MICHAEL SCHENKER'S TEMPLE OF ROCK
The Boardwalk, Sacramento, California
12th February 2014
It wasn't the best Schenker show I've ever seen, but it was the best Schenker show I've seen in over twenty years...
It was a cold and rainy winter's night in Sacramento, but the loyal came out in droves to celebrate Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock. On a stage that even threw fear into the heart of as experienced a frontman as Doogie White, the mad axeman and his band of merry men could do no wrong, and the over-capacity crowd sang every word and punched the air with every solo.
Schenker is continuing his steady climb that might just have him now at the top of the guitar hero sweepstakes, and he's finally found a dependable frontman with which to share the stage in the seasoned White.
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I had just walked into the venue when Doogie came in, looking like an adventurer who's reached the North Pole. He reached out his hand, and said: "I know you! Where can we talk?"
The Boardwalk has been a Northern California tour stop since the British Invasion began, but it still has no dressing rooms, no spare office, not even a restroom for their bands. We found a corner and made do.
Doogie White: "It's the best American tour I've ever done. Ever. Whether it's for 200, 500, or a thousand people - we're having such a laugh! It's that hour and a half - it's just....it's fun.
"We're doing seven shows on, then a travel day, and then six shows, but it's all about the atmosphere on the bus. We have a great man running the show (Tour Manager, Tommy Cesano), and he treats everyone, regardless of whether it's a tech, or a member of the band, or even Michael - he's treats everyone the same, and he doesn't take shit from anyone!
"This stage tonight? There's no room to move, I'll be watching out for headstocks. The audience that comes here all the time, they know what it's like, but I'm walking onto the stage - for me, honest to God, that's my work area, and with Rev Jones right beside me? Not good! Tonight's going to be no microphone stand, none of that shit. It's small and it's cramped, but we'll have a great night, we always do!"
True enough, I had seen the band a month earlier at the M-15 Club in Corona, California, and while it was only the band's second night out, they could do no wrong as Michael Schenker led the band through a setlist that started covered his days with UFO, his brief but brilliant stint with the middle period Scorpions ('Lovedrive' album), his days as an arena headliner with his own Michael Schenker Group, right up to a few tunes off his newly released 'Bridge The Gap' album. I inquired as to whether they had added any more of the new album to the setlist over the last month?
"Changes to the setlist?" Doogie looked at me as if I was mad. "No, the setlist we started with will be the setlist we end with - Michael doesn't want to think about the setlist, he's so focused on his performances. But - I've started to gain his confidence.
"At first, he wanted me to sing every line of every song the same as on the record, but I don't know UFO. I never listened to The Scorpions. So, I've learned it all, but now after singing them for a while, and it's harder for me to try to think about how this singer sang this song, or that singer sang that - Im starting to add some of myself in, and he's been all right with that.
"I know where the guitar solos begin, and where they end - it was never like that with Yngwie, or with Ritchie Blackmore. Yngwie, he might decide to take off, and he'd never come back. With Ritchie - Ritchie called it 'extemporizing.' He'd say, 'I'm extemporizing!'"
While he may not have been 'extemporizing,' Michael Schenker is playing like a man possessed, and taking more chances than he has in the past as he throws out golden gem after gem of sizzling runs, and melodic flourishes. I've stood on many stages in the past and seen and heard the German legend play some great shows, but I've never seen him play with such fire and joy as he is today.
He speaks of having suddenly found enjoyment when playing live, and it shows as he joins in vocally on the choruses of such classics as 'Shoot, Shoot' and 'Rock Bottom'. He looks and sounds like he's having a great time, and the audience is with him every step of the way - on a journey that's been long for all, for, as any Schenker fan knows, it's not always been easy being a Michael Schenker fan. It's like his brother told me a few weeks ago.
Rudolf Schenker: "Yeah, I know! My brother, he's now on the light side, hahaha!
"He was sometimes too much on the dark side, even when he was on the sunny side of life, he put himself too much on the dark side! I heard his new album - it is fantastic, and he's doing better than ever! The combination with the singer is fantastic, what can I say?
"I was looking forward, it was my plan in 2013 to do a Schenker Brothers album, but you know, things sometimes go different than you think!"
They do, indeed. It wasn't so many years ago that we had all counted Michael Schenker out for the count, but like the Phoenix he has risen, and we as much as him are the lucky ones.
On this night he beat a small stage, and a poor mix in a club that has not aged nearly as well as the veteran guitarist. He satisfied every one in the room and even through the intense concentration, he looked to be having a great time himself.
Doogie White: "Michael and I have never, on this tour had a conversation, because he's so focused on what he's doing musically. He's traveling by himself with his missus, and he comes in, he checks his stuff, says, 'Hey, good to see you.' Then he comes back for the show, does the show, then he leaves. Great!"
For those who lined up in the rain and the cold, it was worth it. For an hour and a half, it wasn't cold, it wasn't raining, and everyone in the room celebrated a career's with of memories with one of the greatest guitarists to ever grace a stage, and his crack outfit.
Thanks to Doogie White for braving the cold for a chat, and for a great show.