And the tour begins….did it ever end?

55303 Frequent visitors to these shores over the last year or two, LA rockers Venrez are confident live performers. That road craft means that their more thumping, balls out moments, like “Devil’s Due” and “Children Of The Drones” (both from last year’s album of the same name as the latter) have rather morphed into menacing beasts and with Jason Womack in excellent form, the quartet are a heavier prospect on stage than you might imagine from their studio output. Not totally successful, their stab at Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Home” isn’t quite on the money for example. Instead they are far more successful when sticking to their own material like “Yesterday Has Gone” and the title track of their debut record “Sell The Lie.” Like they have done previously, the band save their best for last and “Hang The Predator” is spat out with vitriol. Perhaps not quite classic rock orientated to fully translate here, you can be sure though, that Venrez will be back.
Now, it might be that “Highway To Hell” plays them onto the stage because everyone and his denim clad dog recognises a copper bottomed classic when they hear the thing, but it’s tempting to think too that it’s the eponymous star of the show’s little nod to his own chaotic past and how he’s (spectacularly) come out the other side. After all,  he’s had his well documented issues, but it’s only a couple of months ago that Michael Schenker and his Temple Of Rock were just up the road opening for Judas Priest, now headlining, this show sold out ages ago as the band always do when they come to town.
When the opening strains of “Doctor Doctor” start up (and speaking of copper bottomed classics….) there is a certain glee about the six stringer as he duets with Wayne Findlay on lead licks, the pair of them synchronised Dad dancing rather like Rick and Francis of Status Quo…he’s happy just to be onstage you feel.
With Temple Of Rock, though, Schenker isn’t here wallow in his past. He’s has got a fantastic band around him and, now with his brilliant “Spirit On A Mission” album to pick from, he’s got some songs to match. The stomping power metal of “Vigilante Man” and “Lord Of The Lost And Lonely” are top of the list.
Together long enough to have a formidable body of work as band in their own right, as “Where The Wild Winds Blow” neatly proves, Temple Of Rock could, if they wanted to, perform here with just their own stuff, but when they dip into, what we might refer to as, the other back catalogue –  as they do frequently in this lengthy set –  songs like “Lights Out” aren’t going to fail.
There’s been well publicised bad blood between Schenker and the current Scorpions line up, however, the presence of bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell means there’s three ex-Scorps here, and they dutifully lock into the groove of “Coast To Coast” while “Rock You Like A Hurricane” still sounds phenomenal.
Melding old and new takes skill. But this just about gets the balance right. “Saviour Machine” is modern and heavy, that it’s immediately followed by “Too Hot To Handle” encapsulates the ethos perfectly and given the amount of rock royalty that isn’t here anymore, and given that the star of this show knows he has been given a second chance, there’s a certain poignancy to “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”.
Michael Scehnker by Mark Lloyd_OT4A8651 (8)
This being a new year and a new tour, the set is given a spruce up too, and the ode to lost youth “Good Times” is played – according to superb singer Doogie White – for the first time ever, while current single “Rock City” isn’t far behind.
“Rock Bottom” – complete with stunning guitar solo – might ostensibly end the main set, proving as it does that UFO are just about the most underrated band on Planet Rock, but the band don’t actually leave the stage, reasoning as White puts it “we’d never get back up the stairs again….” they instead stay for a gloriously OTT “Attack Of The Mad Axeman”.
As a breakneck “Blackout” really does end things you are left to reflect on the enduring power of these songs and of this artist in particular. The fact that he leaves it to Rarebell to thank the assembled throng tells you everything this understated star. Good songs that connect with people and the talent to play them is all you need, and perhaps, in the last few years, Michael Schenker has realised that very fact.
Photos by Mark Lloyd