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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Reviews: Rush, Michael Schenker Fest, Whitesnake (Reviews By Paul)

Rush: Lost In Great Woods And Summer Skies (Bootleg)

On June 23rd, 1997 Rush played the Great Woods Music Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts. This concert is a timely reminder, in the fortnight where Alex Lifeson confirmed that the band is in all but name over, of what a spectacular force the Canadian trio were in the live arena. Of course, this recording was mere months before drummer Neil Peart was hit by the first of a double whammy of personal tragedies as his daughter Selena died in a car accident, followed within 12 months by the cancer and death of wife Jacqueline. Having gone through that emotional hell, it’s astonishing that the band ever regrouped but they did and provided another 13 years of magical music.

The tour which is captured in this release was in support of 1996’s Test For Echo album, the second release which heralded the return to a more guitar focused sound and edge to the band. The set list is littered with a thumping seven songs from that album, which in my mind is rather underrated. The power of Driven, the craziness of Limbo and the delicacy of Resist all provide illustrations of the versatility and the musicianship of a band who for me are unmatched.

As well as Test For Echo, four tracks appear from the previous release, 1993’s Counterparts, including the emotional of Nobody’s Hero and the raging Animate. Neil Peart’s clever and thought provoking lyrics surge through their songs, a stream of consciousness which we would often do well to observe. Of course, no Rush concert would be complete without some of the classics and there is a fair sprinkling of them in this three-hour event. Blistering versions of Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta and encore YYZ from Moving Pictures nestle comfortably with the older Freewill, The Trees and an epic 2112 which has Lifeson providing some real virtuoso moments.

The obligatory and excellent Peart drum solo The Rhythm Method is familiar to Rush fans, but this is a fine example of the craft which Peart was the master of. And then we get to Geddy Lee, in mischievous form, cracking Austin Powers impressions throughout and reminding you what an astonishing bassist he really is. A cracking show is ended by the YYZ plus a snippet of Cyngus X-I. A superb recording of the best rock band of all time. 10/10

Michael Schenker Fest: Resurrection (Nuclear Blast)

We’ve reviewed a lot of Metal Mickey over the years here at Musipedia. For me, there is no more sublime guitarist around. Technically superb, creative and naturally flowing with the ease that only the absolute top-class legends demonstrate. However, much of his recent Temple Of Rock work has been just that little bit bland. His recent decision to return to yesteryear with the vocalists from MSG allowed him opportunity to grab the spotlight once more, with the Gary Barden years of the early 1980s now viewed very much through rose tinted glasses. Growing up with Attack Of The Mad Axeman, Into The Arena, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and the mighty Armed And Ready, there is certainly a soft spot in my armour for the German and his hard rock style.

With the combined vocal talent of Gary Barden, Graham Bonnett and Robin McAuley harnessed for a full album, what do we get? Well, opener Heart & Soul is a racy starter for ten, McAuley’s vocals soar alongside Schenker’s rampaging guitar and a guest solo from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. Warrior not only sees all three vocalists get together for a vocal group hug but has added Dougie White from Temple Of Rock. It’s all a bit chummy for me and not particularly great as a song. Then we get the first of several apparently God squad inspired tracks, with White opening the pipes superbly but Take Me To The Church? Holy shit. When did Schenker join Stryper and co? Lyrically it’s desperate stuff, but for a man who was on his last Flying V not that long ago then maybe it’s not so surprising; 12 steps and all that.

Night Moves follows, allowing Bonnett to open the pipes. At 70 years of age, the man can still sing even if the track, spookily reminiscent of his solo Night Games, is duller than a warehouse full of magnolia paint. Doogie White reappears for The Girl With The Stars In Her Eyes, and he demonstrates once again that next to Bonnett, vocally he’s superior to Barden and McAuley. This is a bit of hard rock gold, all pomp and polish with the old school rhythm section of Chris Glenn and Ted Mckenna giving it large and lying down the platform for Schenker to flex those fingers once more to magical effect.

The rocking gets even better on Everest, which needs no explanation about lyrical theme. McKenna’s pounding drums are impressive, the double bass kicking hard and driving the song forward, Bonnett excelling in the vocal department whilst Schenker lays down the most fluid and natural guitar work of the entire album. Unfortunately, it’s followed by a real dud in Messin’ Around, with Barden’s weak vocals struggling from start to finish. Time Knows When It's Time allows McAuley another go, and he gives it a fair shot, even if the song is a throwaway. White’s stellar singing gets to shine once more on Anchors Away, a neat sing-a-long track with Steve Mann’s sumptuous keyboards adding to the galloping momentum; another superb Schenker solo lights up the song. This is closely followed by the always welcome instrumental tune. This time it’s Salvation, which maintains the Jebus theme but also has a right jazzy feel with more soulful guitar work from the main man. 

And that’s where this release should have ended. Unfortunately, we get two more Barden led songs; firstly, the rather limp Living A Life Worth Living, Barden straining to hit any notes cleanly. Bringing this inconsistent release to an end, The Last Supper, definitely the worst track on the album. All four vocalists have a go here, and it’s fucking dreadful. Absolute dogshit with only Schenker’s bluesy solo rescuing it in any shape or form. And this from the man whose solos for UFO, Scorpions and MSG remain legendary. It’s probably unsurprising, given the fact that no-one remembers anything MSG did after Assault Attack that some of this album is utter tosh. When it shines, it’s great. But when it drops, it hits the deck hard. Still, looking forward to seeing them all crooning away at HRH 11 in November. Just stick to the old stuff. 7/10

Whitesnake: The Purple Tour (Rhino Entertainment)

Two years ago, you may recall me getting a little agitated about the release of Whitesnake’s The Purple Album, a soulless rehash of David Coverdale’s time in Deep Purple, sans Glenn Hughes and the rest of the band. Well, following their tour of that album, here’s the live version, with a mix of classic Whitesnake tracks alongside those Purple masterpieces. Accompanied by guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devlin, Drummer Tommy Aldridge and keyboardist Michele Luppi, Coverdale squeaks and howls his way through 74 minutes of overproduced, flashy as hell all American bombast which the Birmingham crowd lap up. The tracks come fast and furious, with the pace relentless, and the guitar work undeniably impressive. However, the soul and heart of the blues soaked Whitesnake from 1978 is completely absent.

Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City is dreadful, devoid of the passion which made it such an emotion jerker back in the day. Soldier Of Fortune is rescued by some neat acoustic guitar work on the intro but Coverdale’s over the hill croak (no doubt dubbed to hell on the production) merely brings tears to the eyes. Fool For Your Loving at least moves the feet but throughout this album there is nothing to get the blood pumping. The tinny backing vocals, Coverdale’s vocal limitations combined with some very tired phrases and a huge overproduction leave it rather flat. If you want to see some of these songs performed with heart and soul, then get your arse along to the Muni in Pontypridd or the Fleece in Bristol on 28th and 29th April to see the excellent Bernie Marsden and Hand Of Dimes, or spunk up the cash to catch Glenn Hughes do it properly on the top of the Mountain at Steelhouse in July. Save your cash. 4/10

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