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Friday 29th January 2016
Rock City in Nottingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Rock City isn't even a quarter full when the Los Angeles alt-rock outfit, Venrez, hit the stage at 7pm. I have to remind myself it's a Friday night... the start of the weekend... party time... where is everyone?! Still, as they progress with their 40 minute set, more and more people do slowly amble through the doors and it's not long before bodies fill half the venue's capacity. What they're greeted with is an engaging blend of both discordant and harmonious sounds, fused into a naturally innovative whole... and a captivating one at that, where the power of their live performance becomes quite an immersive experience. Frontman Venrez visually resembles an Ian Hunter/John Cooper Clarke hybrid, and paces around the stage in his own time, which matches his quasi-drone-drenched voice that, while lacking any kind of dynamic range, actually fits the music a treat. It's his band mates who deliver the real bursts of energy, both through music and performance - particularly sticksman Ed Davis, who ramps up the intensity of songs as and when required by pummelling his kit with an innate passion. It's fair to say this guy is most definitely in the zone tonight. Guitarist Jason Womack both attacks and articulates his fretboard to convey songs' aggressive and ambient passages with equal zest, while bassist Cynthia Gillet impresses with her inventive bass-lines and commanding presence. The band, undoubtedly, have such a huge, full sound considering their minimal constitution... however, this is aided, in part, by a volume issue, where everything is cranked up far too high through the PA for the size of the venue. Passages of certain songs do lose a degree of clarity and, tonight, Venrez come across as way more crushingly heavy than they actually are. Still, I'm guessing they want to represent themselves as more about visceral energy in a live context than alt-rock lucidity. It's ironic, too, that a couple of mic'd up Marshall combos are dwarfed by Michael Schenker's full stacks, yet the band's sound engineer still sees fit to crank 'em up as much as he does through the PA. Perhaps he read Freud's 'Beyond The Pleasure Principle' some time ago, which unconsciously instilled a size complex in his psyche! Volume issues aside, Venrez impress me greatly this evening.
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Michael Schenker at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 29th January 2016
Photograph copyright 2016 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
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At 8:10pm, house lights are dimmed, and a cacophony of cheers erupt in a now full Rock City. It seems people are finally ready to party, by commencing their weekend with a 2016 live fix of Michael Schenker and his Temple of Rock assemblage. This includes, of course, the charismatic and ever-reliable Scottish singer Doogie White, who I last caught in live action back in 2005 when he worked as Yngwie Malmsteen's hired vocalist. On said occasion, Malmsteen occupied two thirds of the stage, in front of a ridiculous and unnecessarily large number of full Marshall stacks, while Doogie and the rest of the Swede's musical entourage were confined to the other third. Tonight, however, on Rock City's stage, the stacks are significantly less and any vague semblance of rock star ego is entirely absent. From the off, when Schenker and his comrades walk out to a rapturous reception, the vibe is one of equality and camaraderie... and one that's extended to the audience, as there's a genuine feel-good atmosphere of mutual respect between musician and fan. Tonight promised to be all about a good old fashioned, unpretentious rock show, and that's precisely what Schenker and his boys deliver.

Commencing with an old/new duality, UFO's 'Doctor Doctor' opens proceedings, before an airing of the up-tempo, high-energy, 'Live and Let Live' from last year's 'Spirit on a Mission' album. And that retro/modern contrast sets the tone for the night, as the set encompasses a diachronic celebration of the German guitarist's magnificently prolific career, with Scorpions, UFO, MSG and Temple of Rock tracks crammed into a near two hour performance. The newer material stands strong alongside each and every classic as this potent musical quintet transform the venue into their own temple of rock this evening. Well, rock and metal would be a more apposite description, as there's a healthy dose of heaviness conveyed through newer songs such as 'Saviour Machine' (for which Schenker dons a double-necked V) and 'Lord of the Lost and Lonely'. And, fortunately, everything sounds magnificent through the PA - a perfect mix, volume and sound for each instrument/voice.

Witnessing Temple of Rock in live action, they're a formidable musical force, and live up to the promise of their personnel. The onetime Scorpions rhythm section of drummer Herman Rarebell and bassist Francis Bucholz (White introduces the latter as "filthy rich" during the evening... a healthy flow of royalty payments, I presume), smile their way throughout the entire performance, while delivering a tight backbone for the music. American multi-instrumentalist Wayne Findlay shines on guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, while White justifies the respect for his prolificacy and varied musical journey with a masterful performance as both a fine rock/metal vocalist and consummate frontman. This is a man who knows precisely how to work a crowd, but does so with a rare sincerity; there's no going through the motions for White - he's feeling the occasion as much as the audience. And then there's the spirit on a mission, Schenker himself, a refined showman, who plays his guitar flawlessly, with undeniable virtuosic flair, but within the context of a man whose passion for both his instrument and music flows forth in naturally affective ways. What strikes me throughout the night is that this doesn't, for a single bar of music, come across as a Schenker-centric outfit, despite its name; rather, Temple of Rock carry themselves as a band in their own right, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they'll carry just that name, autonomous of the Schenker 'brand'.

Scheduled to play for an hour and forty minutes with a 9:50pm finish, they seem to make the most of the venue's Friday night 10pm curfew by extending their set for a few more minutes with an additional encore airing of 'Blackout'. Planned or not, I cannot say, but Schenker seems to segue from 'Communion' into said track and White looks like he's been taken by surprise, briefly shrugging his shoulders and reverting back to singing mode. A powerful climax for a staggeringly powerful set, this has been an evening of feel-good rock/metal bliss. The band are rewarded with cheers throughout the venue that are discernibly louder than when they walked out on stage an hour and fifty minutes ago. Schenker's been a spirit on a mission for well over four decades and looks set to continue "spreading the joy of music from a place of pure self-expression" for many more years to come.
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