Concert Report
by Mark Dougras White

- MSG -
at Birch Hill, NJ, USA
June 4th, 1999

Added on 06/06/1999

Probably my main impression of the night was: what a band! Many have criticized Michael for picking "young guns" instead of seasoned veterans for his band (Ritchie Blackmore has been known to this as well), but the band Michael (and Vinnie Moore) had last night was incredible. Barry Sparks is a bass GOD - laying down the groove when he needed to, whippin' out some quick-fire high notes when the song called for it - simply amazing. One of best bassists I've ever seen, and he seemed so laid-back, having such a good time. Shane Gaalaas is one powerful, intricate drummer, along the lines of Carl Palmer, and is a dead ringer for Niles Crane, a character on the US television program "Frasier" - think Niles with a goatee, and on speed - that's Shane! I forget the rhythm guitar/keyboard guy's name - Wayne Findley, or something like that - but he did a fine job as well, doubling on both instruments during both sets, and clearly having a ball playing second guitar on rockers such as Too Hot to Handle with Michael.

For those of you who don't know, these three were the backing band for both Vinnie Moore and Michael Schenker, and they showed no signs of fatigue. Hats off especially to Shane - the way he was pounding those skins, a lesser man would have dropped after three songs, much less two hours plus!

Let's talk about Vinnie Moore for a sec - I've loved Vinnie's music ever since his Time Odyssey album (I never could get into Mind's Eye). Sure, it's easy to lump him in with the rest of the post-Yngwie Shrapnel shredders like Tony MacAlpine and Jason Becker, but Vinnie always played - how do I put it - "prettier". His articulation was always clean, not resorting to a typewriter-ish staccato when playing quick runs, and his melodies, whether composed or improvised, were incredibly melodic - very appropriate he should open up for Michael Schenker! After the neoclassicism of his early albums, he adopted a more blues/rock approach (after playing with Alice Cooper, who said "none of that Bach stuff - I want rock 'n' roll!"), and the two styles were nicely combined in his opening set last night.

The interplay between Vinnie and Barry was incredible, interweaving melodies in beautiful counterpoint or just locking into a groove with Shane. And we can't forget Wayne, who kept up with Vinnie on both guitar and keyboards, no easy task! The guys looked like they were having a blast (which was not true the entire night, more on this later), and the crowd fed on it. Vinnie was very well received by a mob of folks who mainly came for one man...

Schenker. This was my first time seeing Schenker live, and while it was great seeing the man and hearing his virtuosic playing, there were no surprises. He was terrific, of course, but there was something missing, that stellar boost I expect when I finally see one of my heroes live. I still get chills when I listen to One Night at Budokan or Strangers in the Night, even though I've listened to them hundreds of times, but that didn't happen last night. Maybe the sound wasn't there (Michael could've been louder in the mix, though I'm sure it wasn't as bad as I've heard the Tramps show was two days earlier), maybe it's because he plays basically the same solos (fantastic solos, but the same)...I don't know. He seemed in an OK mood - I've heard plenty of stories about his moodiness, another thing he has in common with Ritchie Blackmore - so I don't think that was it. Even recurrent guitar problems during the second song (Only You Can Rock Me, I think), during which the band played the entire solo section without the solo. They stopped for a second, after which Michael led them back into the solo section, which got a BIG cheer from the crowd - they wanted to hear that solo!

The singer, Keith Slack, did an admirable job, but again, I couldn't hear him too well. Wayne sang back-up often, though curiously not on Assault Attack, when it needed back-up vocals the most (IMHO). I still say (and I'll say it again) that Michael should've gotten Doogie White (ex-Rainbow), the most versatile singer I've ever heard, and it also would've been interesting to hear John West, but it was not meant to be (not for Yngwie either, who sacked West after two days, reportedly). In any case, I don't want to bash Keith - he was filling enormous shoes, and many pairs, at that - I'd like to hear him with better sound, either on a live recording or maybe the next MSG studio album.

Again, what made the night for me was the band - Barry, Shane and Wayne pounded out the classic tunes like nobody's business. I can't remember the whole setlist, but I think it was very similar to the rest, with Too Hot to Handle and Lights Out as encores. (As I was leaving, some guy said there would be a second encore, but I doubted it and left. If there was a second encore, somebody please let me know, and I'll start kicking myself right away!) Probably the most "stand-out" songs of the night:

1) Another Piece of Meat - what a groove! A riff with lots of space, my favorite kind.

2) Too Hot to Handle - again, just remembering Wayne jumping up and down playing this great rocker, a sight to remember. The whole band was on fire...and this goes for all the UFO songs, which seemed to come off better than even the classic MSG tunes, except for...

3) Attack of the Mad Axeman - incredible, great hard rock/funk riff, gets me every time.

4) Love to Love - great epic tune, terrific live. When Wayne started in on the keyboard intro, the crowd went nuts.

5) Pushed to the Limit - great live tune, I think the only one off of Walk on Water. The crowd seemed very unfamiliar with this tune, as well as the ones off of Written in the Sand, understandably so.

6) Written in the Sand - great groove, nice melodic rocker, one of my favorites off the album of the same name, and great job by Keith.

7) The three instrumentals (Into the Arena, Captain Nemo, and Essence) - Vinnie Moore writes great instrumental tunes (another thing that sets him apart from the rest of the Shrapnel crowd), but he's got nothing on Schenker. Barry and Shane even got a couple minutes to jam together in the middle of Into the Arena, which was incredible - what a pair, a great rhythm section.


1) No Doctor Doctor or Rock Bottom. At the risk of sounding hypocritical, coming from someone who begs Deep Purple to drop Smoke on the Water from their setlist, I REALLY wanted to hear Michael play what are perhaps his signature tunes. Oh well...maybe these were a further encore, and I missed it.

2) Songs from The Unforgiven - did not really come off live. Keith did a fine job singing them, I must mention - the whole band played them well, but they just didn't seem to click live, also not being recognized too well by the crowd.

Probably the most noticable differece between Vinnie's set and Michael's - the band was having a LOT more fun with Vinnie, which is understandable - from what I've seen, Michael has never been one to interact with his bandmates much. The band seemed to be having fun by themselves, Barry and Wayne jamming together, Keith handbanging in front of Shane, but there's something missing when the general won't acknowledge his troops.

All said, a great evening in Old Bridge, New Jersey!



Thank you, Mark!

Back to "Concert Report Top"

Back to "I Love Michael Schenker" page