Concert Report by Steve MSG at Rock Cafe, Stourbridge, UK August 3, 2007 Added on 08/05/2007
Well it looks like the tour is over and that Michael will be in a German hospital tomorrow. The show did indeed start with smiles, broad ones too, but the joy at having cranked up the engine successfully gave way to the disappointment of realising that it wasn't running at all well. The riffing wasn't too bad but the solos were just awful. I think everybody connected with the tour expected this. As the intro tape played I watched Tyson standing with his dad's 'V' on his thigh and wondered what was going through his head and then saw another crew member light a cigarette behind the amps. It was how things are portrayed in films when beleaguered troops await the inevitable charge of a superior enemy.
For me the Schenker smiles at the start were the clue that this was a guy who wanted to play but couldn't get the brain and fingers to co-ordinate, almost like a recovering stroke victim concentrating hard to do something that would normally be so simple. Sadly many of the audience didn't see this, and started to shout abuse and throw stuff, most noticeably from "Lights Out" onward, as I think that this was the point when people could really tell how bad things were. Yet the target of their venom, awful or not, might as well have been a frail, elderly man,, because apart from his face Schenker's physical appearance and demeanour added 30 years to his real age.
I was ashamed at the lack of humanity some people showed.
Humanity did come calling in the end though. Right after "Only You Can Rock Me" Michael lifted his guitar off his lap and stood up (he'd played all but the first song sat on a corner of the small drum riser) There was a brief huddle followed by "thank you, goodnight" from the band. And that was it. The suffering was, we are led to believe, over, or at least the first step towards ending it had been taken. Probably this isn't a good time to comment on the band (nor on Rattlesnake Remedy who were fantastic IMO) musically, but they battled on manfully and were constantly supportive of, and encouraging to, their guitarist. That was what drew his smiles out even in the midst of this torment, knowing that these guys were still trying to pull him along even as the wheels were falling off. Chapeau fellas.
Last thought for now - no sad song ever written jerks a tear quite like seeing Michael Schenker's face when he's failing to play his solo in "Only You Can Rock Me". One of the saddest things I've ever seen.
Get well soon Michael, sleep tight Batttty. Bloody hell, common sense is prevailing.
Concert Report by Robert Knowles MSG at Rock Cafe, Stourbridge, UK August 3, 2007 Added on 08/04/2007
Here's my review/observations from the Stourbridge concert. Again I think that several points should be held together in tension so as to avoid misunderstanding the situation - as follows:
(1) A friend whom I met at the gig (Kevin) had spoken to Tyson Schenker and Tyson had relayed to him that he thought my observations after the Peterborough and London gigs were "spot on". I was able to confirm this by speaking to Tyson myself in Stourbridge.
(2) This does not apply to my review of the Frome gig, which I now feel made an unhelpful comparison between Michael and George Best. I now apologise to Michael for making this comparison, as it could be destructive and falls short of the truth that I have now learned since. Whilst I was indeed reminded superficially of George Best at Frome, this is not at all the truth of Michael's situation, and my former comments in my review of the Peterborough and London gigs that alcohol is not the only issue here are the truth of the matter - where Tyson confirmed this.
(3) I was able to learn from Wayne Findlay that MSG had encountered some truly awful organisational problems during both the US and the UK legs of the tour. At Hammersmith Apollo, London, for example, the band had arrived to find that there were no keyboards for Wayne. In Frome, Wayne had had to borrow keyboards from a friend of Tyson's. Other problems included no provision being made to pay for fuel for the tour bus. I got the strong impression from Wayne that this was only the tip of the iceberg, and that this situation had finally gotten to Michael. There may or may not be an additional personal situation that has upset Michael. But this is pure speculation.
(4) We may take it to be the case that whilst Michael has been drinking in the last week, this is only a secondary short-term issue to do with coping with his difficult situation at the moment. Whilst there may have been alcohol issues in the past, Michael's sober US performances suggest that it would be false to leap to the over-hasty conclusion that alcoholism was the issue - I made this mistake myself in my review of the Frome gig! Rather, it is better to say that Michael has faced some overwhelming situations and that he has temporarily tried to cope with these in the short term by using alcohol, but that this less than helpful coping strategy is already being checked and brought under control even as we speak.
(5) Reading between the lines, I would hazard a guess that Michael has experienced some anxiety/stress states to do with things going wrong on the tour, particularly since he is a perfectionist who would want things to go perfectly. I heard a rumour about medication, but this is pure speculation, and I think that the precise details of Michael's 'illness' have rightly been kept private. There is no need to speculate about anything serious affecting his 'motor functions' however, since these were absolutely fine in the US just a month ago. By way of an illustration, I myself have done some preaching in the past and know just how stressful it can be to perform in front of even a friendly crowd, let alone the kind of crowd present at Stourbridge. When I fell ill with dizziness ('visual vertigo'), the stress of preaching made the vertigo worse. This weakness then made the stress worse, which in turn made the dizziness worse. So, I got into an escalating stress-illness-stress-illness loop triggered by the thought of having to 'perform' when in a bad way. And guess what? I looked like I was 80! (I am 41). Yet, when not performing, the 'loop' didn't kick in, and so I was almost OK! When the 'loop' was kicking in, however, I experienced some very debilitating panic-states in which I melodramatically thought that all manner of more serious things were wrong with me when they were not. So, it could almost look like I was being a 'prima-donna' - ill one moment, fine the next. But what happens is that a fear-adrenalin-fear cycle kicks in with very stress symptoms, and the nervous system soon becomes exhausted and hyper-sensitive to almost any small mishap. It is a very non-serious malady that FEELS 'very serious', but is extremely simple to treat and cure. My friends, however, thought I was having 'mental' problems. In some senses this is true of anxiety states, of course, but it is more accurate to see them in terms of temporary nervous disorders. Sound familiar?
(6) So, when Michael came out on stage at Stourbridge, I thought 'I am sure that I have been in this kind of state myself'. I know for a fact that Michael must have been exercising considerable courage and enormous boldness and selflessness to even attempt to perform. He is a saint afterall! As for me, well I soon gave up my preaching in order to save my nervous system. But what if I had had tour managers pushing me to do performances I wasn't well enough to do? I would have been in the same place as Michael in no time at all. And this is where the booze comes in: it steadies nerves that refuse to be steadied. In fact, without the booze no performance would have been possible for Michael at all. Once one is locked into the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle and the sympathetic nerves are out of sync with the asympathetic nerves, then one experiences either unbearable stomach cramps, or unbearable tension headaches, or unbearable tightness of the chest. Even lying down for hours will not shift these symptoms. Only alcohol, and only vast quantities of alcohol, can seem to shift the symptoms - unless one takes other medication such as beta-blockers, or unless one knows precisely which strategies to adopt, which most people do not. Even the right medication, further, can be terribly wrong for some people. Thus, Seroxat works for some people, but made me climb the walls. I was in pure terror of the whole future. In fact, Seroxat was exposed as dangerous for some people on a TV documentary, and yet continues to be prescribed. The good news, however, is that such nervous illnesses brought on by stress can be entirely cured over a 6 month period. They SEEM "life-threatening", but can be easily dealt with via the right treatment. I am not saying this is Michael's problem, but watching him reminded me of my own problem from a few years ago, and so I mention it here just in case it is relevant.
(7) And yet, this analysis does explain Kevin's observation that Michael played "brilliantly" during the sound-check, when not 'performing', but was unable to play during the 'performance'. Michael's good friend Alan came in for some unfair criticism because Michael was 'great' for the sound-check, but then debilitated for the show. So, the tour manager asked Alan what on earth Alan had done with Michael in the intervening 2 hours to put him in this state. Alan, however, had taken Michael to his hotel for a lie down, and had insisted that the hotel staff allow no alcohol to be brought to Michael. So, it seemed that Alan had done all the right things. So, why was Michael in an even worse state than in Frome? The answer: PRECISELY BECAUSE he had been allowed no booze! Not that booze is the right medication for nervous exhaustion - not at all. Don't misunderstand me here. But booze would tend to reduce crippling stress symptoms enough for some kind of performance to happen, which at Frome it did, when Michael was clearly tanked up. So then - Michael IS a real hero afterall! Why? Because he risked his reputation in order to self-medicate so that, despite crippling nervous exhaustion symptoms, he could still perform for us. Yes, alcohol is not the right medication, but Michael drank it for us, no doubt at a loss as to what else to do. And when he was kept off the booze, the nervous symptoms kicked in to reduce his chance of performing even further - which is why at Stourbridge he was not ' ' as some thought, and yet for that very reason, even less able to play than at Frome.
(8) The tracks that Michael couldn't play for us, but courageously tried to play for us, were Ready to Rock, Dust to Dust, Love Trade, Shadow Lady, Lights Out, 2 Hot 2 Handle, Only You Can Rock Me. But, let's forget the music, there's a good man's health and reputation in the balance. Let us remember that this man has released more solid rock albums than any other performer. Let us remember that he has played better solos than any other player in history, and more of them. Let us remember that he is the most gifted rock guitarist ever born in the eyes of many. Let us remember that even a band like Rush could learn from Michael's compositional skills. Let us remember that here is a man prepared to do a gig with no band in front of five fans on rubbish equipment when exhausted and ill because he doesn't want them to be disappointed. Let us remember that even with a disgracefully behaved crowd like the one at Stourbridge (which Alan so rightly confronted), Michael Schenker is a man who still wants to please. I am so glad that I picked Michael Schenker to be my guitar hero!
(9) But let us also remember that all this talent and ability is only suspended for a little time if this simple little problem, which pretends to be a big problem, is treated in the right way. So, let's stop attacking a man who goes to almost Christ-like sacrificial lengths against overwhelming odds and for almost no money to attempt to please us, even knowing in advance that he is going to fail. Let us analyse the issues aright and not make destructive gossip out of wild ignorant speculation (I began to fall into this myself but I am glad I caught myself). Let us gather around and encourage this man, and stop misinterpreting him in negative ways. As somebody once said 2000 years ago, let us 'stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment'.
These are my thoughts Ritchie.
Concert Report by Rich MSG at Rock Cafe, Stourbridge, UK August 3, 2007 Added on 08/05/2007
I think like many people I went along knowing what to expect. My hopes were not high. I was not pissed off or disappointed. I believe that it was definitely the right decision for him to stop. Fair play to him for trying and going on in the first place, but it was obvious he just couldn't go on - on occasions his right hand couldn't even hit the strings. It was just a sad sight as Michael sat playing with Tyson watching over him. Commendations must go to the rest of the band who seemed on form, and to Tyson and Alan who handled everything well and professionally. Refunds were given - I opted to go to another gig there free of charge.