MICHAEL SCHENKER - Mad Axeman: Armed & Ready

March 13, 2018, 7 months ago

Mark Gromen

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The traveling cavalcade of former MSG vocalists: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley and Doogie White all onstage (together and individually), alongside the revered German guitarist is touring the world as Michael Schenker Fest.Back in the day, was able to see all but Bonnet fronting MSG, in their prime (couple of vintage Barden photos mixed into the gallery). Live, Graham lasted only one fateful UK festival, although I did see him on Rainbow's Down To Earth tour, as well as with his post-MSG outfit, Alcatrazz. 

The blond axeman seems happy (for once) and has said he plans to continue this line-up well into 2019. They recently issued Resurrection, but most in attendance at The Theater Of The Living Arts (TLA) on Philadelphia's South Street, came to hear the old tunes, once more with the original singers. Although I had seen an abbreviated version of the show, overseas, at a summer festival, in 2017, nothing was adequate preparation for the enormity of the current incarnation. This is a 2.5 hour extravaganza, with close to 30 songs, including a lone Scorpions tune (the instrumental "Coast To Coast") and the concluding cache of UFO gems. Wow!

Most equitably, each singer is afforded five songs, a guitar solo/intermezzo separating the appearance of the next guy behind the mic. Delivered chronologically, by era of singer, the choices by each slant heavily towards vintage material, but each also handles one new endeavor, from the aforementioned CD. The exception is Doogie White, belting out four from the Temple Of Rock project that got this idea formulating in Herr Schenker's mind. With everyone pushing 70 years of age, he possesses the strongest contemporary throat. By the end of the night, all the unique voices/personalities are onstage together, first doing "Warrior" from the latest studio album, then however many UFO oldies Schenker feels up to reeling off, as an encore.

A few hours before, outside the South Street venue, Robin McAuley, in full stage regalia, posed for selfies with fans and leftover St. Patrick's parade revelers. It was the canes, hearing aids and bifocals crowd. Got into a debate as to how far the median age of attendees was over 50, but we old fucks still but merch, CDs and drink, making both club and band happy. A trio of Marshall stacks, stage left for Schenker, who opted between his Dean black/white Flying V and another half red, half black, throughout the evening. At his feet was plastered, a multi-page 32 song setlist (not all were aired) and his between song banter.

 First up, Gary Barden, replete in Crocodile Dundee hat and zebra print dress shirt, beneath a leather jacket. Arms outstretched and smiling, Gary wisely let the crowd sing much of "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie", especially the titular chorus. Ditto "Cry For The Nations". Schenker was spotlighted in white for almost the entire duration of the show, the rest left to fend for themselves. Know he's German, but why does Michael have a tattoo of the Mercedes Benz logo on the inside of his right forearm? Unlike last year's festival gig, where each singer stood alone, until the end, McAuley broke the seal and joined Barden for "Attack Of The Mad Axeman". However, the singers were careful not to stray into Schenker's realm (at the left side of the stage), unless first prodded by the guitarist. Visually, it was almost three separate acts: the rhythm section, plus "other" guitar, the singers and Schenker, rarely interacting with one another.

The Scorps' "Coast to Coast" provided cover for Graham Bonnet to appear, for "Desert Song". On "Dancer", where second guitarist Steve Mann opted for keyboards instead, the singer was joined by McAuley. In fact, all three original MSG vocalists were onboard for "Night Moods", Graham even flipping up his trademark sunglasses, exposing his eyes for just a second. Literally rolling up his sleeves, Bonnet delivered "Assault Attack" with fists on his hips. He received the largest ovation, probably because no one had seen/heard it before: Graham and Michael on the same stage. At one point, Schenker, Mann and Bonnet were briefly within arms length, together center stage. Honestly saw a few people leave, after the Barden/Bonnet portion of the show!

Purple and yellow lit, "Captain Nemo" segues into McAuley's allotted time. He was red lit, to start. His tenure would rarely be considered essential tracks, in the MSG catalog. That said, "Bad Boys" was the most dynamic number, to that point. The lively "Save Yourself" followed and when not playfully twirling the mic stand, Robin showed off some old school headbanging. Graham returned to the stage, with leather jacket, minus the tie, to assist on "Anytime", which actually featured twin guitar leads. Bonnet zipped up the leather and Barden came back, with a toque. Not sure this is exactly what Herr Schenker envisioned, multiple singer onstage, simultaneously. "Love Is Not A game" is not an MSG tune, at least not in the tradition of the early 80s version of the band.

Once Doogie White is on the scene, the material becomes more energetic (if not especially memorable) Temple Of Rock didn't do much in North America, so little less recognition from the audience. A red lit "Lord Of The Lost And Lonely" is the best Schenker penned track in many years, White trying to get the fans to clap along. "Take Me To The Church" sees all four singers onstage, although it's Doogie's lead. At times, stage right is more packed than a Titanic life raft, as Schenker plies his trade, undeterred. "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" closes the proper set, Michael finally hugging each of the vocalist and the stage empties. A purple lit "Warrior" calls everyone onstage once more. Bonnet trading in the blue button down, for a black tee. Finished, the stage again goes black. Michael announces it's been 40 years since the release of UFO's live masterpiece, Strangers In The Night. Cue "Rock Bottom", with each singer offering a different line, the crowd doing all the words. Of course, there's the masterclass in soloing, from Michael. Bonnet begins "Doctor, Doctor", singers alternate and the crowd chimes in, especially when the mic is thrust in their direction. "Shoot Shoot" is an unexpectedly welcome UFO gem/"rarity", capping off a great night. Bucket list, check!

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