The Winery Dogs packed the Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee, Wis., on Oct. 17. Featuring Billy Sheehan on bass, Mike Portnoy on drums and Richie Kotzen on guitar and lead vocals, the trio mesmerized the crowd with a 90-minute set of straight-up rock and roll.
Rock supergroups have come and gone, but The Winery Dogs have a natural chemistry that effortlessly blends the natural talent of Sheehan and Portnoy into a rhythm juggernaut. However, it's Kotzen's blues-influenced guitar and smoky vocals that truly tie the band together into a cohesive unit. Their eponymous, debut album has all the makings of a hit. With apologies to David Lee Roth and Steve Vai, this is the most tightly-knit band that Sheehan has put together.
Sheehan has long been regarded as one of the premier bassists in rock, performing with Talas, Mr. Big and the aforementioned Vai when Roth first launched his solo career after his split with Van Halen. Guitar Player magazine ranks him on an even keel with Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney in their "Gallery of Greats."
The band opened with "Elevate," rich with intricate bass runs and Kotzen's opening vocals drawing inspiration from Chris Cornell. Their music harks back to the classic era of hard rock, but with a few hints of grunge laced into the twisted melodies they punched out.
"Time Machine" was impressive, from the sludgy Cantrell-like riffs to the strong vocal harmonies supplied by Sheehan and Portnoy throughout the song. Though most tunes were hard hitting with Sheehan's pounding bass inextricably tied to Portnoy's drum signatures, The Winery Dogs did slow it down for "Damaged." Mid-set saw a quick drum solo followed by a lengthy bass solo that had more than a few fans chanting for Sheehan.
Kotzen performed one of his pre-Dogs tunes, "Doin' What the Devil Says to Do" as a solo acoustic song. It gave Sheehan and Portnoy a little time to rest while affording Kotzen a moment to show that he could shine as brightly as the others. The band rejoined for another Kotzen song, "You Can't Save Me" as he switched back to an electric guitar.
They did manage to play one old-school Mr. Big song, "Shine," while also performing nearly every track from the new album during the show. Kotzen sat down on a small keyboard to play "Regret" to end the set. They returned for a two-song encore that began with "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" by Elvis Bishop before closing out the night with "Desire."
Blending their strong rock roots with ferocious play, The Winery Dogs are a band worth checking out. Their intimate set at the Northern Lights Theater reinforced that Milwaukee has more than a couple venues that are worthy of live performances. There wasn't a bad seat in the house and the sound was well mixed. It was one of the better shows in recent memory.
The Winery Dogs setlist:
We Are One
One More Time
Six Feet Deeper
Mike Portnoy Drum Solo
The Other Side
Billy Sheehan Bass Solo
You Saved Me
Doin' What the Devil Says to Do (Richie Kotzen song)
You Can't Save Me (Richie Kotzen song)
Shine (Mr. Big cover)
I'm No Angel
Fooled Around And Fell In Love (Elvin Bishop cover)