- with special guests MSG -
Hammersmith Apollo, 30th July, 2007
Along with many of you reading this, I have happy memories of discovering The Scorpions back in the 1980s, delighting in their unassuming brand of melodic hard rock and sometimes torturous lyrics. I only ever saw them once, at Donington, so I arrive inside the Apollo in a state of anticipation. Strangely, the venue are still letting in the massive queue of people as support MSG take the stage, showing a complete lack of foresight as to how this rock concert thing works. On the plus side, those still waiting to get in probably had a better time than those of us staring open mouthed at the bag of shit that is currently sullying the MSG name.
Of course, the main man of MSG is the lad himself, Michael Schenker. Often portrayed as a brilliant guitarist but a flawed personality, he is known for being somewhat unpredictable. Tonight, the first time I have seen him in the flesh, it's all I can do not to laugh. Where I expected a rock God, I get a rough looking bloke in sunglasses, baseball cap and hoodie, who looks more like he should be outside the venue asking for spare change with a can of McEwan's clasped in one hand, not on the stage. It doesn't help that the other two guitarists seem to be going through their own particular motions, plodding about with all the enthusiasm of a couple of very sleepy Koala bears. Schenker himself hardly moves, except to sit down a couple of times during songs for no discernible reason. His playing is mediocre at best, and although the singer does his best, songs like “Lights Out”, “Too Hot To Handle” and “Rough & Ready” still suffer from the palpable lethargy leaking from the stage. I don't know what Schenker is on these days, but if he doesn't snap out of it he may as well give up, because there's no way fans are going to keep paying to see him like this. A total waste of both a prestige support slot and a natural talent.
And so to The Scorpions. They certainly bring in a varied audience, and as I wait at the front with my camera I hear enough accents for a United Nations conference. Finally, the lights dim as James Kottak pounds out the opening beats of “Hour 1”, and the audience duly goes mental. Like hyperactive squirrels, Germany's best export since the Mercedes S Class conquer the large Hammersmith stage in an instant, with Matthias Jabs commandeering one side as Rudolph Schenker rescues the family name with true style on the other. In the centre, Klaus Meine is resplendent in a red shirt/tie/waistcoat/peaked hat ensemble that only he could pull off, warbling in that unique voice that still holds up after all these years. As they move into “Bad Boys Running Wild”, Schenker keeps moving and posing like a veteran, as Jabs happily leans over the crowd and gives them some of his best rock faces. At the back, James Kottak keeps the rhythm on track in fine fashion as “Love em or Leave em” keeps things rocking. The set bounces through the various stages of the bands history, with “The Zoo” giving Jabs an excellent long solo, and “Coast To Coast” giving Meine a brief vocal rest, although he does join in with a guitar.
After eight songs things take a turn, as Uli John Roth is invited onto the stage. This is a move that is both odd and completely understandable at the same time. Odd because it really stops the flow of the gig, and understandable because Roth is an important bit of Scorpions history. I'll admit that I'm not au fait with the older stuff, but the first four old songs (Pictured Live, Speedys Coming, Dark Lady, We'll Burn The Sky) are pretty well chosen. Uli proves himself to be a mesmerizing guitarist as Schenker politely steps out of the spotlight, with the only problem being his amazingly shiny guitar that causes temporary blindness in several people. Mind you, he does look like he'd be more at home in Uriah Heep, such is the 'venerable old hippy' image he has! They finish the mini set with “Fly To the Rainbow”, but this is so drawn out and hippyish I am quite glad when it ends and he goes off to great applause.
Perhaps the band senses the crowd need to be picked up again with some balls out rock, as they give us “I'm Leaving You”, “Tease Me Please Me” and “321” from the new album to get pulses racing again. Throughout the show so far, the most anonymous band member has been bassist Pawel Maciwoda, who has seemed content to hide in the shadows, sometimes even off the stage itself, as the three old soldiers give the crowd what they want. Now, however, he has his chance to shine, as the dreaded bass solo section of the show comes around. As he and Kottak arse around for a few minutes, with bass versions of bits of “Kashmir” and “Enter Sandman”, the audience gives a collective yawn. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any better. As night follows day and an aura of sluttiness follows Paris Hilton, the drum solo follows the bass solo. I have all respect for Kottak (who also provides superbly subtle backing vocals throughout the concert), but this has to be one of the most boring drum solos I have ever seen, and I've seen a few. By the end sections of the crowd are shouting “Fuck Off” during the pauses for cheers, it's that bad. It's drum solos like this that are responsible for guns not being allowed in Britain, because someone definitely would have shot him otherwise.
So, with the shows flow being disrupted twice now, the full band returns to pick up the pace (and Kottaks bullet ridden corpse) with “Blackout” and “Big City Nights”, the latter getting an enthusiastic singalong. Finally, “Dynamiiiiiiiiiite” closes the set, as the crowd holler and cheer for the encore that we all know will come whatever we do. Sure enough the come back out to rapturous applause and we get ready to rock, as surely they'll play “... Hurricane”, “Rhythm Of Love” or even “No One like You”. Oddly, they start with their big ballad “Still Loving You”, which is nice but not exactly encore material. Once more the prime ourselves for rock, but are instead treated to cold war snorer “Wind Of Change”. Oh. Right. Some people leave. Next, Uli comes out again to raise the tempo a little with “In Trance”, but little by little the audience trickles outside to get buses or have a cigarette. Finally, the band end with “Rock You like A Hurricane” which is well worth the wait. At that point I leave myself, having seen one of the weirdest concerts of my life. MSG sucked big time, whilst The Scorpions played some brilliant songs but killed the mood more times than a flatulent labrador. Still, they really were excellent live, with a great sound and sensational lighting, and I hope they carry on for many more years.
Review & Photos by Alan Holloway