Uli Jon Roth, The Golden Ghosts, Tony MacAlpine, LoNero, FlaMetal
Feb. 11, 2012
Better than: Being forced to listen to The Scorpions farewell tour cash-grab covers album, Comeblack.
As a subset of metal fans, those who worship at the altar of face-melting shred guitar wizards tend to be an even more zealous and fanatical bunch. Which is why the last thing I expected to see outside the Oakland Metro Operahouse, where OG six-string maestro Uli Jon Roth held forth Saturday night, was a crowd of greaser dudes and women with Bettie Page 'dos milling about. As it turned out, the multi-use venue was also hosting a rockabilly Valentine's Day party, bringing together a mix of mullet-sporting guitar nerds and chicks in fishnets and poodle skirts for an oddly eclectic evening of entertainment.
Along with Deep Purple axman Ritchie Blackmore, Roth is credited for bringing elements of classical bombast into hard rock during the 1970s, thanks to his blazing guitar work with The Scorpions on such classic albums as Virgin Killer and the live 1978 opus Tokyo Tapes. Roth left the German group prior to their '80s explosion in popularity, choosing to follow his own muse with his band Electric Sun as well as composing symphonic works, teaching music, and even designing his custom seven-string, six-octave instrument.
Though Roth's solo efforts have helped expand his cult of fans, the numerous vintage Scorpions shirts being worn by audience members on Saturday gave a clear indication of why most came to the show. I arrived too late to see local opening acts Flametal and LoNero (friends who made better time gave both the thumbs up), but walked into the Metro's main room just as neo-classical instru-metal favorite Tony MacAlpine took the stage.
A virtuoso guitarist and keyboardist who rose to fame during the '80s apex of shreddermania spearheaded by Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani, MacAlpine wasted no time proving that his chops remain undiminished a quarter century after he first came on the scene. Wielding an eight-string guitar with swashbuckling flair, the musician unleashed a torrential flood of notes from the mutant ax. As jaw-dropping as MacAlpine's technique was -- full of frenetic sweep picking and two-handed hammer-on flurries executed with blinding speed -- the moments that found him matching note-for-note melodic leads with second guitarist Nili Brosh provided the musical high points of the set.
The crowd in the half-full house pushed forward as Uli's scheduled 11 p.m. set time approached. However, the audience received a rude awakening when instead, a fourth unadvertised support band started driving fans out of the room with their bland, pedestrian blooze-rawk. The out-of-nowhere addition seemed a slap in the face of the local bands and MacAlpine (who should have gotten the later slot); at least attendees could kill time watching the bawdy antics of Thee Merry Widows in the side room of rockabilly bands. I initially thought I wouldn't waste time and space by even mentioning the band's name, but realized I'd be doing readers a disservice if I didn't issue a warning: The Golden Ghosts from Los Angeles are about as exciting as a paper sack of mud.
When Roth and his band finally emerged onstage around midnight, the patient faithful were rewarded with an epic two-hour performance packed full of classic songs. A beatific smile beaming from his face for much of the concert, Roth put the dazzling fretwork that inspired so many imitators on full display while conjuring a level of emotional intensity and beauty that few guitarists can match.
His backing band included two of the master guitarist's fleet-fingered German disciples -- David Klosinski and Andre Mertens -- who looked like they were barely out of their teens. The youthful pair almost seemed to jockey for Roth's approval during the show, wailing animatedly as they kept an eye on their mentor's reaction during each solo.
Roth's soulful pyrotechnics made him the obvious star of the night, but the band's Italian lead singer, Piero Leporale, proved an essential player throughout. Whether waxing operatic on the Electric Sun song "Fire Wind" or delivering his eerily spot-on Klaus Meine impersonation during the Scorpions staples "Sails of Charon," "Dark Lady," and "We'll Burn the Sky," Leporale's pipes help push the onstage energy and crowd response to new heights.
Roth also indulged in a de rigueur tribute to his guitar hero with a smoldering Hendrix-style take on Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" that led into a slow blues workout. Despite things sometimes drifting into looser-limbed jam territory (as on the extended version of the Scorps' "I've Got To Be Free"), fans stayed riveted to the stage, offering Roth fist-banging worship and devil-horn salutes right up until the last notes rang out and the Metro house lights unceremoniously snapped on at 2 a.m.
Personal bias: I've been kicking myself ever since missing Roth play Annie's Social Club (R.I.P.) back in 2008. This wasn't nearly as intimate, but I'm glad to get Uli off my bucket list.
Hooray Beer!: $4 pints of Racer 5 served in cups that are actually a pint? Oakland Metro, don't go changing.