The Mad Axeman Returns – Michael Schenker Fest at the Vogue Theatre, Vancouver

Michael Schenker Fest

Vogue Theatre


German guitar virtuoso, Michael Schenker brought the Michael  Schenker Fest to Vancouver on Monday, giving fans a 3 hour extravanganza covering his extensive career.

I must admit when I heard that the Michael Schenker Fest gig at the Vogue Theatre was starting at 8pm, I had a bit of a smile on my face.  I was really looking forward to seeing the mad axeman himself after a gap of more than 30 year, but I am no spring chicken and the start time gave me high hopes of been comfortable in my own bed by 1030. Turns out that Herr Schenker and has band of miscreants had other ideas.
Michael Schenker has been a prominent feature of the metal scene since the early 70’s when he burst onto the scene as part of the Scorpions with his brother Rudi at the tender age of 16. His prowess on the guitar was recognized from an early age, and within a couple of years he was the lead guitarist with UFO, a band that he has played on and off with a number of times.  He was a key contributor to many of their greatest hits from the early 80’s, many of which we would hear at ths show.

After a brief spell back with the Scorpions, Schenker went on to form the Michael Schenker Group (MSG), and over the years there have been several reincarnations of the group mostly fronted one at least one of the four front men on tour with the Fest.

Given that many of the line-up changes over the years have allegedly been contentious, it was great to see so many great front men on stage together, and clearly enjoying the show, along with the Vancouver crowd.

Shortly after eight the familiar tones of Ac/DC’s Highway to hell rang out and it was time or the show to begin.  Although I am sure most people in the audience were already aware, Schenker took the time to acknowledge the passing of two close friends, and band members who had sadly passed away on the last month or so. Ted McKenna, who had been the initial drummer in the tour, and UFO’s Paul Raymond. It was a sad note, but one that reminded to enjoy life while we can.

Only enough Schenker did not do too much chatting throughout the night, letting his fingers do the talking. When he did chat with the audience though he was humourous and usually joking about songs he wrote when he was 17 and didn’t get credit for.

The format of the show really did feel like a festival with each of the lead singers taking turns to front the band for around half a dozen songs, interspersed by songs with all of them on stage. It was like watching four different bands, albeit with the same crazy grinning guitarist.

The show started with the Scorpions hit Holiday, followed quickly by the UFO classic Doctor Doctor. We then settled in for a slate of songs from the early MSG days including Into the Arena, Are you Ready to Rock and of course The Attack of the Mad Axeman.  Longtime MSG singer Gary Barden did the honours for most of these songs but was joined by Robin McAuley and Graham Bonnet.

Schenker shared an anecdote about brother Rudi copying his hair style and borrowing his famous flying V before launching into another Scorpions classic, Coast to Coast, one of my personal favourites.

Next up to take the lead vocal reigns was Graham Bonnet, leading for some of the later MSG numbers including Desert Song, Searching for a Reason and Assault Attack.  IN each part of the set we were also treated to songs from Resurrection, the latest offering, which features all the current vocalists.

Schenker excelled on the moody Captain Nemo, before it was Robin McAuley turn to take to the stage.  Whilst Bonnet and Barden were both casually dressed McAuley took to the stage looking every inch the rock god with ripped black jeans, and leathers, and he really pulled it off.  The different styles of the all the singers really worked well. McAuley fronted for several songs from the McAuley-Schenker Group period including Bad Boys, Save Yourself, and the crowd pleaser Love is Not a Game.

After this we were treated to the last vocalist of the night the Scottish crowd pleaser Doogie White, who was barely on the stage for a minute before he had disappeared into the crowd.  Doogie fronted for some of the Temple of Rock numbers before inviting the Schenkettes, as he called the other singers, back on stage the grand finale, which kicked off with a heavy number, Warrior from the Resurrection album. 

The roof was raised with the opening chords of UFO’s Rock Bottom rang out.  Schenker played a full extended solo for this track which was incredible and oddly enough, other than Captain Nemo was really the only time during the evening that he had the spotlight to himself. It was a fitting end to the main part of the show.

Despite having many incarnations of the band named after him, we was very generous in letting the other member of the band take the spotlight, while he did what he did best.  In addition to the lead vocalist Schenker was joined by long time bassist Chris Glen, Steve Mann on guitars and keys, and Bodo Schopf on drums.

Everyone took to the stage for the encores which comprised a trio of UFO’s greatest hits Shoot Shoot, Natural Thing, and of course Lights Out.

After 3 hours of solid rocking Schenker and band where still going strong, whilst I was exhausted, so much for the rock and roll lifestyle being bad for you….

Photos: Stewart Johnstone