Supergroups seldom last, the constant tussle of giant egos tearing the band apart before they really get started. Fortunately, The Winery Dogs have somehow managed to find that sweet spot of balance, each member of the trio seemingly with utter respect for their bandmates and working together to provide music that is greater than the sum of their parts.
The Winery Dogs
Epic Studios, Norwich – 8 October 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
Given that the outfit consists of Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy, the talent onstage could hardly be bigger, all three at the top of their game and seemingly fired up to be together.
On the road to support their III album, the band have hit a solid groove during the massive tour, and Norwich’s Epic Studios was wall to wall with those worshipping at this particular altar of rock.
Already at the top of the respective trees, The Winery Dogs dazzle from the moment they hit the stage, and it’s often a case of avoiding whiplash as all three virtuosos demand full attention.
Fortunately, this isn’t a sheer exercise in flash. The concentration of being the fastest or most florid onstage is eschewed for a structure that lets everyone breathe. Indeed, there’s a comfort shown here and a quiet appreciation of each other’s talents that gives space for the songs themselves to stand out.
On one side, Kotzen displays such a fine set of pipes, his voice blending warmth and grit that echoes a rougher-edged Paul Rodgers, his guitar playing nothing short of lyrical and propulsive.
Standing on the other side of the stage, Billy Sheehan exudes a bubbling cool, his quicksilver fingers dancing all over his bass as he brings sounds that almost defy rational explanation to mere mortals.
As the third part of this mighty triumvirate, Portnoy uses his kit to bring tremendous light and shade without surrounding himself with endless rack upon rack of cymbals, bells and toms. His less is more approach laser focussing his playing.
It’s little wonder then that most of the musicians in East Anglia are here tonight to witness this masterclass, their intense studying of the band setting them apart somewhat from those just there to soak up the tunes and good times.
In stark contrast to Scarlet Rebels, Kotzen does little inter-song banter with the crowd, preferring to let the music do the talking and squeezing in as many songs as time allows. The 100mph blast of Gaslight opens the set in a rush, the blizzard of notes breathtaking before the funky blues explosion of Xanadu launches things in a different direction.
The Dogs have certainly got their own sound and feel. From the chest-beating Glenn Hughes meets AC/DC stomp of Captain Love, high octane Hot Streak, sky-scraping epic rush of Time Machine and onto the delicate and lush Damaged, it’s most definitely them.
All old hands at these sorts of things, and with each having a who’s who in the rock world in their CVs, they somehow make this all sound fresh, the permanently smiling Portnoy in particular seemingly loving every minute.
The key to this may be that as The Winery Dogs, they’re masters of their own destinies, all three equal partners in the project where for many years they’ve all shared time as sidemen in other projects. Whatever the reason, the chemistry here is tangible.
Echoing both power trios like Cream, Vanilla Fudge and Rush, The Red Wine being particularly redolent of Geddy Lee and Co’s glorious work, there’s a modernity here that brings the angularity of Alice In Chains and Soundgarden into the pot, too. It’s this that makes all the difference here, the trio not slavishly tied to past glories like other supergroups or trying to fit square pegs in round holes as they attempt to do something utterly alien. It’s a good balance and one they pull off with aplomb.
As the main set closes with lilting rocker I’m No Angel and a helter-skelter Oblivion, it’s just down to the piano into rock ballad Regret and the Led Zeppelin chest thumping Elevate as they save the best to last.
Extraordinary vocals, blistering guitarwork, liquid bass and titanic and nuanced drumming, The Winery Dogs have it all. Norwich will never be the same again, and you got the feeling that many of the local musicians there left thinking they needed to go home and practice more after being so inspired.
Kotzen, Sheehan and Portnoy have enough power together to shift worlds on their axis.