The place held by Michael Schenker in the annals of Heavy Rock folklore is incontrovertible. For the past 47 years, he has quite rightly been regarded as one of the greatest guitar “gods” of his, or any, generation.
He always has been a precocious talent – as well as prodigious, in every sense of the word. After all, he started out on his professional career at just 11, playing alongside his brother Rudolf and recording his first album with the Scorpions. In 1972, and still only 17, he was recruited by UFO as lead guitarist, leading them to massive global success, before six years later quitting to return to his brother’s side. One album, and one ground-breaking US tour later, at the tender age of 24, he decided to form his own band…
After getting his career trajectory very much back on track with the ‘Temple of Rock’ studio releases and some well-received live shows, Michael Schenker has returned to his MSG roots and ‘Michael Schenker Fest Live’ is a Classic Rock case of all the pieces coming together and all the (Rock) stars aligning for a 21st century revisit of what was, and remains, some of the finest and most successful musical moments of Schenker’s career under his own name - the original Michael Schenker Group era (1980 to 1984) and later McAuley Schenker Group (1986 to 1993).
Filmed and recorded on the 24th of August 2016 at the Tokyo International Forum, featuring lead vocalists Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley and backed by an excellent band of MSG brothers Chris Glenn (bass) Ted McKenna (drums) and Steve Mann (keyboards, guitars), Michael Schenker delivers classic era MSG (plus a couple of obligatory Scorpions and UFO numbers) with a scintillating performance in front of five thousand rabid fans who double as the MSG Chorus - 'Cry For the Nations' being a particularly notable, full-voiced example as the song was introduced by Schenker coaxing a howl of feedback from one of his many signature Dean Flying V guitars and the huge bank of Marshall amps behind him.
Opening with the tour-de-force instrumental 'Into the Arena' (preceded by the intro music of Temple of Rock's 'Searching For Freedom'), the band then back Gary Barden, the original and perhaps definitive MSG singer who steps up first on five original era MSG numbers including the definitive MSG rocker 'Armed and Ready,' the aforementioned 'Cry For the Nations' and the superbly wacky, but still rocking 'Attack of the Mad Axeman’.
While time doesn’t tell so much on seasoned and talented musicians, it does, inevitably, tell on many a Rock vocalist who have given their chords to the cause over the decades – in the case of Gary Barden his core vocal remains, but the higher tenor notes are intentionally ducked. Paradoxically, while the original highs on the vocal bridge of 'Axeman' are posted, missing it actually makes for a better "Rock" performance of what is one of the strongest songs in the MSG repertoire and the Michael Schenker six-string arsenal.
The pleasant surprise of this MSG Fest, and a true highlight among many, is just how good Graham Bonnet is vocally (still an incredibly strong singer at a now 69 years young). Bonnet had but a fleeting part to play in the history of MSG (the studio album ‘Assault Attack’ and then he left before the ensuing tour) but that release delivered a handful of MSG classics including the three songs featured here (which follow the Scorpions instrumental 'Coast to Coast') - a crunching version of the title track, the mini-epic 'Desert Song' and the infectiously engaging Hard Melodic Pop of 'Dancer’. On the latter, Graham Bonnet is backed by both Gary Barden and Robin McAuley for what is a fun, sing-a-long number, but one that suffered ridicule back in the day - not so much for it's Poppified arrangement - as for sporting one of the most unnatural or forced phrasings in a pop-rock chorus just to get the lyric to scan ("she’s a great dancer…not i-dee-ally built for ballet")
The quirky 'Captain Nemo' (from the 4th MSG record ‘Built To Destroy’ (1983) gets Disc 2 underway and allows the band to instrumentally stretch once more before Robin McAuley returns to the stage for three numbers including the pedal down rocker 'Save Yourself' and the AOR Rock brace 'This is My Heart' and 'Love is Not a Game’.
Robin McAuley also takes the lead for the UFO finale of 'Shoot Shoot' and a 15 minute 'Rock Bottom’, the latter allowing Michael Schenker to flex his six-string muscles in an extended workout that proves, once again, that the legendary Rock guitarist is back at the top of his game. This is surely destined to remain forever Schenker’s signature guitar track and he is quite probably playing the best guitar of his life at the moment in my humble opinion...
Encore/ final song 'Doctor Doctor' is another excuse for the Tokyo faithful to lend a voice to proceedings, but with all three vocalists sharing vocal lines, singing loose and a decidedly party atmosphere attached to the last song of the night, it’s not the tightest version you'll ever hear of the UFO classic. But as a celebration of a lauded past, ‘Michael Schenker Fest Live’ is just what the Doctor Doctor ordered!!! There would certainly be many more audiences for this album set should Schenker decide to tour Europe or Britain behind it although with the ongoing success of Temple of Rock that would seem unlikely. However, this will soon have you dusting off those worn out copies of the 1982 classic ‘One Night At Budokan’ and is a terrific effort from all concerned.. Live CD’s can be a hit or miss, but trust me, this one is definitely a hit. If you discovered Schenker in the 80’s as I did, then as a Rock fan or guitarist you’ll love it.....
01. Intro: Searching For Freedom
02. Into The Arena
03. Attack Of The Mad Axeman ft. Gary Barden
04. Victim Of Illusion ft. Gary Barden
05. Cry For The Nations ft. Gary Barden
06. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie ft. Gary Barden
07. Armed And Ready ft. Gary Barden
08. Coast To Coast
09. Assault Attack ft. Graham Bonnet
10. Desert Song ft. Graham Bonnet
11. Dancer ft. Graham Bonnet
12. Captain Nemo
13. This Is My Heart ft. Robin McAuley
14. Save Yourself ft. Robin McAuley
15. Love Is Not A Game ft. Robin McAuley
16 . Shoot Shoot ft. Robin McAuley
17. Rock Bottom ft. Robin McAuley
18. Doctor Doctor ft. Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley
Wrinkly the Silver (pictures courtesy of Emili Muraki)