Concert Report by Rob Knowles Michael Schenker & Friends at Sin City, Swansea, U.K. February 11, 2008 Added on 02/13/2008
Michael Schenker and Friends, Sin City Rock Club, Swansea, 11th February 2007
When I got to the venue of Michael Schenker's performance in Swansea, who should I meet at the door, but Michael himself, cheerfully signing an autograph for the only person in the queue who was in front of me. I always arrive super early so as to get to the front at Michael's gigs, and tonight was no exception. So, there I was - me and a friend - right at the front for the entire set, and for the two hours that preceded the set. So, I saw exactly what happened, and the Planet Rock review is quite misleading in some ways.
First of all, Michael and the person I assume to be his girlfriend were attending to the merchandise counter themselves. From 7:30 to 8:30, Michael was right there with us, sat behind the merchandise counter, and signing loads of autographs. He was clearly in fine shape - calm, happy, and completely relaxed and sober. He looked just as good as he did on the first night at Swindon - clean shaven (except for a trimmed mini-beard), slim, and strong - a million miles away from the "80" year-old we saw stumbling around last year. So, everything looked very well. I was very pleased to be able to pick up a video of his Michael Schenker Story gig from Chicago, 1996.
Secondly, it should be noted that there was no support band on the evening. So, whilst it seemed like a long wait for Michael to come on stage, the band actually started a full 30 minutes or so earlier than they did in Swindon. It just seemed like a long time as there was no support group to distract us while we waited.
Thirdly, things started to look not quite right about half an hour before Michael came on stage. The roadie who was checking Michael's guitar seemed to be having trouble with the connection where the jack-plug plugs into the guitar. The sound would be there one moment, and then cut out the next. Or, sometimes, the sound would partially cut out. Furthermore, this seemed to me to be a problem with BOTH of Michael's guitars. Moreover, the roadie didn't seem too worried about this, and didn't seem to do too much to sort the problem out either. He seemed to just tape the lead to the guitar and 'hope for the best' - though I might be misjudging him at this point. The problem with the guitars was so obvious to us on the front row that I commented about it to my friend well before the gig started - we both wondered how Michael would cope with the situation. It was the sound cutting out that probably affected the tuning.
Fourth, Michael actually coped with the situation extremely well once the gig started. Here and there, he would quickly nudge the guitar/lead socket if the sound started to cut out, and he pretty much kept the instrument running normally this way for eleven tracks. Despite the problems, he was dealing with them so skillfully that you could barely tell there were any problems at all. Further, he nailed the tracks superbly, at his normal 'top form' level, which was very impressive indeed. I needn't go over the track list, as somebody else has done it already. It was his standard set, but with no encore (no Doctor Doctor, and no Rock Bottom).
Fifth, things didn't really go badly wrong until Attack of the Mad Axeman, when the technical problem suddenly became much worse and completely ruined Michael's attempt to play his intro to the track. I feel that this embarrassed him, but he got the guitar working again and soldiered on through the first solo. However, the problems returned and by this time the track was seemingly unredeemable. At that point Michael pulled off his guitar and threw it down in sheer frustration - though he did this out of sight of most people, at the side of the stage, which was hidden behind a pillar. He also looked as though he was about to throttle the roadie, who had obviously not alerted Michael to the problem before the gig. As I said, it had seemed to us that the roadie was just not doing his job thoroughly - though I could be mistaken of course. Does Michael need a guitar-tech like he had on his 2004 tour?
Sixth, it was what happened next that surprised me. Michael came back on and played the extended outro solo from Attack of the Mad Axeman. He was red and very upset, but he tore through the solo as though all his rage were poured into it. The result was one of those inspired moments where Schenker hits 'above top form'. I think he was just trying to get the main set over with so that he could leave, and I really don't think he realised just how incredible those last few minutes were. He'd lost his glasses as well, so he looked just like he did on his early 80s tours, with his face contorted as he played the solo for all he was worth. Then, he gave a quick bow, and left the building - I think, fairly quickly after that. Strangely, I think he felt embarrassed that he had supposedly given a 'bad' performance because of the equipment problems. He seemed not to realise that he had just played something so good that the crowd were speechless momentarily, before exploding into an uproar of appreciation.
Seventh, so then, yes there was what seemed to be a tantrum. And yes, Schenker didn't come back to do the encore tracks. But, it clearly wasn't his fault, and he actually played better than brilliantly. Admittedly, he could have laughed it off, sorted the guitars out with some tape, and completed the set - repeating Attack of the Mad Axeman at the end. The crowd would thanked him for it. But, we all know that Michael isn't like that. He's either happy with everything, or he struggles to cope. That's just who he is - and I'm sure that's one reason why his true fans stay with him. He is just a flawed human being like the rest of us after all! The whole thing was just a storm in a tea-cup that shouldn't have happened - especially as there was a guitar-shop just around the corner. The guitar-tech/roadie could have alerted the band to the problem before the gig, and they could have had a new guitar for the evening if necessary. There was even somebody in the crowd with a Schenker Dean V that could have been used.
Finally, the band were superb again. Very tight performances all round. At one point Lief Sundin asked for the vocals to be turned up, as Michael's guitar was drowning them out! Anyway, Schenker's OK - it's his technical team that seems to need a prod. I felt that this emphasis didn't really come across in the Planet Rock review, which seemed to lurch back to the same old criticisms of Michael too hastily.