MICHAEL SCHENKER’S TEMPLE OF ROCK – Helsinki 26.4.2013

Text and photos by VILLE KRANNILA

WE ventured inside the Virgin Oil Co. just when opening act Ben Granfelt & his band were starting their set. It was a solid performance of blues influenced rock and included a good tribute to late Gary Moore. But make no mistake; most of the people were here to see Michael Schenker & company in action. The last time was over two years ago when MSG played here in support of their excellent “In the Midst Of Beauty” album. After that tour, MSG has been put on dock for a while.

In 2011 Schenker released a solo album of sorts “Temple Of Rock,” with several guest musicians and various MSG members making an appearance. For touring Schenker has drafted in different singers for different treks. Robin McAuley rejoined his old bandmate for an US tour and for Europe the hard working Doogie White took the vocalist slot. On some of the shows, the producer, song-writer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Voss has filled in.

Behind Schenker and White, appearing were two ex-members of the most enduring and classic line-up of the Scorpions, bassist Francis Buchholtz and drummer Herman Rarebell. Buchholtz, who played with the band from 1974 to 1992 and Rarebell (from 1977 to 1996) have both more or less retired from playing since their glory days with the German legends. Finally joining Schenker was his long-time ally from MSG, Wayne Findlay on keyboards and second guitar.

The night’s set list was comprised of classic MSG, UFO and Scorpions material, with couple of new songs added. The “Love Drive” reunion title refers to the fact that Schenker, Rarebell and Buccholtz all were present and recorded the 1979 Scorpions-album. However, Schenker departed mid-way through the sessions and only plays couple of solos on the album with his replacement Matthias Jabs filling out the rest.

The appropriate title track “Love Drive” kicked things off powerfully. White took the command immediately, his trademark voice fitting in very well. The guy also has a strong stage presence and both Schenker and Buchholtz supported this with surprisingly animated movement. “Another Piece Of Meat” followed quickly and as usual being a nice live number, people seemed to be really into it.

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Then it was time for a string of MSG-tracks from bands classic early 1980’s period. No surprises here and the band played the tunes faithfully. The Robin McAuley-era gets criminally overlooked, but we are used to it by now. Although when McAuley himself joined the band for the US tour, the fact that they only played “Save Yourself” was a travesty indeed.

No need to get into grim side of things as we moved on to “Horizons” – apparently a brand new composition not to be mistaken with “Lost Horizons,” a classic MSG track from 1980’s “The Michael Schenker Group” album. Doogie even pointed it out in the introduction: “this is a new song, NOT “Lost Horizons.” It sounded good, although the following excellent “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” from “Temple Of Rock” left it in the shadows.

Next up was the immortal “Coast To Coast” – possibly the greatest hard rock instrumental ever. The best rendition of the song might have been in Wacken Open Air 2006, when Schenker joined Scorpions on stage to play the song but tonight’s version was no slouch either. Couple of missed notes by Michael did not affect the overall excitement this number generated. And seeing Rarebell and Bucholtz jamming away and seemingly loving every second of it, it was simply great to witness.

UFO-segment of the set followed with five classics played, ending with phenomenal version of “Lights Out.” To finalize the set, the two Scorpions- numbers “Holiday” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane” got a good reception from the crowd. It was somewhat strange seeing Schenker perform 1980’s Scorpions-songs even if Rarebell and Bucholtz were present to justify it. Interesting to hear those versions, although not sure if it’s the right thing to drop MSG-tracks in favour.

Michael bowed out on playing Matthias Jabs’ famous solo on “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” Findlay did a fine job in recreating the classic Scorps-sound. The latter part of the song featured a sing-along part with Rarebell taking over the microphone. I didn’t see the point in this, but if they want to have fun then who am I to complain?

Encores started with the familiar riff of UFO’s “Rock Bottom,” which again featured Schenker’s great extended guitar solo. Scorpions’s “Blackout” followed and once more I was impressed by White’s hard rocking delivery. Unsurprisingly “Doctor Doctor” closed the show, and this was one of the best versions I’ve heard and IMO surpassed the MSG’s take couple of years ago. All in all this was a great evening of classic hard rock songs, from an unusual line-up of talented players. Doogie White, one of hard rock’s most reliable singers, was very much at home with all of the material. The only spot I even started to think about other singers was during “Love Drive’s” classic ballad “Holiday.” The song sounded good enough, but it really is a creation of Klaus Meine’s unique vocal style which cannot be copied. Michael Schenker seemed once again to be in good spirits and played great, still remembering the troubles he had few years ago, it’s awesome to have him back at the top of the game. Some fluffed notes aside, this was a perfect night for him.

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It was also great to see the Scorpions’ rhythm section since I’m not aware of much of their musical endeavours since leaving the band several years ago. Rarebell looked his age and I suppose his drumming has seen better days, but his enthusiasm won the audience over. Bucholtz also seemed happy to be on stage and like I mentioned before, spent considerable amount of time interacting with the front row and singing along. Wayne Findlay offered a solid supporting role, switching between second guitar and keyboards. Both jobs were well done, but I especially have to give credit to his guitar work, which on rhythm and lead when needed was very impressive.

All in all Schenker offered a night of classic, enjoyable hard rock. After Gary Barden’s recent retirement, this might possibly be the right way for Michael to continue rather than simply put out another MSG-album with a different line-up. Only the presence of those couple songs Michael himself never had anything to do with, bothers me a bit. However, the man obviously does what he wants and at this stage of the game, it’s certainly allowed.

Setlist:

Love Drive
Another Piece Of Meat
Assault Attack
Armed And Ready
Into The Arena
Rock My Nights Away
Attack Of The Mad Axeman
Horizons
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
Coast To Coast
Shoot Shoot
Only You Can Rock Me
Let It Roll
Too Hot To Handle
Lights Out
Holiday
Rock You Like A Hurricane

encore:

Rock Bottom
Blackout
Doctor Doctor

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