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Music DVD Review: UFO – Showtime

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Heavy, guitar-fueled, blues-rock has been my go-to style of music from the day I figured out that Led Zeppelin wasn’t just some giant fiery balloon crash. In 1973, British rockers UFO recruited 19 year-old, German guitar-wiz, Michael Schenker, from the Scorpions, and went on to revamp their original space-rock sound into the bluesy, heavy metal force they made famous on such classic albums as Force It, Lights Out, and Obsession. Since that time, UFO has laid down some of the heaviest guitar-based rock and roll ever, and much to my surprise, it looks like they are still doing it.

I was not overwhelmingly interested in getting this DVD, until I found out that Vinnie Moore was the band’s new hired gun on guitar. I have been a fan of his ever since I heard his phenomenal debut album Mind’s Eye, in 1986, and my passion was later reignited by his killer Live! album of 2000. Moore can definitely shred with the best of them, but he also has the depth and style that many of his counterparts sorely lack.

Interestingly enough, the one time I saw Moore play live was opening up for, you guessed it, Michael Schenker, at a small club back in 1999. Now, I’m as much of a Schenker fan as the next guitar freak, but on this particular night he was downright disappointing. His performance was as uninspired as he appeared five years later on his Worldwide Live 2004 DVD. Boring to say the least. Moore, however, was energized and put on a world-class guitar performance, winning over the crowd with his flawless technique and impressive showmanship. Moore was, admittedly, a longtime Schenker and UFO fan already, and his obvious passion for their music spills over in this performance. I couldn’t think of a more well-suited guitarist to resurrect this band.

Showtime was filmed live at the Pumpwerk club, in Wilhelmshaven, Germany on May 13th 2005. This current incarnation of the band was out touring in support of their new 2004 album, You Are Here, which was recorded by founding members Phil Mogg (vocals) and Pete Way (bass), longtime keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond, and newcomers Vinnie Moore (guitar) and Jason Bonham (drums) – the same lineup that performs on this DVD.

The 16-song set list is a great one – essentially the Strangers In the Night set, minus only a couple of songs, but with four brand new ones added, along with a killer track from 2002′s Sharks. Their 1979 live album Strangers in the Night is regarded by many as one of the best live rock sets of all time, with Schenker and Mogg both at the height of their performing powers. The band has carried on in one form or another since then, highlighted by a 1995 reunion of the classic UFO line-up of Mogg, Schenker, Way, Raymond, and Parker, which resulted in the release of the excellent Walk On Water album.

The new You Are Here material holds up quite admirably next to the classic stuff, and they don’t waste much time introducing it to the exuberant German crowd. After kicking things off with the Force It classic "Mother Mary", they follow up with the brand new "When Daylight Goes To Town". This one has a sort of mid-70′s, AC/DC kind of vibe going on, and if you had any doubts whether Moore was up to the task, they are immediately laid to rest – his guitar sounded monstrous. I was more concerned with how Mogg’s vocals were still holding up, but I can assure you that, aside from losing a bit of his highest range, his pipes are as powerful as ever.

Mogg has the annoying habit of announcing the title of every song before it begins. I can see pointing out the new songs, but not every damn song they play. "This next piece is off of the Force It album, and it is something called ‘Let It Roll’" came next, and featured a stunningly melodic, and bluesy solo from Moore. For some of the more acoustic-based songs, like "I’m A Loser", Moore plays the parts on an actual acoustic guitar, that is mounted on a guitar stand so that he can leave his electric strapped on for a quick transition. How refreshing is that in the day when most rock guitarists just pipe their electric through an acoustic guitar simulator, as if it is just another effect in their arsenal. I don’t think John Petrucci could play an acoustic guitar if he has a gun to his head. There is something about the look and sound of a real acoustic guitar being played that cannot be replaced by technology. Heaven help us if every drummer were to go with an electronic drum kit.

Two more You Are Here songs are showcased later in the set. Moore coaxes some beautiful natural harmonics from his acoustic to start off the gorgeous new power ballad "Baby Blue". The foundation of gentle, acoustic guitar arpeggios and strumming eventually gives way to some epic power chords, which launch the song into arena rock territory. Mogg’s poignant vocal performance is one of his best in years. On "Mr. Freeze", Moore evokes some classic Robin Trower, with a mesmerizing Univibe and wah-wah-soaked guitar performance. This is one of the best tracks off the new album, and it easily stands up against some of the band’s best work.

The show certainly winds down on a high note. The incredible Lights Out trilogy of "Love To Love", "Too Hot Too Handle", and "Lights Out" lead up to the set’s epic closing performance of "Rock Bottom", which features a heroic seven-minute guitar solo that finds Moore weaving some compelling jazz, rock, blues, and metal tapestries around Schenker’s original theme. The fun and looseness of the performance was emphasized by Way taking to the stage floor and spending the entire solo on his back, but still managing to hold down the groove. Moore’s stunning "Rock Bottom" solo is worth the price of the DVD alone.

After a few minutes backstage the band is forced back out by the loud German-accented chants of U.F.O. They oblige the ecstatic crowd with a ripping performance of "Doctor Doctor", which once again takes you all the way back to 1974′s breakthrough album Phenomenon. In purely old-school fashion, they leave the stage again only to be called back out for a final encore of "Shoot Shoot". Mogg is shirtless this time and acting as if they had not planned to play another song. For a dude in his late fifties, he was looking exceptionally fit, and he gave the fans what they wanted.

Showtime is a two-DVD set that comes in a "Super Jewel Box" that finds the two disks simply stacked on top of each other. This doesn’t seem like such a good idea, considering the potential for scratching, but I didn’t have any problems with mine. With a total running time of about 200 minutes, this is one of the most content rich packages I have in my collection. Along with the 16-song main set, disk one also includes Making of DVD, Slideshow, Band Biography, and Discography bonus features. Disk two is highlighted by live studio performances of the following six songs, filmed at Peppermint Park Studios, Hannover, Germany, on May 26th, 2005:

1. Pack It Up And Go
2. Try Me
3. Love To Love
4. Slipping Away
5. Cherry
6. Profession Of Violence

The band was accompanied by a string quartet during the studio performance and they sounded amazing. Additional bonus features included a Making of the Studio Songs feature, Rockboat and USA 2004 tour documentaries, and lengthy interviews with all of the band members, making this second DVD worthy of its own release.

The overall production quality of this DVD does not disappoint. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 audio options are provided for both the live and studio sets. The surround mix was excellent, with perfect instrument separation and clarity. The guitar mix sounded especially powerful, which always earns bonus points with me. The widescreen picture looks superb, and the camera work placed you right into the midst of the audience.

This DVD proves that UFO are sounding better than ever, and has certainly rekindled my interest in the band. Vinnie Moore has the formidable task of filling Michael Schenker’s shoes, but he does so remarkably. Since the release of this DVD, Jason Bonham has left to join Foreigner, only to be replaced by original UFO drummer Andy Parker. All they need now is Schenker. Nah.

Set List
01. Mother Mary
02. When Daylight Goes To Town
03. Let It Roll
04. I’m A Loser
05. This Kids
06. The Wild One
07. Fighting Man
08. Only You Can Rock Me
09. Baby Blue
10. Mr. Freeze
11. Love To Love
12. Too Hot Too Handle
13. Lights Out
14. Rock Bottom
15. Doctor Doctor
16. Shoot Shoot

Performance 8/10
Production 8/10

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