February 17, 2015 Uli Jon Roth rocks B.B. King’s Club NYC 2-8-15 w/ Vinnie Moore, Black Knights Rising & Old James
Imagine some of Classic Rock’s most prolific guitarist teamed up for one special tour. Well, fans need look no further than the XG Extreme Guitar Tour featuring guitar legends Uli Jon Roth, Vinnie Moore, as well as newer acts Black Knights Rising and Old James. Roth, best known for his lead guitar and lead vocal work with legendary German based Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band Scorpions, is set to release the double album Scorpions Revisited on March 10th. The album features nineteen cuts, all culled from Roth’s five year tenure in the band, which included the four defining studio albums Fly to the Rainbow (1974), In Trance (1975), Virgin Killer (1976), and Taken By Force (1977), as well as live album Tokyo Tapes (1978). Performing predominantly through Europe over the past two years, the return of Roth to North America comes with much excitement, and on Sunday February 8th XG Extreme Guitar Tour arrived in New York City at B.B. King’s Club.
Canadians Old James opened the show with a blend of Hard Rock and Country swagger. Made up of brothers Brian Stephenson (lead vocals/guitar) and Chris Stephenson (drums/backing vocals), along with Andy Thompson (lead guitar), Old James are newcomers to the scene looking to make a splash. With Brian earning experience touring with Annihilator and Sanctity, his brother Chris Stephenson received a JUNO nomination in 2012 as part of Cauldron and later joined Skull Fist. Having some real live touring chops to their credit, Old James ripped through its thirty minute set featuring monstrous riffs, chugging bass alongside drums, and howling vocals at breakneck speed, priming the crowd for a rip-roaring night like any great opener should. Their latest self-titled EP is available now via Native Alien Records.
Next up was the all-star cast of musicians in Black Knights Rising. Featuring guitarist Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria, Rough Cutt), drummer Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell), bassist Elliott Rubinson (Uli Jon Roth, MSG, CEO of Dean Guitars and DDrum), and vocalist John West (Royal Hunt, Artension), Black Knights Rising first became a vision back in 2013. Taking off since then, the band was welcomed with open arms by New York City as they rocked an array of classic songs such as Black Sabbath’s “Neon Knights,” along with Deep Purple’s “Mistreated” and “Highway Star, and Burn.” Sounding tight as a unit and polished like the veterans they are, Black Knights Rising were a hit that stimulated memories of some of the best Classic Heavy Rock of all-time. As the tour continued, the line-up for the band featured drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, Black Sabbath) in place of Appice and will bring along former Judas Priest vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens.
Keeping the energy flowing, former Alice Cooper and current UFO guitarist Vinnie Moore came out next. One of the biggest names to emerge from the guitar world in the 1980s, Moore’s solo career kicked off with 1986’s killer debut Mind’s Eye. Having accomplished a great deal on his own, as well as with the aforementioned internationals acts, Moore recently formed a new project called Red Zone Rider. Releasing their debut album in September of 2014, Moore continues on with solo touring in 2015. Ripping through a set covering his impressive solo catalogue, Moore played tracks such as 1991’s “Check It Out!” before ripping into favorites like “The Maze,” “Rain,” and “Hero Without Honor.” Dazzling with impassioned guitar playing, Moore’s virtuoso skills had spectators salivating. Wrapping up his performance with a heavy-hand from his third album, Moore jammed out “Midnight Rain,” “Ridin’ High,” and title-track “Meltdown.” On the second to last night of Moore’s run on XG Extreme Guitar Tour, he put on one hell of a clinic in New York City.
After the wide range of talent to come before him at B.B. King’s Club, Roth was the final act of the evening. Drawing in dedicated followers, despite the threat of a looming snow storm, everyone gathered close to the stage awaiting for Roth’s set to begin. As he took the stage and began with the power chord laden “All Night Long,” a Scorpions concert staple that never found its way onto a studio release, the audience began to roar. Featuring a simple, classic, Hard Rock riff and wailing vocals, the tune was the perfect way to introduce the crowd to the bombastic hard and heavy Rock that was to come. The unforgettable “The Sails of Charon” from Roth’s last studio effort with Scorpions, Taken By Force, was next. Another chugging riff set the foundation for Roth to show that his talents extended well beyond the basics of Hard Rock. Throughout the song, Roth incorporated intricate solos featuring elements of Classical music, Flamenco stylings, and even Operatic flourishes on his signature Sky Guitar which he developed after leaving Scorpions. The Sky Guitar features a seventh string, and its unique and bold design allows the player to mimic the sounds of a violin.
Moving right along, In Trance’s “Sun in My Hand” began with a riff and feel straight out of a Science Fiction movie. A pounding bass line by Rubinson, ominous vocals of Roth, and a steady, heavy-handed drum beat of Kofi Baker (son of Cream’s Ginger Baker) was peppered with an onslaught of eruptions that felt as if they should be accompanied by images of an alien space craft landing, with purpose, on Earth. Roth’s guitar wailed away, hitting the high notes and pummeling the wah-wah pedal as he simultaneously reflected themes of hope and dread. Adding texture to the evening, Roth played an extensive acoustic intro which then ran into “We’ll Burn the Sky,” which was co-written by Roth’s late wife, Monika Dannemann, who was also dating Jimi Hendrix at the time of his death. The song moved along alternating between a slow and medium pace with a hard-rocking chorus, with Roth soloing throughout the track. Whether it was during the verses, the chorus, or a break in the singing, Roth was a guitar virtuoso from start to finish with complex, expert playing that never took away from the basics of the track, but could not be ignored for its beautiful intricacies. This was felt again on In Trance’s title track where Roth accented the basic track with a sophisticated sonic assault on guitar.
Given the chance to take the spotlight, Baker broke up the set with a drum solo paying tribute to his father’s penchant for favoring the toms over the snare as he pounded the skins for a little over five minutes to the crowd’s delight. Deservingly receiving a generous helping of applauds and howls from the audience, Baker showed he is an extremely talented drummer. Thereafter, the Prog-like “Polar Nights” was next as Roth and the band turned out a perfect note for note rendition from 1976’s Virgin Killer release. Here Roth was able to, in addition to his signature wild riffing and soloing, provide an eerie soundscape over which singer Boals (who also sang with Black Knights Rising earlier in the night) provided the perfect vocal counter-punch to his screaming guitar work. “Fly to the Rainbow” allowed Roth and the band to catch their breath as they mellowed out and played one of Hard Rock’s earliest power ballads. This song had all the elements that would be mimicked, leading to millions of albums sold, and success at the top of the charts by Hair Metal stalwarts Warrant, Bon Jovi, Slaughter, Poison, White Lion, etc. as a mellow riff was paired up with gentle, non-threatening solos, light keys, and excuse me drumming. Despite it lacking the in your face elements of the songs preceding it, Roth still managed to shine with his unparalleled picking. Going back to In Trance for “Dark Lady,” the set was closed with a blistering tune that was clearly an influence on guitar god Eddie Van Halen. Fast, repetitive, one-note solos dominated the track along with Roth continually making his guitar “talk” like Van Halen is known for.
Thanking the crowd, more cheers came down awaiting Roth’s return for an encore. Answering the call, Roth returned to pay tribute to two of his biggest influences as he played two songs made famous by Jimi Hendrix, one of which was originally penned by Bob Dylan. First was “All Along the Watchtower” seeing Roth take on the song while not stray from Hendrix’ version as the vocals were shouted with a sense of urgency, and the guitar licks were front and center from the opening to the end. Then “Little Wing” wrapped up the evening as Roth’s guitar wept throughout the forlorn number. Roth’s take on Hendrix demonstrated that he was clearly influenced by the legend, but also that he has developed his own unique signature sound that has become instantly recognizable after forty plus years of touring the world.
XG Extreme Guitar Tour was everything it was advertised as and more. The ensemble of talent packed in on one bill gave fans plenty of bang for their buck. Roth still holds a magic as a guitarist and his song selection was nothing less than flawless. With the tour now completed, fans can only hope a second leg is announced for later in 2015.