The resurrection of Michael Schenker has to be one of the greatest comeback stories in rock, the mercurial guitar legend having looked into the abyss and not just pulled himself back but shown the world that he’s on arguably the best form of his life. Celebrating his fiftieth year in the business, this tour was a cherry-picked run through his solo career, throwing in a few UFO gems and blazing with light and glory.
Michael Schenker Group
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 30 November 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
Strolling onto stage and kicking off with the thrilling rush of Into The Arena, it was foot to the floor from there. Schenker and his band play with the same passion as teenagers, albeit ones who are masters of their craft.
Second number, Cry To The Nations, sees the welcome return of Robin McAuley into the band. The Irish vocalist exudes a real rock star charisma and is still in possession of one of the best sets of pipes in the business.
Turning up the heat, Steve Mann’s keys intro to Doctor Doctor elicits a huge roar as the riff kicks in and everybody in the place moves, the chorus sung back to the band with full-blooded joy.
Whilst McAuley is undoubtedly a showman, Michael Schenker is focused on his playing, spending most of the time hunched over his famous Flying V and peeling the notes from it, his fingers like quicksilver on the frets. Without the need to be flash and playing a hundred notes when five will do, the guitarist is streets better than most of the shred merchants around, his skills shot through with real class and feel.
What shouldn’t be forgotten either is his undoubted skill as a writer. The tracks played here tonight are testimony to carefully constructed huge slabs of classic hard rock with a timeless feel. Standing next to UFO blockbusters like Lights Out and Shoot Shoot, epic numbers like Red Sky and the mighty groove of Attack Of The Mad Axeman sound just as vital and timeless.
Behind a Perspex screen at the back, drummer Bodo Schopf hits hard but with a real swing. He and ever-smiling bass player Barend Courbis bring a freight train drive to the numbers. The urgency of Emergency and Let It Roll have sledgehammer impact.
Mann is another vital component to the mix, his keys and guitar playing adding colour, and when he gets the chance to cut loose for the first solo during Natural Thing, it’s an incredibly pleasing sight.
Underappreciated, bonafide twenty-five-carat rockers Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and Desert Song are majestic. But it’s when the master kicks into his solo section during an incendiary Rock Bottom that the biggest sparks fly. Teasing a shower of notes from his guitar, Michael Schenker is mesmerising as he makes his instrument sing. All that can be done is to watch the spectacle with open mouth wonder.
Without leaving the stage for the encore, the band closes the night with the killer double blow of Too Hot To Handle and Only You Can Rock Me, the crowd singing and punching the air in salute to these towering numbers in traditional style.
An acknowledgement of all that had been played tonight and the musicians that made it happen, the cheers were enough to be heard in nearby Hammersmith. It was as if the spiritual home of the London rock ‘n’ roll scene was transposed to Shepherd’s Bush for this very special evening.
With arguably the best sound mix the venue had ever had, the show was untouchable. Young and old flooded into the bitter cold of the night, hearts warmed and eyes sparkling. All walked a few inches taller due to the undeniable power of some of the best songs written in hard rock and all played by a truly outstanding band.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what electricity was invented for.