@ Newcastle o2 Academy, December 22 2009

Glad tidings of comfort and joy. Michael Schenker is back and on top of his game again.

And for anyone who has followed the tortured career of one of rock music’s most accomplished axeman and doubted he would ever scale such heights again, I’ll repeat: the Teutonic titan is back.

His gig at the Academy had its flaws but Schenker’s appearance, his demeanour and, most importantly, his guitar-playing were sights and sounds to behold.


 
This was more like the Schenker of the early 1980s when MSG was in its infancy – and not just because he is happily reunited with vocalist Gary Barden and bassist Chris Glen.
 
Gone is the dishevelled appearance which fans may remember on his last fateful tour with UFO earlier this decade. He also looks younger, cleaner-cut and leaner than he did when guesting on The Scorpions’ epic Wacken DVD.
 
Schenker is enjoying himself again and boy, is it reflected in his music!
 
There were many highlights in MSG’s 90 minute set list but perhaps the main talking point afterwards was his breathtaking solo on UFO classic Rock Bottom which encored with Doctor Doctor and the less well known Dance Lady Gypsy from his most recent acoustic album.
 
MSG kicked off with the incredibly catchy Ride On My Way from last year’s In The Midst of Beauty followed by the instantly recognisable Cry For the Nations.
 
As a singer, Barden has never had the greatest range and last night, he struggled with several songs and like many frontmen these days he has the infuriating habit of demanding audience participation with choruses many of them are unfamiliar with.
 
It’s all very well asking the crowd to join in on Doctor Doctor but it’s a fair bet at least half hadn’t heard Night To Remember from ITMOB while On And On from MSG’s second album is not the most obvious for a singalong.
 
Barden, however, complements Schenker perfectly and his vocal chords were at their finest in a thumping rendition of Lost Horizons – a personal fave.
 
Like the rest of the band. Barden is clearly enjoying playing alongside a revitalised Schenker though pride of place in the enjoyment stakes must go to Chris Glen, the larger than life bassist, part comic, part musician, who shrugged off chronic technical problems during the opening four songs to lead the festive cheers.
 
Drummer Chris Slade, once of AC/DC, was rock steadinesss itself though Wayne Findlay’s keyboards were underpowered, notably on the instrumental Into The Arena and often under-used.
 
If Into The Arena, Lost Horizons and the two UFO classics were obvious highlights, Armed And Ready was surprisingly not. The song which is effectively MSG’s theme song, was strangely placed fourth in the set list and with the riff unnecessarily rushed, it didn’t quite make the impact it should have.
 
But Schenker certainly did with a performance so many of his ardent followers thought he was no longer capable of.
 
Earlier, Fury UK, a three-piece from Bury got the night off to a rousing start with a tight, ear-piercing set.
 
Chris Appleton is a hugely impressive guitarist and possesses a fine voice while the rhythm secton of Luke Appleton and Giant Haystacks lookalike Martin McNee are a powerful, effective combination.
 
There are obvious influences – Slayer and Black Sabbath being just two – but little originality. For a band with such confidence and enthusiasm, not to mention fine musicianship, too many of their songs sound similar. A little light and shade wouldn’t go amiss.

Ian Murtagh