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Scorpions/Sammy Hagar and the Wabos in Mountain View, CA

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 @ 5:43 PM

Shoreline Amphitheater

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Is it reality – or is it the silk-screened luminescence conjured up by long-ago, youthful memories of fresh and exciting times and events?

Whichever it really is, one thing’s certain: I can’t ever remember a time – since first being turned on to the Scorpions during the Lovedrive era (as usual, it was via one of my friends’ hip older brothers) – that I haven’t registered some kind of chemical reaction to their music, or felt intense anticipation at the prospect of seeing them live.

And thus it was that I made sure to make my way to this S.F. Bay area venue (while on vacation), so as not to miss an increasingly rarified opportunity to see the mighty Scorps work their magic once again.

As many other KNACers can doubtless attest, back in the proverbial day, and true to their moniker, the Scorpions definitely did have a dangerous and exotic vibe about them in all respects. In part it was the mystique of their German-ness, the dark leathered image, the controversial album covers, and – most of all – that they were indeed heavier than Hell by the standards of the day, and cutting a new, Euro-toned swath into the metal genre umbrella, which has yet to be duplicated to this day.

Right from the start, guys were especially moths to the flame with that combination, especially with Scorp’s succession of legendary guitar virtuosos. (From the Schenker bros., to Uli Roth, to Matthias Jabs, the band scored knockouts on the shredmeister front, all the way down the line.)

But the other thing was the band’s characteristic haunting, neo-classical – and distinctly Euro melodicism dynamically weaving and crescendo-ing its way through all the tunes – from the rough and raunchy to the ethereal, with Klaus Meine’s highly unique vocals taking on the roll of a new kind of instrument altogether. This aspect, combined with an ever-present duality of lyrical/musical romanticism juxtaposed with the bad boy tunes, captured and kept the band’s equally ardent female following as well. In short, weather on record or the live stage, the Scorps knocked down almost all barriers and boundaries imaginable because they had – and still have – it all.

The Scorpions have long been the steady prizefighters taking on challenges from all other usurpers to meet them at their level of professionalism, intensity, shape-throwing, and near-choreographed stage acrobatics and interactions. It’s a killer combination and something the band has almost miraculously maintained for Lo these many years. Thus, over all the many tours on their long and winding road, you always knew the Scorps were going to deliver, and you knew that you were going to exit the arena or shed with a charged kind of euphoric fulfillment.

But, would the band really still have that same magic anymore? I silently wondered as much when I arrived at this show at Shoreline Amphitheater on the recent but short American leg of their current world tour. Unfortunately, like the handful of other premier, watershed heavy bands that rose to the top during the early 80s – and who still have the fire to maintain their careers now – the Scorpions are faring far better now in the Third World, Asian, Middle Eastern, and former Soviet bloc countries (who are evidently hungering for all that they missed before) in terms of record sales, concert attendance, and especially in capturing the exuberant youth market.

Thus, these bands all have some trepidation about touring the U.S. now when they’re guaranteed much larger and over-the-top audiences elsewhere in the world – without any need to share the risk, time, expense, and glory with any other equivalent act on a “package” bill. Of course, American rock fans often complain about bands like Scorpions (and other great non-American legends) not touring more extensively here, but, when they do, they must share the spotlight with several acts (witness the current Metal Masters tour) to even attempt to full up the sheds.

Consequently, on this night the Scorps were sharing the bill with Sammy Hagar in his home state of California, in a “co-headlining” arrangement which shortened each set to 90 minutes, and which – much to my displeasure – meant the Scorpions would go on first before the sun was even down. Not the respect the uber-classy Mercedes Benz band of rock ‘n’ roll was due, in my opinion – and a factor that might understandably affect the band’s renowned live enthusiasm – or so I transposed.

Also a concern was the reputed laid-back, (Bay-area) Northern California audience. Would they be as ardent in the alchemy as they are in my hometown, Chicago, where the Scorpions are still unquestionably and massively revered? And, with the passing of five long years since seeing them last, I wondered – like most fans of the band must – would Scorps still have The Stuff live? (The band’s most recent, rejuvenating studio release, Humanity-Hour 1, certainly indicated that they might.)

The answer, alas, was No and Yes to the above.

Compared to a Chicago crowd for Scorpions, this one was subdued, and many seemed partied out from the earlier bands and stage entertainment at this “Bone Bash” long before the Scorpions set. There were several rows of near-empty seats all around the area 25 rows straight up where I sat (probably due to promoter no-shows), or else these were the seats assigned to the extras on the Sammy Hagar show, who later appeared onstage in a Cabo-Wabo influence platform and stage set. With air-tight security, there was no filling them up with lawn enthusiasts, either, and strictly no frenzied pit to get the band – and thus the rest of the crowd – super pumped.

No one up front was so nonchalant as to sit there through the whole show eating “Chicken-in a Basket” (as Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris lamented a few years back regarding American shed gigs), but neither was there anything approaching a chair-standing frenzy going on for either co-headliner, as there once used to be. This clearly could be attributed to the fact that Scorpions/Hagar bill did not have any significant youthful following at this gig and venue. What “kids” could be seen here and there were accompanying parents, and the rest were 30, 40, and 50-somethings for sure. But then it’s hard to expect anything different when bands like Scorps – though they do still get played on Classic Rock stations – are ignored by most other music media these days in the U.S. Perhaps due to their explosive 80s success, the band also inadvertently lost some of its underdog, underground appeal that sometimes still draws in the American youth based on the “cool factor” alone.

As for the show itself, with a crystal-clear summer night, the sun was still shining brightly on the stage when the Scorps came on, rendering the affect of their lighting artistry nil, and they also had the disadvantage of no real stage props whatsoever. There was a huge black tarp in back of the drum stand, covering the set up for Hagar’s extensive stage set, so the Scorps were out there in stark simplicity, which, combined with the early slot, did not induce the maximum drama they deserved when they charged out with “Hour 1” off the most recent studio album.

It’s a punching, very modern Scorps heavy rocker, and appropriate as the opener – if only a few more in the crowd had been familiar with it. Most people in the reserved seats were finally on their feet when the band launched into several of their most radio-played numbers from the Lovedrive era through to Crazy World. (Americans are somewhat stuck in that era, because it’s what they’ve been exclusively media spoon fed, and the fans were allowed to more or less choose this set list.)

Not to say the songs weren’t great, and there’s nothing to fault in the Scorps always being a band that aims to please its audience. So, it was “Coming Home,” “The Zoo, “No Pain No Gain,” and then the always thrilling axe masterpiece, “Coast to Coast.” (That song alone underscores the spine-tingling beauty of Scorpions’ emotive, melodic mastery and guitar virtuosity.) The crowd excitement did indeed crescendo with the song’s climax, and then it was on to the truly heavenly ballad “Send Me an Angel.”

Meanwhile, Rudolf Schenker, long, lean, and sinewy as ever, threw age-defying acrobatic shapes, maybe better than ever before, and did his usual part to scamper everywhere possible on the stage – out to the edges and up on the drum platform, while Matthias Jabs smiled and played admirably through what seemed to be a finger wound. (He could be seen re-wrapping a bandage on his hand, even from a distance.) Klaus Meine was up to playing emcee with his familiar joviality throughout songs like the newest ballad-like number “Humanity,” “Loving You Sunday Morning,” “ I’m Leaving You” (a personal favorite), “321” (also off the newest album), and “Dynamite.”

While Meine did hit the notes with that distinctive enunciation and siren voice when it really mattered, there were moments when phrases seemed somewhat breathlessly chopped off – but then it’s also true that he hasn’t slowed down on hyperactively covering the stage any more than Schenker has. However, the subsequent James Kottak drum solo, followed by a rather strange snare drum number – all the band were lined up and playing in rhythm-corps fashion – did give pause to wonder whether it wasn’t a pseudo break specifically scheduled into an already truncated set to give the frontman time to catch his breath and rest his vocal chords.

If so, it was worth it to hear him lunge back out for the turbo-charged screamer, “Blackout,” followed by “Big City Nights” and the three encore numbers that might be guessed as mandatory in the U.S.: “Still Loving You,” “ No One Like You” (still one of the best succinct guitar solos of all time per Jabs), and the ubiquitous “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

At the end of the set the audience showed their love, if in the more reserved and polite fashion of dignified maturity, if you get my drift. Not many screaming at the top of their lungs for minutes, or lighting up any Bics, or jumping up and down for more; with another band on next, for better or worse, they dutifully accepted the protocol in a way that the younguns might not.

Still, the longstanding respect for Scorpions was clear, and, if this leg ended up with an even more reverent and boisterous reception at the last date in Chicago, it might bode well for the band following through with a stated goal of hooking up with a compatible act or two for a more comprehensive Stateside arena tour early next year. (It does generate inner speculation about what band(s) would make a killer bill for that …)

During the intermission, it became clear that despite the primo spot on the bill this night, and a much more comprehensive stage set (along with a California home crowd), Hagar also may have suffered as much as he was helped by this billing of classic rock bug guns because a significant portion of the crowd could be seen exiting the venue after the Scorpions set. The two bands were apparently more compatible era-wise than they were audience-wise, thus each fan base was somewhat indifferent to the other band.

Still, the Red Rocker did put on the kind of satisfying party-hardy show for which he’s renowned, and there’s no denying that he too has the cajones and an extensive collection of solid party anthems to pull off a whole headlining show anywhere on his own. (For those not aware of just how many gems there really are, the set-list is below at the foot.)

Meanwhile, as we hightailed it out of there before the encore to beat the traffic jam (which I certainly would have endured for the Scorps), for the first time in my life, I did indeed feel a bit unsettled after a Scorpions gig. … And a bit envious, too, of those other worldly rock fans around the globe who truly get the best of the Scorpions. As a study of tour schedules and venues indicates – along with numerous representative DVDs – the band (and the handful of other peers in their league) save their more extensive, unique, and adventurous productions, not to mention a greater level of enthusiasm, for other countries outside the U.S. But, of course they’re it’s completely justified: they’re also very obviously getting the very best back from the crowds and music scene elsewhere in the world themselves.

That said, one can only hope the day doesn’t arrive anytime soon when the Scorpions just decide that America’s not worth the trouble of “Coming Home” to at all anymore …

Sammy Hagar and the Wabos Set List:

  • I Can’t Drive 55
  • There’s Only One Way to Rock
  • I’ll Fall in Love Again
  • On Top of the World
  • Three Lock Box
  • Sam I Am
  • Rock Candy
  • Eagles Fly
  • Serious Juju
  • Good Enough
  • Why Can’t This Be Love?
  • Best of Both Worlds
  • Heavy Metal
  • Mas Tequila
  • Summertime Blues/Fight for Your Right

Check out photos from the show here.

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