As The Winery Dogs made their San Antonio concert debut May 22 at Backstage Live, one thought quickly became evident -- if there was a band whose jam sessions between, and during, songs would be worth the price of admission alone, this was the group.
Sure, taking in a song-less night might not be ideal for a true live music experience. Just saying, if that was the case . . .
Fortunately, one doesn't have to worry about such a possibility given that The Winery Dogs hit the stage equipped not only with their stellar self-titled debut released in 2013 (see SAMME review in blue at bottom), but also years of musical experience possessed by singer/guitarist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big, solo), bassist Billy Sheehan (Talas, David Lee Roth's solo band, Mr. Big) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Adrenaline Mob, Transatlantic).
Because of that experience and musical background, anything less than a solid performance by this trio would be a disappointment. That being said, expectations are one thing. Actually seeing the musicianship unfold, layered atop those expectations, is an entirely different matter and indicative of how special this band is. From the moment The Winery Dogs hit the stage, it's on. Opening with the album's first track "Elevate," it's clear that Kotzen, Sheehan and Portnoy are on a 75-minute path to sheer musical artistry.
If you've seen your share of gigs at Backstage Live, you know sound issues have plagued shows there in the past. Not on this night. With Sheehan frequently keeping time directly with Portnoy as a tandem -- something Sheehan and I discussed a couple of weeks before The Winery Dogs hit town (see interview in blue at bottom) -- and Kotzen taking center stage with his vocals and lead guitar duties, the band tore into its entire 13-song CD. That's something that can't even be heard on the group's live CD Unleashed In Japan 2013.
But the band didn't stop with TWD material. It also had solos and encores from some of the members' previous work.
If you would have told the SAMME before the show that two of the three members of The Winery Dogs would perform a solo and that the odd man out would be Portnoy, that definitely would've come off as a surprise. Nevertheless, Sheehan's bass solo was a sight -- and sounds -- to behold. The man is a flat-out machine on the instrument. Just when it appeared his time under the spotty spotlights was ending after about five minutes, he turned toward his bandmates, who evidently weren't finished taking a breather because Kotzen appeared to nod toward Sheehan to "keep going."
Oh, well. More bass for us!
Kotzen had his time as well, performing "Doin' What The Devil Says To Do" from his 2006 solo album Into The Black. He also played keys on first encore "Regret."
But the largest unexpected moment -- at least perhaps to those of us who still prefer being surprised at a band's setlist by not looking it up on the Internet beforehand -- was saved for last. For the second of two encores, The Winery Dogs tore into the classic up-tempo jam "Shyboy," penned by Sheehan during his days in the early '80s band Talas and released on Roth's 1986 mega-hit solo album Eat 'Em And Smile when Sheehan was the bassist with guitarist Steve Vai and drummer Gregg Bissonette.
While the turnout of barely 200 was another poor weeknight showing at Backstage Live that could partly be blamed on Journey and the Steve Miller Band playing at the AT&T Center, you couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for those who missed out or chose not to attend. Not only did they miss a lesson in musicianship and solid rock songs -- along with support acts Charm City Devils of Baltimore and San Antonio's Bad Obsession (see slideshow, top) -- they missed three members of the rock and metal genre who have expounded years of influence on the music scene redefine the tired term "supergroup" before their very eyes.
Maybe it was a good thing The Winery Dogs seemingly couldn't tell how many were in attendance. For instance, Portnoy signed off by waving and saying, "We can't see you, but we can sure hear you." Moments later backstage, as the SAMME thanked Sheehan for our phone interview, the bassist stated, "We couldn't see the people all night."
If you missed out on The Winery Dogs, here's a small consolation: They're scheduled to perform Mon. June 23 on "The Arsenio Hall Show" (11 p.m., Fox Ch. 29 KABB). Now do yourself a favor and pick up the album. Put it on. Close your eyes. And take in what you could have witnessed live.
SETLIST: Elevate, Criminal, We Are One, One More Time, Time Machine, Damaged, Six Feet Deeper, The Other Side, bass solo (Billy Sheehan), You Saved Me, Not Hopeless, Doin' What The Devil Says To Do (Richie Kotzen solo), I'm No Angel, The Dying, Desire. ENCORES: Regret, Shyboy
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