When Michael Schenker renamed the latest incarnation of his solo band the Michael Schenker Fest, he wasn't kidding about the Fest part. But he could've also called it the Michael Schenker Feast.
Describing himself as a "trend-maker" when he spoke prior to the gig with Alamo True Metal (watch here), Schenker took to the stage last Saturday night at Vibes Event Center accompanied by seven other musicians. Celebrating his 40-year career that has spanned Scorpions, UFO and various factions of the Michael Schenker Group, the man behind the Flying-V guitar dazzled and delighted a packed house with a 30-song, 2-hour and 40-minute performance.
Playing chronologically with each of his solo vocalists over the years, Schenker opened with his traditional instrumental "Into the Arena" before welcoming the first of those singers, Gary Barden. From there, the assembly line of voices continued to churn out with Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley and Doogie White. Also backed by bassist Chris Glen, keyboardist/guitarist Steve Mann and drummer Ted McKenna, the Michael Schenker Fest unloaded a slew of classics but also a good share of debut album Resurrection under the Fest moniker, which dropped March 2 via Nuclear Blast Records.
Barden, who was Schenker's original vocalist when the guitarist left Scorpions and UFO in 1980, and returned to MSG in 1983, danced and pranced his way through "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" and the catchy "Cry for the Nations," plus "Attack of the Mad Axeman."
Bonnet, McAuley and a very under-the-weather White graciously went "Into the Pit" with ATM before the concert on the third-to-last show of a month-plus tour. Bonnet, fired by Schenker after recording 1982 MSG album Assault Attack when he failed to make it through the first song of that tour's initial gig, reunited with Schenker in time for the Fest's DVD "Live Tokyo International Forum Hall" in 2017. A very candid Bonnet spoke about his past and present with Schenker during the interview, then went out and mesmerized vocally on three tracks from that album, particularly "Desert Song," which followed Schenker's lone Scorpions contribution of the evening, "Coast to Coast" (ATM footage of both here). Bonnet, also known for his time in Rainbow, Alcatrazz and Impellitteri, joined his vocal cohorts on new single "Warrior" (watch below).
McAuley had the best and most consistent pipes of the night, as well as the most diverse contributions. As the frontman of the late '80s and early '90s McAuley Schenker Group, his time with Schenker was known as the guitarist's most commercially MTV-driven portion of the mad axeman's career. But that doesn't mean they didn't have songs that rocked, particularly on the somewhat surprising inclusion of "Bad Boys" that kicked off McAuley's portion of the night. Following with "Save Yourself" and "Anytime," McAuley then let loose on the new album's opening track "Heart and Soul," the studio version of which includes a guest appearance from Metallica's Kirk Hammett, which Schenker also discussed pre-show. That segued into 1987 hit "Love is Not a Game."
From there, it was White's turn. Suffering immensely from a head cold that made him sound as if a pair of frogs were in his throat, White nevertheless gave it his all on new single "Take Me to the Church," which featured Mann's skills on the keys before Glen and McKenna began the rumbling on bass and drums, respectively. White, who also spoke of his time with Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen with ATM, offered up Schenker's dedication to Ronnie James Dio with "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" from their Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock band.
After the entire cast united for "Warrior," McAuley led the way on the part that always takes the audience back -- Schenker's slate of UFO songs. As usual, the highlight was Schenker's extended guitar solo on "Rock Bottom" (watch below), though McAuley's favorite "Shoot Shoot" wasn't far behind. The printed setlist actually had 32 songs on it, but the Fest ended with "Lights Out" and omitted the pre-planned "Only You Can Rock Me" and "Too Hot to Handle."
Schenker told ATM that San Antonio would be "one of the cities we would consider" shooting for his next DVD, given that his three most recent concert films were filmed overseas. In a classic rock city Schenker has revisited virtually every other year and throughout most of his career, that's about the only thing left for Schenker to accomplish as far as the Alamo City is concerned.
The only question remaining would be, who will be in Schenker's band by then?