Temporarily switching focus from his successful and ever-growing Temple of Rock venture, August 24th last year saw Michael Schenker take to the stage for one of a small number of shows in the Far East, to nostalgically revisit the MSG period of his long and illustrious career. Collectively billed as the Michael Schenker Fest, it seems this is more MSF than MSG, but it's the most authentic of nostalgic trips, as the shows featured singers Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet from the Michael Schenker Group era of MSG, as well as Robin McAuley from the subsequent McAuley Schenker Group incarnation. And, vocalists aside, other MSG alumni also participated in this most unexpected of reunions - namely, sticksman Ted McKenna, guitarist/keyboardist Steve Mann and bassist Chris Glen. Sounds like it was party time, right? You bet. Schenker's quoted in press blurb as stating: "Right from the start of rehearsals, the chemistry was great. No problems, just pure fun." And fun is precisely what can be seen and heard in this three disc set, with the smorgasbord of MSG cuts that are performed with an unfaltering, energetic panache, alongside a sprinkling of hits from Schenker's prior bands - Scorpions' 'Coast to Coast'; and UFO's 'Shoot Shoot', 'Rock Bottom' and 'Doctor Doctor'.
This is being released across several different formats, and it's the 2CD+DVD combo that's been made available for review here. Two CDs and a DVD, each within its own cardboard sleeve, are housed within a tidy looking glossy box, together with a small booklet. It's certainly a neat looking package, if a little unadventurous. The contents themselves, though, are the core appeal, and these are pretty spectacular. The DVD features the entire Tokyo show, together with 12+ minutes of raw and candid soundcheck footage, and a slide show clocking in at just over 7 minutes of photos, that cover just about every aspect of the day; from the musicians arriving at the venue, backstage stuff, signings, soundcheck, and the show itself. The two CDs contain the audio from the show, spread across both discs.
The main attraction here is the DVD, and the concert film itself. This opens with various panning shots of the audience to the backing of the 'Searching from Freedom' intro, which allows for a grasp on the size of this impressive looking venue. While not full-on arena capacity, it's a big boy, and all-seated. And packed. The intro concludes, house lights dim, and the focus switches to a stage that slowly comes to life, before Schenker himself takes to the mic, utters a few words, and the band launch into a storming rendition of the perennially robust instrumental rocker 'Into the Arena'. Barden is then the first MSG singer of yore introduced on stage, to lend his vocals to 'Attack of the Mad Axeman', 'Victim of Illusion', 'Cry for the Nations', 'Let Sleeping Dogs Lie' and 'Armed and Ready'. His voice is in great shape, and the chemistry between him and Schenker & co. is easily discernible. These men evidently loved this trip of reminiscence and nostalgic indulgence. And the audience were along for the ride, too. The first big crowd sing-along, during 'Cry for the Nations', has been captured perfectly with strategically placed cameras, that succeed in showing both band and audience in the same unifying shot; neatly conveying a moment of solidarity between fan and musician.
Following MSG chronology, Bonnet takes to the stage next, culminating his tracks with Barden and McAuley both appearing to accompany him for 'Dancer', and then McAuley gets his turn for a string of McAuley Schenker Group numbers. All three men are in fine voice, and perform together for one final time during the show's encore of 'Doctor Doctor'. The chemistry between the live assemblage of MSG alumni is axiomatic throughout the show and an intoxicating display of convivial comradeship. And, as with all live Schenker experiences... man, his guitar tone... pure aural succulence and entrancing melodic sublimity are epitomised through his fretboard mastery. Watching Schenker play is always a reminder of why just so many esteemed rock/metal luminaries cite the man's playing as a huge influence on their own musical development. And I'll even forgive him for the obscene number of Marshall stacks that form the band's backline. They will, perhaps, look a little Spinal Tap to some but, hey, fuck it, they look impressive to me. Then again, I have been a Marshall consumer and lover for many years. So, bring on the stacks, is what I say!
On the technical side, clarity and level of detail in the image is rather impressive (depending on the stage lights), particularly in close-up and mid-range shots, for just an MPEG-encoded DVD (albeit upscaled on my player). I bet this looks sparkling on Blu-ray in full HD glory. And, from the three different sound options that are selectable from an Audio Setup menu - PCM Stereo; DTS 5.1; Dolby Digital 5.1 - my preference has to be the LPCM track, as this sounds the most dynamic and resonant one to my ears, despite its 2-channel minimalism. The music on the two CDs sounds fantastic, too, so these are a nice audio-only alternative to the box set's main event.
It has to be said that this is pure, unmitigated rock/metal entertainment of the highest calibre. The legendary rock/metal stalwart and seminal fretboard genius that is Michael Schenker seems to be unfaltering as he continues his musical journey well into the twenty first century. Ahead of new Temple of Rock material, this set serves up a very nice platter of nostalgic fodder. Some further bonus features on the DVD would've been nice, such as interviews with the musicians, or maybe even some rehearsal footage (if rehearsals were ever filmed?), so I'm deducting half a mark for this. Otherwise, I highly recommend this to not only Schenker enthusiasts, but those of you who want to delve into rock/metal's past and witness just where some of your favourite acts might've derived inspiration from.
MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST - LIVE TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FORUM HALL A
Review by Mark Holmes
24th March 2017
CD 1: 1) Intro: Searching for Freedom; 2) Into the Arena; 3) Attack of the Mad Axeman; 4) Victim of Illusion; 5) Cry for the Nations; 6) Let Sleeping Dogs Lie; 7) Armed and Ready; 8) Coast to Coast; 9) Assault Attack; 10) Desert Song; 11) Dancer
CD 2: 1) Captain Nemo; 2) This Is My Heart; 3) Save Yourself; 4) Love is Not a Game; 5) Shoot Shoot; 6) Rock Bottom; 7) Doctor Doctor
DVD: Same tracklist as both CDs
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"The chemistry between the live assemblage of MSG alumni is axiomatic throughout the show and an intoxicating display of convivial comradeship."