You can hear the bass from the car park as Envrez dig into their opening set. Its player sporting a young Steve Severein haircut and a top with the kind of flowing kimono arms Chris Squire and Geddy Lee used to pounce around in, but she happens to be female so it looks cool. The rest of these Americans are pretty nondescript as is their rowdy alt rock. One gets the impression there might be some wry cynically observations going on lyrically but you’d need to sit down with an album to find out. Here tonight, it doesn’t work for me, though they get polite applause from a packed audience.
The Robin 2 is sold out and as a wash of blue colour bathes the stage floor one by one the Temple of Rock walk on, the blond bomber that is Michael Schenker staking his position stage left as he pours out a series of notes played with elegiac grace that ascend the length of his signature Flying V guitar and they launch into ‘Doctor Doctor’, singer Doogie White with his hands raised enticing the audience. A number traditionally late in any UFO-related set it’s a canny move opening with it, and Schenker pulls down hard on those familiar chords licks needing to grab a new plectrum before finishing the song off with a blast of shrieking notes before surging into the riff of ‘Live And Let Live’ from last year’s Spirit on a Mission. White is in fine form tonight and as he hits a high note the guitarist meets it with a series of long melodious ones, his face arched towards his guitar neck wrapped in his own playing, the notes thrown out during his solo becoming ever faster until climaxing. He then turns back towards his amp urging feedback before throwing himself towards the audience along with the rest of the band as ‘Light’s Out’ also breaks out early in the set. Heavy on Wayne Findlay’s keyboards at the outset, it’s a slower paced version too with the crowd heartily testing their vocals on the chorus before Schenker makes a tweak or two on one of his classic solos, adds some choice new phrases and even jumps up at the mic to shout “Lights Out!” on its conclusion.
It’s an impressive start with strong hard rock classics, but you feel there’s restraint in the band as they find their feet, Schenker and White’s performances notwithstanding. There’s also a small degree of choreography when they stand in line and rock from side to side with guitars in a metallic daddy dance, but the audience find this endearing. Visually there’s also a sense of street urchin theatrics by White as if he’s channelling the late Alex Harvey on numbers like ‘Where The Wild Winds Blow’ (with a great thwacking bass from Francis Bucholz) and later with the strut chorded rock of’ Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’ wherein Herman Rarebell stops sitting back on the drum kit, kicks out a heavy syncopated rhythm against which Schenker will deliver two very different solos, and ensures they’ll take no prisoners from thereon.
‘Natural Thing’ features bright celebrative chords and an upbeat beefy bass surging into party rock come the chorus, and’ Victim of Illusion’ proves to be the only track taken from The Michael Schenker Group debut; its tight, packed with drama, and White’s throat’s in fine form hitting all those high notes Gary Bardens did back in the day as well as offering the tempered bluesy roar of Phil Mogg on the UFO numbers; more importantly he pays respect but also stamping his own personality. He hits the high notes again as we’re reminded there are three members of The Scorpions who made Lovedrive a worldwide hit album on stage tonight with the title track given a powerful airing, Rarebell’s snare drum being particularly effective, and then the singer’s vocal cords are given a rest as they follow it with the instrumental ‘Coast To Coast’ – a forgotten minor gem from the B-side of the vinyl album that here they imbue with added force, clarity and inspired licks from the blond guitarist.
Schenker changes from signature b/w to red Flying V for ‘Vigilante Man’, but this and the later ‘Rock City’ are unfamiliar tunes to many, and for the most part straight rockers, whereas the fond reminisces of yesteryear found in the lyrics of the feel-good groove of ‘Good Times’ evokes many an audience smile hearing it for the first time. From the same album, ‘Saviour Machine’ grabs their attention completely, its slow grind opening brought to bear by Schenker cradling a twin neck flying V and Wayne Findlay multi-tasking on overtime between 7 string guitar, keyboards, plus the occasional programming and harmony vocal throughout. The darker metal tune has Schenker layering the sound with bottleneck slide before necking into a solo, for what’s a strong brutal delivery from the whole band. With twin neck still wrapped round him he bounces across the stage to join the others on a sprightly version of ‘Too Hot To Handle’ and while ‘Lord of The Lost And Lonely’ may be the final theatrical-styled number of the night its angular riff bites at the chomp and surges into an aggressive gallop.
Scorpions hit ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ smashes down hard, Findlay taking the lead lines and half way through Rarebell, with foot still kicking his bass drum, stands with microphone in hand cajoling the audience to sing along. The crowd doesn’t need telling that twice when Temple of Rock pull out Schenker’s big gun and ‘Rock Bottom’ is rebooted with its 70s prime live opening section reattached for good measure. The riff roars, there’s a sense of urgency to proceedings and the admittedly aging audience are completely back in their youth again. That Schenker himself is back in the moment, playing with the inspired versatility of the lad he was when he wrote it and the added technical procession of the man who’s got his act together standing on this stage tonight is a very special moment; bowing to the audience even as there’s call and response between his guitar and Findlay’s keyboards, White and the band belting out one last verse and the screams of a flying V held high above Schenker’s head calling proceedings to a conclusion.
Only it’s not the end. Deciding not to exit stage right and await further encore applause they lay into a hot chorded rendition of ‘Attack of the Mad Axeman’, follow it with the rocking groove of ‘Communion’, and surprise quite a few of us by ending the set with yet another Scorpions’ number, ‘Blackout’.
Well honed, taught and ready to change a crowd-pleasing set – throwing out expected classics in the process – to prove their mettle, this is a band on a mission: even if a large part of that is to have fun themselves, judging by the smiles on their faces. That Michael Schenker himself is back in the game cannot be denied; live tonight he was once more a phenomenal force and it’s only the first date of this tour. The only thing that’s needed is some new blood amidst the packed audiences; younger fans also need to know that Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock isn’t a secret society.
Review by Paul H Birch
Photography by Martin Tierney