This is gonna be a Blast From The Past. I've been a big fan of UFO for over 30 years and to find out that The Michael Schenker Group is making it's Hong Kong debut on 23-11-06 is too fucking much man. Michael was the lead guitar with UFO for a good part of their mega-successful years, having been plucked from obscurity in German head-bangers The Scorpions. Or he was pinched from them when Scorpions supported UFO. Pick your own fable as the Truth is vague and variable and usually written by the victors. Anyway, its 1940 and I'm on the 3rd floor of HITEC with about 200 or so fellow fans. A big hi to Eric, who writes and promotes a cool Chinese site on rock groups. It's www.hk-band.com His buddy Wolf is a fellow muso and tells me his band will play an upcoming Under Ground in March. I fail to get the all important band name as the doos open and everyone ambles in and straight to the front.
Some very pleasant acoustic guitar is playing. Tight, focused and melodic. The nearest approximation I can think of is Jorma Kaukkonen (ex-Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna) who now dabbles in acoustic blues/cum/bluegrass picking. I'm not surprised to discover that the unknown minstrel is Michael Schenker. The CD is called Thank You 4. I've been talking to Julian (from Taipei) who is an assistant mixer tonight. He joined the tour in Taipei, came here, and will return there with the MSG for the final gig of their Asian tour. I chat with Olivier, the band's soundman, who lets me copy down (most) of the set list. My fault, the band start before I finish.
The Michael Schenker Group is MS on lead guitars. Rev Jones on bass. Pete Holmes on drums. Wayne Findley on keyboards and rhythm guitar. Jorri (?) Tiura is the vocalist. They're on stage, blasting through an instrumental short called "Assault Attack" which segues into "Ready To Rock" with nary a break. Michael. in black cap and MSG t-shirt, black leather trews, looks more like Harry Nilsson these days than the young Teuton rock god of yore. I'm not saying he's a world class pisshead like HN. Just that I see a resemblence/memory of HN from photos of John Lennon's Lost Weekend. Jorri, the singer, looks like a young MS, crossed with a bit of Dave Mustaine (Megadeth). Wayne reminds me of Hurley (from Lost)'s cooler older (imaginary) brother crossed with Rob Zombie. Pete recalls Ricky Gervais crossed with Ginger Baker's ferocity of action and Rev is totally eye-catching. A shaved head, with what looks like a segmented brain tattoo and a long braid which he whirls like a propellor while rocking and exhorting the audience.
The 3rd tune is the first UFO classic of the night. "Let It Roll" is a near carbon copy version which gets the audience lustily singing along. I'm chuffed to find there are a lot of UFO fans here tonight. I thought I was indulging in a solitary pleasure. Having been listening to lots of really old UFO (like "Star Storm", which pre-dates MS arrival in the band) I'd forgotten how they rock like a horde of horny hippos in heat. I was expecting more celestial, spacy guitars. I get rifftastic beats, tight, fast drums, throbbing bass that recalls the finer moments of Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Humble Pie at The Fillmore, early Budgie and even some vintage Groundhops. This is a primal, rocking, sweaty show especially on the epic "Tales of Rock N Roll" where Michael channels, sifts and distils the essence of 70's hardrock exuberance in fine style.
The 2nd UFO song is "Light's Out" with it's all purpose chorus of "lights out, lights out in..." (fill in the name of tonight's city. Jorri and Michael are jammed together belting out "lights out in Hong Kong" (twice) before singing the proper chorus, namechecking London. Rev is in fine form, tiptoeing behind Michael like a panto villain at one point to try and disrupt his solo. It fails, cheeky grin to the audience and away he goes. His long duet with Pete on a bass/drums solo/combo is a highlight. He sounds almost dub techno at one point, playing and slapping his bass like the late Jaco Pastorious. Pete tosses a stick to the ceiling. First time, he catches it in time, The next time, he waits a beat or three and whacks holy shit out of his kit. At one point, Rev brings him a drink and a towel. He stops playing, aside from a rapid and insistent bass drum while he wipes himself down and swigs some water. A great solo, constructed in about 5 parts finishes and he collapses in (semi)mock exhaustion over his kit. He milks the applause and starts again with twice the energy. Jorri traverses the crowd up front, moves around the stage, takes control while Wayne throws his shaggy mane back and almost bellows in delight while riffing rapaciously.
It's been over an hour and the UFO hits continue. There's "Too Hot To Handle", "Only You Can Rock Me" and "Doctor Doctor". Again the crowd, hoot and holler and roar their devotion. Jorri is almost spot on with his Phil Mogg vocals - there's just a slight hint of Mittel European in the articulation. He also summons up some early Ian Gillan for some of the higher notes. There's a fine version of "Armed and Ready" which precedes "Doctor Doctor" which in turn segues into the mighty "Rock Bottom" This is the 6th UFO tune of the night and the showpiece for Michael's dexterity. It begins with some haunting keyboards, coupled with some choral vocal effects (I think) The band rumble along underneath the cascade of notes and guitar runs, getting stronger and heavier and more intense. Think the gradual crescendo of "Walk On Gilded Splinters" by Humble Pie (live Fillmore) until it all comes together in a hellzapoppin', crashlandin' final verse and - it's over. People realise they've forgotten to breathe and are cheering lustily. Wayne shouts "doh jer" to everyone and walks the front line pressing the flesh. We exchange a brief grip n' grin and "awesome, dude". I mention to Rev I wish they'd play "Love To Love" and he says they're trying to get Michael to re-learn it. We exchange compliments and I receive a splintered and slightly fractured drum stick for my pains. Along with Strativarius last January and the Dirty Three at Caritas Hall on 28-10-06, this was one of the gigs of 2006. Too bad, the advertising was only in HMV, but that's the breaks eh! This MSG is a tasty additive to the Hong Kong music menu. Missing you already guys and haste ye back..
Review by Nick The Bookman