Review – Michael Schenker Group – Empire (formerly Jaxx) 3/7/12 Score: 7/10

Subtitle: “Michael Schenker’s Girlfriend Almost Killed Me”

Haha, so we’ll get to that in good time. First a quick review of the newly revamped Jaxx, now called Empire. For those that went to the ‘old’ Jaxx, the place was showing definite signs of old age – there were ceiling tiles missing or half falling in the main hall, the restrooms were a biological disaster, and there was a sense that they were just waiting for something really important to break before they put the whole thing out of it’s misery. Well, I’m pleased to report that is now behind us and the revamp has worked a treat. I won’t list all the changes out, but the restrooms are now useable without a dose of Cipro and the place looks spic and span, sharp even.

If there is a problem or two they still relate to the sound system – (a) they basically changed nothing for the front of house system, so there is still no coverage for anyone close to the stage (please fly some fills over the center-stage area!), and (b) they moved the monitor desk to the same location as the front-of-house (FOH) desk???!!!! WTF? How is that supposed to work? Whoever is working the monitor desk as no idea what the sound on stage sounds like – he is exposed to the full blast from the FOH sound, so has to resort to peering at the musicians on stage in a hope that they might signal him (assuming they remember the desk is out front that is…).

Another point – Empire seem to have a curfew for the venue of 12 Midnight (based on a sheet taped to the side of the main PA stack) and for the show last night they ran exactly to the times per the list, so maybe Empire will not suffer the “late, late show syndrome” that afflicted many of the Jaxx shows in the past. The SECOND support band was already half-way through their set at 8.15pm, and were done by 8.55pm, with Schenker scheduled to start at 9.30pm – he did on the dot.

So, Michael Schenker, the guitar hero… what did we get here? Well, things were promising with an 18-song setlist (of which they played 17- leaving out Attack Of The Mad Axeman – photos to follow, including a nice shot of the setlist). Well, a couple of Scorpion songs (Love Drive and Another Piece Of Meat) and no less than eight UFO songs! Cool, but indicative of something I have long thought – Schenker is one hell of guitarist, but I’m not so convinced on the song-writing front. Further we only got one song from the new album, “Temple Of Rock” and that was the rather lame “Lover’s Sinfony” which is far from my favorite on the album. Why “How Long” (the opening track on the CD) wasn’t played beats me and there are a couple of others I thought would have worked well live. Kinda odd for a tour labeled “Temple Of Rock”.

So how was Mr. Schenker? Well, I have to say faultless basically. He ripped it, on a collection of modern Dean Guitar versions of the Flying-V (all of which were beautiful guitars…). People always go on about his “tone”, and yes, it was pretty classic Schenker, but he seemed to be enjoying things a lot more than last time we saw him (at that show, if anything he seemed bored). Robin McAuley did a respectable job on vocals – I wouldn’t say I was knocked off my feet, but it worked pretty well, and the rest of the band did everything necessary to give Schenker his platform. It really seems that way, because the band was never introduced or any feature made of anyone other than Michael…

So, overall impressions were of a very functional band, with Schenker doing what he does best, but it wasn’t “amazing”… pretty good is about as far as I can get. I can’t fault the show or the band, but the “wow, this is fun!” element was missing. So let me score this a 7/10 (extra point awarded for amazing guitar playing). Michelle was able to convince one of the road crew to give her the last remaining setlist from the drum riser – nice move!

Now, how about the subtitle…? After the show we went out back to hang out around the tour bus – the wife got a nice pic with Robin McAuley, but Schenker never come out to sign anything. It seems this is his thing… so that kinda works pretty much against him. So what happened… well, we’re milling around the bus, and it seems clear Schenker is not coming out, when this little Hyundai (I think?) comes blasting out down the alley between the bus and the rear wall of the venue, swings past me with a few inches to spare after one of our friends yanks my jacket, and me with it, back a foot or so, which is not much more than the clearance between me and car. The wife spotted that Michael Schenker himself was hunched down in the passenger seat, with Michael’s asian girlfriend at the wheel, so I guess this was his rapid get-away attempt. Which in all fairness seemed totally unwarranted! In total there were only about 20 people tops around the bus. So, the whole night could have had a rather different end and right now you might have been reading on Blabbermouth.com how Schenker had mowed down a fan after the Springfield show. I’m kinda glad it didn’t work out that way.

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