For nearly 40 years guitarist Michael Schenker dedicated himself to melodic hard rock that engages listeners’ hearts as much as their ears. He rose to prominence in the Seventies with The Scorpions and UFO, blazing a trail for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal by conjuring heavy chops and fluid leads from his trademark Flying-V guitars. Not bad for a guy barely out of his teens.
Then Schenker struck out on his own in the Eighties with Michael Schenker Group and the ancillary McAuley-Schenker Group (with Irish singer Robin McAuley), his blistering midrange inspiring countless imitators in an era of stadium-ready rock whose promoters often emphasized visual aesthetics over musical vision and technical proficiency.
Lineup changes, record label shuffles, and substance abuse hampered Schenker in the Nineties—which wasn’t a prosperous time for shredders anyway, what with grunge’s less-is-more approach having gained favor. He rebounded from a failed marriage, overcame business scruples, and sidestepped destitution to celebrate MSG’s 25th Anniversary in 2005. By decade’s end Schenker was a changed man, clean and sober for the first time in years. Counting his blessings, the reinvigorated guitarist decided to approach the third phase of his professional life not as a comeback—or even a job—but rather as a celebration.
2011’s acclaimed Temple of Rock saw Schenker reclaim his guitar hero crown by writing and playing music as if his life still depended on it. Featuring three guest singers, a spoken introduction by William Shatner, and incendiary jams with Mountain’s Leslie West and UFO bassist Pete Way, the disc was a gift to fans from an icon who no longer had to prove himself—but who plugged in and wielded his instrument with the determination and passion of someone half his age.
Now available from Inakustic / MVD Visual, Michael Schenker—Temple of Rock: Live in Europe captures the axe-man in top form during a May 2012 at the O13 in Tilburg (Netherlands). Joined by vocalist Doogie White (Rainbow, Rising Force) and rhythm guitarist / keyboardist Wayne Findlay, Schenker storms through hits and backtracks from throughout his prolific career as a master string-picker.
“They’ve erected a barrier in front here because we’ve got three live Scorpions onstage,” announces White, alluding to the presence of Schenker’s old colleagues Herman “Ze German” Rarebell (drums) and Francis Buchholz (bass).
The five-piece bulldozes into “Armed and Ready,” pausing only for Schenker to engage in a little call-and-response with the audience on his Signature Dean black-and-white Flying-V. “Lovedrive” and “Another Piece of Meat” are the first of several Scorps tunes on order. White defers to special guest Michael Voss for vocals on Temple track “Hanging On” but returns for MSG oldies “Cry for the Nations” and “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.”
Clad in black vest jacket, Osiris sneakers, and a NY Yankees ball cap swiveled in the “lock” position, Schenker appears relaxed but very much in the moment, his body shifting rhythmically from right to left foot along with Rarebell’s prodigious beats. Whether laying down crunchy staccato riffs or sweep-picking lead notes, Schenker makes it all look deceptively simple, even if the generous close-ups on his fret board reveal otherwise.
Similarly attired in black (save Rarebell, who sports a red tee), Schenker’s cohorts comprise a precision hard rock ensemble whose years of combined experience are on full display, courtesy the numerous cameras strategically placed throughout the venue (including Findlay’s keys, which sport a mini-camera). The barrel-chested White hits and holds high notes that would crack a lesser singer. Buchholz thrums his four-string in tandem with Rarebell’s kick drum and Paiste cymbal splashes.
Findlay is a dream utility player, alternately churning out chords on a “Dime” Darrell Abbott custom guitar and tickling melodies from his Korg synthesizer and Nord Electro 2 keyboard. Occasionally he doubles or harmonizes with Schenker’s guitar leads, flicking the Korg’s pitch wheel to mimic Michael’s wailing bends. On “Coast to Coast” the two guitarists go head-to-head, dueling front-and-center on the anthemic Lovedrive instrumental. Findlay also rounds the 5.1 surround-sound mix with his background vocals; the refrains for UFO classics “Lights Out” and “On and On” would seem wanting but for his input.
“Shoot Shoot” and “Let It Roll” (both from UFO’s Force It) are late highlights. Rarebell leads a crowd chant midway through “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Schenker launches into an extended guitar solo on set-capper “Rock Bottom,” but the band returns with additional Scorps material for the energetic encore (“Holiday,” “Blackout”). Michael reaches back to his early days once again on “Doctor, Doctor,” bringing the 100 minute Tilburg set to a fiery finish.
The lighting bathes the musicians in soft hues of green, red, and blue. White receives the benefit of a follow-spot that illuminates his face well for close-ups. It’s hard to tell whether Schenker was as well let; a few of his tight shots are considerably darker. Still, the DVD culls from many angles, affording those watching in their living rooms glimpses of the band as seen from the back of the hall, side of the stage—even from behind Rarebell’s kit. Findlay’s keyboard cam provides a waist-level view of his hands (and rings), whether they’re tickling the ivories or attacking his Dean.
Bonus features include outtakes from Schenker’s appearance at the 2011 High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London. The band plays the same tunes (“Hurricane,” “Hanging On”) here as in Tilburg, but the daytime footage from the larger outdoor gig contrasts nicely with the darker main act indoors. Michael’s brother Rudolf even joins his fellow Scorpions on the Lovedrive and Love at First Sting hits.
We’re also taken backstage prior to the Netherlands performance and listen in as White, Findlay, and Schenker talk over set cues and transitions. White jokes about their sober, decidedly un-rock and roll dressing room, where vegetable juice and Mars bars clutter a table they might have strewn with beer bottles and God-knows-what-else long ago. Findlay nearly forgets his guitar at curtain call and can’t resist marking the Spinal Tap moment with a “Hello, Cleveland!” while negotiating the hallways. Schenker excitedly explains to a roadie how to prep a point-and-shoot camera so he can take a picture of the Tilburg fans later. The backstage clip dovetails precisely with the start of the actual show, seconds before the band takes the stage.
Michael Schenker—Temple of Rock: Live in Europe is a sharp-looking (and great sounding) testament to the genius of a heavy metal titan whose fretboard prowess set the standard for the denim-and-leather armies of the Eighties and Nineties. It’s a must-have for the multimedia library of any self-respecting head-banger who loves his music Marshall stack loud, even at home.