Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock stands tall in NYC 4-15-15

Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock stands tall in NYC 4-15-15

German guitarist Michael Schenker burst onto the scene as a guitar prodigy, making his mark early at the age of seventeen on the Scorpions’ debut album Lonesome Crow. Departing from the band in 1973, he would join English group UFO and become an intricate part of shaping the band’s sound with his straight Hard Rock /Heavy Metal style. Developing on a personal and musical level, Schenker returned to Scorpions in late 1978 and was a big part in helping the band launch their career in North America with 1979’s Lovedrive album. The reunion was short lived, and in years to follow, Schenker would be the creative force behind UFO once again, as well as forming his own bands with Michael Schenker Group and McAuley Schenker Group. A prolific recorder, releasing over forty albums with various outfits, Schenker has become a guitar legend. Proving it is never too late to settle down, in 2011 he formed a new project called Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock, releasing a self-titled debut the same year. Following with 2013’s Bridge the Gap album, Schenker and company return in 2015 with new album Spirit On A Mission. With a renewed love for performing live and being part of a band, Schenker explained Temple of Rock to CrypticRock by saying “My music is like Holy Scriptures because they coming from within, and so that’s why I came up with the name Temple of Rock.”

Now with their own identity, Temple of Rock return to North America for live shows fans will not want to miss. This time around, for the first time ever, they hit the states with Herman Rarebell (drums) and Francis Buchholz (bass), along with the original Scorpions Love at First Sting (1984) rhythm section, Doogie White (vocals) and Wayne Findlay (guitar).  Schenker stated “We have tried for one and a half years to come to the States with this album lineup, but now it is time.” Amidst the tour, the band stormed New York City’s Gramercy Theatre on Wednesday April 15th for a night of past and present Hard Rock and Metal.

Opening for Temple of Rock, a band by the name of Metalfier brought boundless energy to the stage as they melded a wicked blend of classic Thrash and Heavy Metal with Death Metal touches. With song titles such as “Bad Reputation,” “Heavy Metal Life,” “Warrior Soul,” and “Metalheadz,” the band wore their love of the genres on their sleeve as pounding drums, growling vocals, plodding bass, and fuzzed-out guitar melodies with breakneck solos ruled the day for the New York natives. The band showed its versatility with a delicate breakdown during “Bad Reputation” featuring fine, melodic interludes.

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Also hailing from New York, Atom Strange brought their Science Fiction themed Hard Rock to the stage with intense fervor. Lead singer Rick Dunn’s voice was a fiery blend of Rob Halford and classic era Axl Rose as he hit high note after high note throughout the set. The band’s sound featured an intriguing blend of Hard Rock /Heavy Metal sense with complex rhythms reminiscent of contemporary Prog-leaning heavy bands like Tool and Faith No More, as drummer Vinnie LaRocca and bassist Santiago Helman ditched the simple, straightforward time signatures usually found in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal for a more dynamic sound. Alex Rude carried the Metal torch as he cranked out classic Hard Rock melodies along with complex, searing solos.

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Los Angeles’ Gundriver would round out the opening acts with a fiery brand of Rock and Roll featuring lead singer Crazy Tomes’ over the top showmanship, reminiscent of classic era Van Halen, as he did not sit still throughout the entire set; moving across the stage like a man possessed, and doing jump splits at every opportunity. Guitarist Tom Potter, anchored by bassist Rev Jones and drummer Alex Rivas, turned out classic riff after classic riff. Songs like “Rip It,” “What’s Inside,” and “Gundriver” sounded like the best Hard Rock and Heavy Metal to come out of Europe and the United States from 1977 to 1983. Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock could not have asked for a better primer for their taking the stage, as all three bands expertly took the sounds they were clearly influenced by in their youth and each band put their own unique spin on them.

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Anticipating the main attraction, a row of cheers came as Schenker and company went right into prime UFO material, “Doctor, Doctor,” to kick the party off. From Schenker’s first album with the band, 1974’s Phenomenon, the track opened with an eerie run on lead guitar before pounding drums and a timeless Heavy Metal riff took over. The riff sped up, echoing the best of early 80’s Thrash Metal, and was peppered throughout with solos played in spots where normally only the melody would be heard. It was an ideal opener as to be expected and the entire show featured perpetual guitar heroics from an all-time great. Wasting no time getting into Spirit on A Mission tracks, “Live and Let Live” came next. A hard driving rocker, a propulsive riff was accompanied by even faster drumming from Rarebell as the band showed what almost two hundred years of collective experience in the world of Rock can do.

Mixing the material up, two more UFO classics, “Natural Thing” and “Lights Out,” got the crowd moving and singing along. The first of the two jams featured a thick, fuzzy riff and an upbeat chorus that fit in perfectly with the heavy guitars producing a slice of danceable Hard Rock delights, replete with a Country-Rock tinged solo. Meanwhile, the latter drew a raucous cheer from the crowd, being it is probably the best known song from Schenker era UFO. An escalating guitar lead, steady bass, shuffling drums, and a thematic chorus were a living testament to UFO’s influence on the many bands that debuted after their popular run in the mid-70s. To round out the classic sound, Schenker capped the song off with a rapid-fire solo in which he played an impossible amount of notes in a short span, his pick moving at a hellacious speed while his left hand ran up and down the frets with surgical precision and Olympic sprinter speed.

Keeping the excitement level high, the band reached back thirty-five years for 1980’s “Armed and Ready” off of The Michael Schenker Group’s debut. With over one hundred songs to choose from in that time span, this could not have made a better choice as the track is a perfect representation of what Schenker is all about. Opening with theatrics from Schenker as he played short runs on guitar before cupping his hand on his ear, awaiting a roar from the crowd, he then played a short solo with rapid fire picking, heavy effects, and plenty of showmanship before getting into the main riff. What sets the piece apart is the complicated solo Schenker played. While many who play similar styles rely on speed, Schenker dazzled the crowd with playing what was not only fast, but intricate. The solo took numerous twists and turns and did not relent for the final three quarters of the track as Schenker continued to meander from the melody during the verses and chorus as well. Going back to 1979, revisiting Scorpions, the band played the title track from Lovedrive. Again, a chugging, hard riff is the basis for the track, and the bass and drums kept the bottom end simple and heavy. Schenker dazzled the crowd once again as he showed his versatility on the solo by slugging out elongated power chords and then stretched the high notes out, showing the audience that restraint is just as important as aggression when it comes to musical dynamics.

Schenker then paid tribute to his brother Rudolf and company by playing their most popular song, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Here, Schenker took to rhythm guitar, and turned over lead duties to Findlay, who was more than up to the task as he tore through the intro. Findlay then played an extended solo before it was just a steady drum beat from Rarebell and a sing-along with the crowd as he said, “Here I Am…..”, and left it to the crowd to respond, “….rock you like a hurricane!” With fists pumping, the crowd eagerly obliged. Schenker then took over lead guitar for the remainder of the song as Findlay played keys for the outro. For the set closer, Temple of Rock went to their favorite place, Schenker-era UFO, for “Rock Bottom.” With its long, guitar heavy intro featuring various riffs, a simple, catchy chorus, and pounding bass and drums, the track is the blueprint for the NWOBHM movement. Feeding off the adrenaline of the room, the band stretched it out to double the studio version’s length, with a nearly seven minute middle section in which Schenker’s guitar wizardry was in overdrive. Playing with just his left hand with his right hand in the apex of the V on his trademark flying V guitar, and switching back and forth between fast and slow playing, Schenker left the crowd spellbound throughout the song.

After a brief exit, and a sea of cheers, the band returned for a three song encore featuring UFO’s “Too Hot to Handle,” along with Scorpions’ songs “Holiday,” and “Blackout.” The encore set was a perfect microcosm of the show as the band touched on UFO, Schenker-led Scorpions, and Scorpions without Schenker. While both pieces are straightforward Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, played to perfection, on the other hand, “Holiday” was a great chance for Schenker to show his range. Featuring languid guitars throughout, with only a few, very brief fast-paced interludes, Schenker wowed the crowd with his delicate touch on his six-string.

Getting a touch of fame at the age of seventeen, and attaining international stardom before the age of twenty, would normally result in a short career with a spectacularly disastrous ending. Defying the odds, Michael Schenker has been a prolific recording artist and a prodigious road warrior for over forty years. Clearly an influence on the massive amounts of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal to emerge in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Schenker’s place in the history of Rock and Roll is undeniable. His playing is an impressive mix of technical expertise, melody, and bombast. They are traveling across the United States until May 6th before heading to Japan for five shows to wrap up the tour, so do not miss a chance to see this amazing show.

 

 

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Gerard Smith
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