that his career would enter such a golden period. Rock concerts, at their best, are a transcendental experience, a communion between artist and audience that leaves both energized and inspired by the performance. This was one such night and Temple of Rock is every bit the celebration of music that its creator imagined.