Extreme Guitar Tour
Uli Jon Roth, Vinnie Moore, Black Knights Rising
San Jose, California, USA
January 25, 2015
Uli Jon Roth proved that he is perhaps the best of the best of his generation of guitarists, and he was joined by mad axe men Vinnie Moore, and Craig Goldy, who combined to put on one of the most successful package tours in recent memory.
The guitarists were the men of the hour, but the evening's all around MVP just might be bassist/guitar manufacturer Elliott 'Dean' Rubinson who covered the four string end of the spectrum with a trio of his own tasty instruments for all three of tour's main bands.
Coming in right behind Elliott is vocalist John M. West who does a great job of covering Ian Gillan, Ronnie James Dio, and David Coverdale in Black Knights Rising ( a clever moniker that let's you know they're playing the repertoire of Deep Purple (Blackmore), Rainbow and Black Sabbath (Dio)). They're joined in this venture by Vinny Appice, who has never played better drums - it was great to watch him reinterpret the work of Ian Paice, who's style can't really be replicated, but Appice always captured the essence while playing it with his own inimitable sense of time and finesse. He's a drummer's drummer.
Speaking of drummer's drummers, Kofi Baker proves to be a fascinating study - he's absolutely has the great drummer gene that he inherited from his father, Ginger, but he's a guy with his own style, and he fit Uli's band like a glove. I hope he sticks with the maestro, as they are a very, very powerful team. It was interesting to watch the younger drummer accept a slight chide from Roth when they slightly tripped over a song's ending, and to see that he knew he had slipped, and was more upset about it than his stern, but affable boss. Mind you, with probably little rehearsal the guy just did a great job behind the kit. I hope this gig leads to bigger things, because the world can always use another great stick man, and that he is.
After a couple of standard issue openers (dear promoters, I have no interest in seeing five band's on a bill), Black Knights Rising came on and instantly you knew that the grown ups had come out to play. I last saw Craig Goldy about two years ago at a Dio Disciples' show, and while he played great then, he has unquestionably upped the ante of late - he certainly covered Iommi and Blackmore's classic licks to a tee, but everything he played had a whole lot of Craig Goldy in it, as well. His vibrato is the type that puts a big smile on the face of anyone who 'gets it', and his solos were simply smoking. The guy keeps getting better and better - I can't wait to see where he takes 2015.
Vinnie Moore was up next, and he seemed to be set on having fun, revisiting his stellar solo career, and focusing on the years he spent with Mike Varney's Shrapnel Records. His unique blend of sophisticated melody, metal, shred, and fusiony funk comes across better than I just made it sound, and his animated stage antics kept things from being anything but very entertaining. He has a new solo album in the can, and I'm hoping it is as invigorating as his work on last year's Red Zone Riders album. He broke out his new signature Dean Guitars Vinnie Moore Signature Mind's Eye to commemorate that great record, and his tones, chops, and taste were a great shift after the blazing rock of BKR.
Two excellent bands, and we were primed for the headlining act, and to just say that Uli Jon Roth did not disappoint would be doing him a great disservice. In fact, it was the best guitar playing I have ever witnessed on a stage. Now, let's be clear here. I've seen Page, Blackmore, Gary Moore, I've stood on stage with Michael Schenker for many shows, I saw Ronson, Clapton, Derek Trucks, Iommi, I've witnessed Townshend, Vai, Satriani, Gibbons, and many, many other great, great players, but until last night not a one had ever brought a tear to my eye with their sheer ability to coax emotion out of their instrument. Yes, I was moved to the point of tears - it's all tied up with the guitar and over forty years of having a love for music that I've taken more seriously than anything, and Uli Jon Roth put on a master class on how and why this is possible.
Uli's been on the road for several years now celebrating the fortieth anniversary of his joining The Scorpions, a band he helped put on the musical map. His set list was mainly made up of the classic Scorps tunes that featured Roth during his five album tenure with the band that saw its pinnacle with Tokyo Tapes, a live album that may have done as much as anything to kickstart the entire ill-named shred guitar movement that exists to this day. Uli Roth's music has nothing to do with anyone shouting, "Dude, you shred!," but I will say that the day I was introduced to The Scorpions via the songs 'Pictured Life', and 'Catch Your Train', back in 1976, my life changed forever. It took me a few spins to wrap my mind around what I was hearing, but for me it took the electric guitar to places I never knew existed - Roth took the bombastic beauty of Hendrix and married it to a highly developed sense of European harmony and technique that was light years ahead of most players at the time.
The great thing is that he is playing as well as ever, and his volume is as audacious as his obvious love and enthusiasm for the form. His sense of dynamics and tension are second to none. This was the greatest performance I have ever seen from a guitarist, and that says everything to me. I must admit that for many reasons the stars had never aligned, and I had never actually seen Uli play live, and it was a revelation, even for a lifelong fan and very serious student of the instrument. It was almost absurd to watch him dueling so elegantly with David Klosinki, his incredible young second guitarist. Watching the southpaw with a Fender Strat echoing and playing superb counterparts to Roth was most interesting, intriguing, educational, and entertaining. Did I leave anything out? John West was on fire for this set - he obviously has a tremendous affection for this material, and while he was doing a great job with Black Knights Rising, with Uli he looked like he wanted the job.
It had already been a great night up to that point, but once Roth and his band hit the stage they owned it, and Uli was truly the king of the kingdom. He was relaxed, poised - he played like a guy with a point to prove, and he proved it. Again and again he literally dumbfounded me with his beautiful musicianship. I can't help but feel that it's time for Uli to soon be seen on bigger stages, playing for more fans - I've said the same thing about his friend Michael Schenker, and they both deserve a greater hearing. They are doing such great work that it would seem to me the world could use a bit of a re-boot in the guitar hero industry.
The tones and feelings Roth coaxes from his self designed seven string, 34 fret Dean Sky Guitar is staggering and stunning. Lows, highs, clean, dirty, there really isn't a color in the sound spectrum that he doesn't achieve with this instrument, and one feels it is the right guitar for the right player. 'Sails Of Charon', 'We'll Burn The Sky', 'Dark Lady', 'In Trance', it was an onslaught of classic rock that had the crowd enraptured for the entire set - singing along, fists pumping the air, and looks of incredulity were aplenty, and no one walked away with anything but stunned and satisfied looks of joy. To a large degree, this was the night the master came. He was smiling, and beaming to the audience, jovially coaxing music out of his bandmates, and on occasion playing the taskmaster, as that is, after all, part of the gig.
Rockbar Theater is a new venue for San Jose, and it is a tremendous facility, the staff was fantastically helpful and on point - my only gripe would be that the sound system is lacking in bottom end and power - small details can be worked out, but my hat is off to anyone opening a new rock 'n' roll venue in 2015, especially one this impressive.
Special thanks to Dave Tedder at Head First Entertainment, Elliott 'Dean' Robinson, and everyone else who contributed to such a great evening of rock.