Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lights Out, Lights Out in Toronto with UFO


One of the first rock albums that I heard as a kid was something that I had carefully selected and
signed out from the local public library.  I used to spend hours pouring over the card catalogue in the popular/rock section, flipping through the laminated cassette sleeve choices, curious about but not knowing of any of the bands.  The cover I chose to sample depicted a gloved hand holding a guitar neck shaped like a mechanic’s wrench.  The album was titled Mechanix from a band called UFO.  For some reason, that cover and that cassette just jumped out and stuck with me.  I took it home and was hooked by the end of the first song, "The Writer".  Mechanix received a ton of playing time in my youth and still comes out great to this day.  With this album I was now a UFO fan!

Vocalist Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker and bassist Pete Way have been around as UFO since 1969!  Michael Schenker was just 18 years old at the time he joined in 1973, but it was his guitar playing that would move UFO from the “space-rock” sounds of their first two records and present a harder edge for 1974’s PhenomenonForce It followed in 1975 and No Heavy Petting in
1976.  Keyboardist Paul Raymond joined the band in 1977 for Lights Out.  While the previous three albums produced several hits and fan favourites, UFO would achieve substantial critical acclaim with Lights Out.  1978’s Obsession preceded the magnificent live recording Strangers In The Night from 1979 which brought with it critical and commercial success.  At the end of the tour Schenker departed UFO due to alcohol abuse and tensions with Mogg.  The next album, 1980’s No Place To Run did not do as well and the self produced Wild, Willing And the Innocent in 1981 that followed performed only marginally better.  1982’s Mechanix had a minor hit in the US, but became the band’s highest placing release in the UKPete Way left after this album to form Fastway with “Fast” Eddie Clarke guitarist from Motorhead.  His replacement became Billy Sheehan for 1983’s Making Contact.  Due to the poor performance of this record UFO decided to disband, reforming only two years later with a new line-up, aside from Phil Mogg.  This new incarnation produced two records, Misdemeanor in 1985 and Ain't Misbehavin’ in 1988.  Again due to the lack of success, they disbanded.  Proving that you can’t keep a good man down, Mogg returned in 1992, again with a new line-up and put forth High Stakes & Dangerous Men on a small independent label.  This generated some interest and the late 1970’s line-up reformed with Mogg, Way, Raymond, Parker and Schenker and cut 1995’s Walk on Water.  Simon Wright replaced Parker behind the kit for the resulting tour, but tensions were still present and again Schenker departed during the tour.  Phil Mogg and Pete Way continued working together and instead of using the UFO moniker the next two albums appeared as Mogg/Way.  In 2000 Schenker rejoined UFO again for the Covenant CD and it's follow-up Sharks in 2002, after which the “revolving Schenker door” found him leaving once again.  Vinnie Moore stepped in to fill
Schenker’s shoes and UFO released You Are Here in 2004 featuring Jason Bonham on drums.  Andy Parker returned for The Monkey Puzzle in 2006 followed by The Visitor in 2009 which put them back on the UK charts for the first time in about fifteen years.  Their latest effort, 2012’s Seven Deadly has been met with generally positive reviews and charted slightly higher than The Visitor.  I love this current incarnation of UFO, The Visitor and Seven Deadly are solid albums all the way through, but Mechanix will still remain my "go to album of choice".  A back catalogue of twenty studio releases means there’s lots of rock and incredible guitar work to satisfy any taste.  Dive into UFO’s catalogue and find out just what Eddie Trunk makes all the fuss about.

I have had the opportunity to see UFO in it's current incarnation twice previously, on the first Monsters of Rock Cruise as well as at Sweden Rock 2012 (at which Schenker was present and performing with Europe, but alas his joining UFO on stage as I had hoped for did not come to pass).  I was elated for them to smash their 26 year Torontonian hiatus and roll into town for not one, but two shows on back to back nights.

The first took place on Friday October 11th, 2013 at The Rockpile West in Etobicoke.  I arrived in the area early and chose the local pub for an excellent dinner of English style fish & chips.  While there I was approached by a gentleman asking if I knew where The Rockpile was.  I suspect that he was alerted to my planned attendance at UFO due to the "Sweden Rock" t-shirt that I was sporting.  I found out that this gentleman had travelled from Ottawa, about 5 hours away, for the event.  He was not the only Ottawa area resident to make the trek as I had planned to meet up with John Tennant, guitarist for one of the greatest unsigned Canadian bands from the later 90's, Shock.  The Great White North has been deprived of UFO for far too long, proven by the strong ticket sales of both shows.

Now usually we get a barrage of local music prior to the head liner, sometimes up to five bands on the bill, but tonight was enjoyably scaled down with Top Dead Centre being the lone opening act.  From Hamilton, Ontario, lead singer David Russ distributed some 3-song promo EP's to the crowd prior to the start of their set.  They charged into their first selection titled "Lights Out", it was an original song and not a cover version of what we were to hear later on.  They continued with their original compositions, such as "Tu Ride", "On A Train" and "Can't Touch You" and I noticed that the line-up on stage was not only short a man according to the list on the back of the CD, but the names that David Russ called out during the introductions did not match up.  Top Dead Centre's videos are available on you-tube and they have worked with former Helix guitarist Brent Doerner and his Red D Film & Editing Company on the production of them.

Photo by Brian Ronald
"Green Onions" a blues instrumental, featured in the 1993 movie The Sandlot, preformed by Booker T & The M.G.'s served as the intro music for UFO.  As the lights dimmed the packed crowd inched tighter together and closer to the stage.  It was "lights out" in Toronto as they opened with the 1977 hit from the album of the same name, "Lights Out" followed closely by "Mother Mary".  Phil acknowledged that it had been a very long time since they had last visited Toronto, some 26 years before they delved into the newer material with "Fight Night" from Seven Deadly.  In back to back tracks from the latest release they served up "Wonderland" next and during the line "tattooed love & hate" Phil noticed my "in progress" full sleeve tattoo and leaned close singing that line to me.  Famous for his rambling monologues, Phil lived up to expectations early on as the acoustic guitar was brought out for Vinnie Moore.  Phil quipped about Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian folk musician
Photo by Brian Ronald
and how it was time for them to do a cover of one of his songs.  The intense emotion showing on Phil's face as he sang "Baby Blue" was captivating.  The crowd sang along to 1978's "Cherry" after which we received more of Phil's patented rambling before "Let It Roll".  Noticing the hockey game playing on the TV's at the rear of the venue, Phil commented on being stuck in a tour bus with a bunch of "Yanks" who only watch American Football, to which he looked at Vinnie and said "take that" afterwards.  With the weak/dim lighting on stage Phil muttered about not seeing the set list, so my friend took a photo of it to illuminate it for him.  The next track on the roster was "Mojo Town", but they skipped right over it and went into the blues flavoured "Burn Your House Down".  Proving that they were adept in Canadian music Vinne peeled off a few licks to Rush songs before they broke into "Only You Can Rock Me".  Phil covered the evils of alcohol as a roadie could be seen in the background sneaking behind the stacks with a bottle of what appeared to be rum.  The epic and often mis-named as "Misty Green & Blue", "Love To Love" brought us into a story of Phil's youth and how the carpet on the stage reminded him of his childhood home.  Again choosing to omit a selection off of the set list, they skipped "Helldriver" and went right into "Venus".  Phil decided to comment on
Photo by Brian Ronald
the several Iron Maiden shirts that were floating through the crowd.  "I wonder if Bruce Dickinson has ever sidled up to his lead guitarist and shouted "C'mon fucker, is that the best you've got?" during his playing of a solo as Phil had just done to Vinnie.  "Too Hot To Handle" took us to some Michael Buble commentary in which Phil apologised, but he just did not like his music.  The crowd had been sporadically shouting "Rock Bottom" since before they even started the set and finally got what they asked for.  Proclaiming that they would not do the whole encore bit where they leave the stage and we shout for them to come back, they rolled right into "Doctor, Doctor".  Phil expressed his disappointment in not being cavity searched at the border by Canadian customs before they closed out with "Shoot Shoot", ending an incredible night.

The very next night UFO were again in town, this time at the newly opened sister venue Rockpile East in Scarborough with local Toronto sensation J'nai setting the stage this time.  If you have not seen this band of university aged youths then you're seriously missing out!  They have a stage chemistry and show filled with well choreographed moves as a backdrop to their expertly crafted compositions that compares to very few.  Taking up a position stage side right (if you're facing it), the dry ice smoke machines billowed out their foggy product enveloping the stage.  A cover of Rainbow's "Kill The King" led the audio visual barrage followed by Heart's "Barracuda" of which they do an excellent rendition.  Front woman, Jeanette Ricasio may be small in stature, but she fills the stage with her presence and "Barracuda" is a perfect showcase for her.  Their latest video release "Away From You" began their original songs, followed by "In The Light".
 "In The Light" features unison bouncing by all four members not seated (ie: drummer Rui Cimbron) along with Jeanette's wacky dance moves and guitarist Stephan Nakamura whipping a ninja sword from a sheath on his back to play a little slide guitar.  From the soundtrack of an up coming film starring Christopher Walken is "Accident" and I can see that J'nai is once again winning over new fans as I study the crowd.  My absolute favorite J'nai song, "Skipping Stones", features synchronised kicks that highlight the song in a live setting even more.  Jeanette took a turn bashing on Rui's cymbals during their presentation of "Gone" followed by their newest song, currently recording at Studio 92, "Lights Out" (again, not a cover of UFO, just a popular song title).  We got "Defeat Them All" next and I marvelled at how professional this band of youths are.  There's no song stalls between tracks aside from Jeanette addressing the crowd, the band is always ready to jump into the next in a well oiled machine unlike some more professional acts that I've seen fuddle around between songs.  A new trick (well new to my eyes) from J'nai saw bassist Dave Alcordo at
front and centre stage lean over and Jeanette "roll" over him back to back displaying some kicks in the air.  A regular feature during the "Defeat Them All" song is the guitar switch.  Richie Nguyen and Stephan Nakamura exchange their instruments by hurling them at each other mid song, each catching the respective guitar and continuing to play.  I've seen them perform this at least ten times with only one fail and it comes off magnificently, with tonight being another success.  "What is our name?" Jeanette screamed out to the audience as we responded with power, "J'nai", before they blasted into a Rage Against The Machine cover and closing out with their regular ending of G 'n R's "Welcome To The Jungle" or more aptly Welcome to the Rockpile for a 45 minute assault on all visual and auditory senses. These youths play hard, giving all and leaving everything on stage by the end, go check out J'nai live!

UFO's second night of performance went much the same as the first with the same two songs being passed over on the set list.  Phil's rambles this night included the removal of his tie, how he should have used it for something else and yes, he did say that we could take that any way that we wanted to, jokes about his fly being open for the first half of the set and how a few ladies in the crowd understood the German swear words he had spoken.  The crowning glory was during "Let It Roll" when a guy, who I believe was Daniel Dekay, guitarist for excellent local band Diemonds, ran onto the stage and dove off into the crowd.  Phil's response to this after the completion of the song was "I'm glad that you all were witness to our tour manager doing a suicide leap", delivered with his dry British style.  Phil Mogg at 65 Years old has not lost a step with his vocals and he sounded fresh both nights.  Vinnie was flawless on guitar and Andy Parker pounds the skins harder than ever.  Touring bassist Rob De Luca from the band Spread Eagle and long time member Paul Raymond on keys and rhythm guitar round out this expressly tight playing unit.  Phil’s monologue was quite humorous although I fear some of the British humour may have gone over a few drunken heads, but nonetheless this is a band you must see live and soon!

The Meister

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