I’ve been a huge Michael Schenker fan since I first heard UFO Obsession in 1978. His penetrating, mid-heavy tone (which I would later find out was the product of a Cry Baby wah at half-mast plugged into a Marshall), his gorgeous melodies and blazing solos (he burned, he didn’t shred), and his uber-bitchin’ Flying V knocked me out as a kid who was just getting into playing guitar. By the time I saw UFO, however, Schenker was gone and Paul Chapman was in his place. Chapman is a great player in his own right but he wasn’t Schenker. In the ensuing decades, I’ve seen Schenker several times, and followed his much-publicized battles with substances and the questions surrounding his ability to make it through a tour or a gig.
Photo by Steve Brinkman (courtesy of michaelschenkerhimself.com)
That’s why it was with a little trepidation that I went to the New Parish to see him last week. I had an added incentive: My buddy Dave Lopez of Flipsyde was going to open the show with his Zeppelin tribute band Custard Pie so I figured I would take Marie Callender’s advice and come for the Pie, stay for the Schenker. Dave and his band, which featured Starship keyboard monster Phil Bennett, tore through several great Zep tunes before the stage manager told them “One more tune, guys. We gotta get the headliner up here.” They launched into “Kashmir,” officially the longest last tune in history.
It seemed like about an hour before Schenker and his band took the stage, a wait that was made easier by the fact that the club played great tunes over the sound system that included part of Gamma 1 and a selection of Thin Lizzy B-sides off Bad Reputation, Black Rose, and the Sykes-tastic Thunder and Lightning. When Mr. MSG came out, rocking a black and white Dean V into a JCM2000, he opened with two of the songs that he recorded for the Scorpions Lovedrive: the title track and “Another Piece of Meat.” He sounded good on both tunes, as he did on the MSG and new material that followed, but everything really came together when it came time for the UFO songs.
It was clear from the crowd reaction that this what what they had come to hear. Maybe it was because of the crowd’s energy, or maybe the soundman finally dialed in the mix just right, or maybe Schenker just loves playing these tunes, but the whole experience went up several notches with the first A chord of “Shoot, Shoot.” Schenker absolutely nailed the solo, which wasn’t exactly surprising. What was surprising was how easy he made it seem. It instantly reminded me why we all thought that he set the standard in the late ’70s for hard rock melody, bends, vibrato, and fluidity. He only got better on “Only You Can Rock Me .“ Talk about melodic! Many in the crowd sang along with the intro to that great solo. “Let It Roll” followed, with his gorgeous lines played in harmony with the keyboards. In very crowd-pleasing fashion, they put almost all of the UFO tunes in a row, with “Love to Love,” “Natural Thing,” “Lights Out,” “Rock Bottom,” and “Doctor Doctor” all in rapid succession. And Schenker was on fire for all of them. It was inspiring to watch, especially given the ups and downs of his career. To see him playing easily as good as I’ve ever seen him, and being a man of, shall we say, a certain age, was just super cool. It made me want to go home and relearn the solo to “Shoot, Shoot,” it made me want to work on my bends and vibrato, and it sure as hell made me want to get a Flying V.
If you’ve been wondering if you should check out this tour when it comes to your town and you’re maybe a little squeamish because “you never know which Schenker will show up,” wonder no more. This is the good Schenker. You’ll see.