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20040902 Thursday September 02, 2004

19 years later: Uli Jon Roth

The last time I saw guitar virtuoso Uli Jon Roth play a live show, it was at a club that no longer exists (Wolfgangs) in San Francisco. That was nineteen years ago! Blending baroque classical music and Jimi Hendrix all-over-it guitar mastery maybe be difficult to appreciate until you hear it. But Uli is the real deal.

WARNING: If you're not into insane guitar playing or if pictures of old hippies freak you out, this post probably won't interest you at all... buh bye.

The Scorpion's guitarist for several years in the 70's never joined them in the commercial success that they enjoyed after they parted ways. Throughout the 80's and 90's, Scorpions were standard icons of the arena metal phenom. But that guitarist, Uli Jon Roth, was cut from different cloth and blazed a different path. He has a unique guitar playing style that is unmatched by anyone (yea yea, I know Yngwie.. used to know him personally too but so what? he can kiss my ass). I've been a huge fan of Uli's since my teenage metal freak days. That show at Wolfgangs in 1985 was a tough time 'cause I was finding a lot of metal acts boring and increasingly lacking innovation; everything was so derivative. I was anticipating Uli's show. Blind Illusion was opening the gig and I knew Uli would be doing something different. Boy... was he ever! He had this big choir on stage with him with all these dreadful operatic layers. The music was brilliant but the performance was nearly negated by the vocal barrage, ugh! I left that show with a mixed bag of feelings. Where was "Hell Cat"? "Firewind"? "Dark Lady"?? Uli has been replaced by an alien replica, "Invasion of the Hippie Snatchers!" OK, no... the guitar work was great despite the over the topic vocal arrangements.

Fast forward to 2004. I had to cut out of work prematurely to go to the show at Tommy-T's in Concord. I knew I was gonna run into some old friends. Lo and behold, Dave who was the singer in Blind Illusion (later and still, Heathen along with Lee Altus also present), Ron Quintana, Mike Meals, Eric Hayek, Tom Christie, all the usual suspects... word. Heard Mike Varney was around, too ("Rock Justice" woo hoo!)... sorry to have missed him. But there was little time for yakking. I know I should probably get out and see some more live music. I should probably take my vitamins every day too. Friends: don't take it personally, but this was business. Nineteen years of wanting to see the performance that I didn't get at Wolfgangs. I'd heard a report from Doug (an ex-Heathen) that he saw Uli play in the spring in Dusseldorf and I knew that this would be a must-see show.

The amazing guitar death show redux: the first act on was yet someone else from distant history: Doug Doppelt (aka "Doppler Inc") came out and played... a really short set! It was like, oh, twelve minutes or so. But he totally smoked for all twelve of them, heh! It was really great to see someone that good at it get that into and have such a good time with it. Tommy-T's blew it by keeping his stage time so short. Oh, well, WTF?!

So after about 45 minutes, Uli came on. He played with a keyboard/sequencer dude and his guitar tech/roadie played rhythm guitar part of the time. And that was it! Once again, Uli is marching to his own drummer... this time a virtual one. The early part of the show had a distinctly classical recital feel to it. Playing Vivaldi's "Spring" and "Winter" movements of the "Four Seasons" along with his own "Metamorphosis" variations on the theme, Uli played in front of screen with projections of himslef playing accompanied by a small chamber orchestra (weirdo-head). But the music. The music was brilliant! The guy has a very individual style for playing articulated arpeggios and stacatto melodies that really is inimitable. Did I ever really think Yngwie was god?

The classical recital continued with "Venga La Primavera." You almost expected a Meastro's bow after that one. But then it was time to transition through other eras. When he introduced the Greek mythological origins of the Charon character that inspired "Sails of Charon" (off of the "Taken By Force" album), he gave the air of an academic lecture. His seeming befuddlement at the audience's inattentiveness was amusing. Uli: "Leading you across the rivers of the underworld, Charon blah blah blah..." Audience, fists in the air: "ULI! ULI! ULI!" Well, seeing him play "Sails of Charon" was a long time coming for me. It's an amazing piece of guitar work. Next up was "Hiroshima" from the Electric Sun era's "Firewind" album. Completely awe inspiring. Following up with Hendrix' rendition of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" capped it off.

Then I had to say "adios" to my old pals. 'twas too damned bad. I woulda really liked to have stayed to see Michael Schenker's set but I was running on 2 hours of sleep and wanted to get back to work to make sure a project I'd been working on launched on time. It did: politics.technorati.com's chock full o' features launched on time to coincide with the CNN partnership for the Replublican National Convention coverage.

( Sep 02 2004, 11:28:05 PM PDT ) Permalink