This is without a doubt my favorite Schenker outing in decades. Michael Schenker Fest Live Tokyo International Forum Hall A is going to be very tough to beat as the best live DVD in 2017. It's early in the year, but this is what you call an instant classic, and for all the right reasons.
Michael Schenker has been building on his legend for years now, having left behind the days of a tougher struggle, and now he has finally to my mind once again surrounded himself with a stage full of musicians who are truly up to his game. He's never had a bad band, but that's not the point by a longshot, the point is that this band better suits his songs, his playing, and his temprament at this stage of his life. He plays the gig of a lifetime here, a performance as strong as any he has ever put on, but the beauty is that there is an amazing amount of proper attention to be paid to the whole band, and the whole experience.
The Michael Schenker Fest is a great idea that finds Schenker reunited with the three lead singers who loom largest in his solo history. Gary Barden is from the first iteration of the Michael Schenker Group, and here he seems to be experiencing a return to form that we've been waiting on for many years. He's eased into a lower toned vocal approach, and his husky phrasing and easy stage presence are just as effective as his halcyon era with the band in the early '80s. Next in line is Graham Bonnet, a man who left an indelible mark on Schenker fans with just one album, Assault Attack, in 1982, a record that is still the favorite of many a Schenker fanatic. We waited over three decades to see Graham and Michael smiling at one another onstage, and it was worth the wait. Rounding out the lineup of singers is McAuley/Schenker Group frontman Robin McAuley, who brings his unique set of melodies and still blazing vocal chops to the proceedings, giving the audience yet another flavor of the Schenker legacy.
Then there is the thrill of hearing all three singers combining their efforts in varying degrees to celebrate Michael's time with the great UFO. It's so good to once again hear singers sing this material with the obvious love and commitment these great songs deserve. McAuley handles the heavy lifting on "Shoot Shoot", and "Rock Bottom" (which has never sounded better musically to my ears), and he's joined by Barden and Bonnet for a fun filled run at "Doctor Doctor". These guys are not just having great fun, and doing a great job, they are egolessly presenting a celebration of the music of Michael Schenker to their respective fans. The smiles the musicians exchange throughout the program are alone worth the price of admission.
Now I must talk about the band, this band. I'll start where it all begins and that is with Michael Schenker. Michael has written as many classic riffs as any of the greatest guitarists of the last fifty years, his solos are such that they are known to his fans as well as the riffs and choruses of the tunes, and his command of technique combined with an emotional sense of composition has made him such a legend that it has truly been a daunting task to keep up with his high water marks. However, here he manages to take the legend to the next level - he's playing explosively, he's having a great time onstage, and the visceral excitement he displays while flexing his musical muscles with this band is a sight to behold. A thing of beauty and majesty.
Great rhythm sections make bands great. Of this there can be no denying, and over the years Michael Schenker has played with some remarkable teams, but to my ears the team of bassist Chris Glen and drummer Ted McKenna are as good as any, and I will say that they are my personal favorite. I've been intensely following the music of Michael Schenker since 1975, even to the point of getting myself hired as a guitar tech for the McAuley/Schenker Group for an all too brief period. I know the music, the lineups, the individual players, and I'm a good enough musician in my own right that I can say, this is an area where I am an expert. I could write you book on the topic. Chris Glen and Ted McKenna have been playing together since 1972, and it sounds like it. Glen is a marvelously melodic bass player, and his adventuous flights of fancy are a wonder to behold, and his tone is perfect. Maybe the best in all of hard rock for his era, certainly my favorite. McKenna is a master of knowing when to steadily rock the rhythm and when to turn the beat on its ear as Schenker lays down his very unique rhythm chops. Schenker's best rhythm section since they were last Schenker's rhythm section.
The band's secret weapon can be found at stage right - Steve Mann plays the classic utility role of guitarist/keyboardist/background vocalist that was inaugurated in the very early days of UFO, and he fills the role as well as anyone, up to and including the fabulous Paul Raymond. Where Raymond brought more of a Ian McLagen/Faces vibe to the proceedings, Mann is a bit more of a smoking hot lead player who can execute some nice harmonies with Michael, and his keyboard playing is more synth based and vibey, though he certainly nails the legendary parts necessary to make "Doctor Doctor" and "the solo sections of "Rock Bottom" as effective as they need to be. Mann is a fantastic foil for Michael Schenker, and I hope they continue to work together moving forward.
The DVD is very well shot and directed. You see the fun, the energy, and when someone should be in the frame, they are, and that's a huge key to any concert document. It looks fantastic, and the sound is superb. Whatever efforts that were put into this project in post-production is well worth the efforts. This is one for the ages. I just hope I've managed to express how much I love this package. It does exactly what I wanted it to do - it returned me to every era of Michael Schenker music, and all the great musicians of those eras and bands that I have revered for so long, and isn't that what rock is supposed to do? Plus, it makes me look forward to new music and what could lie ahead. It makes you feel great, it makes you feel alive, and it makes you want to keep rocking.