Michael Schenker Fest / DEPARTED
There were a lot of posts stating this would be “Concert of the Year”, with tons of videos and comments from earlier gigs on the tour saying the same. I did my best not to read or check anything since I really wanted everything to be new and to not push my expectations even more than I already had. Arriving at the O2 Academy in Sheffield and checking out my photo-pass I was handed the full setlist of the show. It was with delight mixed anxiety I took it, I REALLY don't want to know the songs prior to the show and not only did I get the setlist in my hand I was forced to look at it to make out when I was allowed to shoot from the photo-pit. The horror!
The young and upcoming DEPARTED kicked off the show for a rather indifferent crowd. But they are a hard working band on stage and their mix and mash of classic Melodic Hard Rock went down really well, both in Sheffield and Manchester. The fact that they're starting to make a name for themselves is proven by opening slots they've had over the last year. It took a few songs to get everyone (including me) onboard. I thought the opening “Superstitious” was a bit too soft. But the longer the set went by the more DEPARTED were getting to me. Also, getting out of the photo-pit the sound got much better. So it was from “Dreaming” I really could enjoy the show. In Manchester though, the overall sound was much weaker than it was in Sheffield. But it wasn't only for DEPARTED, it was for the whole evening.
I like it seeing more Hard Rock oriented acts popping up these days, we're talking about very well-written music here, in the likes of ART NATION and INGLORIOUS. Throw in a bit of the '70s Classics as DEEP PURPLE and BAD COMPANY to it and you have DEPARTED. GUNS 'N' ROSES oozing “Pretty Little Thing” was another one standing out. From a vocal melody perspective it's perhaps more BON JOVI. The combination sure works and with vocalist Mark Pascall, DEPARTED sure have a good thing going. He can carry melodies in a fantastic way and has good power both in the mellow as well as the high-pitched passages.
The one thing that struck me watching DEPARTED play is that it's rather easy to draw references in their music to other bands. But what is truly unique these days? As long as it's good music it really is enough. And on occasion they could do well with a second guitarist as it became a little empty in a few solos. Petty little things really... The old QUEEN classic “Tie Your Mother Down” woke people up and it's fun to see when people unintentional start dancing and moving to the music. People were standing around talking but reacted anyway. Which mean DEPARTED selected a smart cover and did the song justice. And absolutely, it sounded really good.
With a set and performance like this it's no wonder they're picked to open at events like this one and I don't think it won't be long until they're out playing for good crowds on their own.
02. “Don't Follow Me”
03. “All I Want”
05. “Pretty Little Thing”
06. “Steal Your Crown”
07. “Soul Shaker”
08. “Come On”
09. “All the Way”
10. “Tie Your Mother Down” (QUEEN cover)
11. “Are You Ready?”
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Then it was time. The concept of the ‘Michael Schenker Fest’ was definitely a wet dream coming true from the moment I first heard about it. I've seen MSG with Gary Barden before but not the others. Especially the MCAULEY SCHENKER GROUP era is something I've been wanting to see live for ages. “Perfect Timing” was one of the first records I ever bought and I loved it from the first spin and it has remained a favorite over the years. It must have been early spring I bought the tickets for these concerts and it felt extremely far away at that time. And now it was surreal that it was actually happening. When DEPARTED's gear was moved off stage and the distinctive MSG logo appeared, that alone gave me goosebumps.
After the “Searching For Freedom” intro “Into The Arena” took off. I love that song and I'm fascinated it's such a hit even if it's an instrumental piece. It all sounded amazing. Michael Schenker had his trademark, black and white (now Dean instead of the classic Gibson) Flying V safely tucked between his legs and grooving to the music. What a start. I actually managed to not read the songs on the setlist so when Gary Barden came out and the party kicked off “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”... Even if the song itself didn't come as a surprise, the MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST did that one at 'Sweden Rock Festival' in 2016 as well, at least I didn't know it was that one Gary would start his vocal session with. And Gary sounded fantastic, no cold or anything else to disturb the peace this time. Right from start everyone seemed to have such a good time up on stage. Gary looked ridiculously happy and bassist Chris Glen played with the photographers and first line of the crowd making faces. “Victim Of Illusion” which was up next is an old favorite of mine so that was a treat that it remained in the set from the last round. It was for “Cry For The Nations” the crowd really woke up though, both in Sheffield and Manchester. This seems to be a crowd favorite over here. I would much rather have had “On And On” left in the set though but seeing the crowds response it's no doubt why they kept this one. I had to take a look at the setlist a few songs into the Gary Barden section of the show to make sure I had control over the next session for photos. I can say I wasn't disappointed seeing “Attack Of The Mad Axeman” and “Armed And Ready” on the list. It was an impressive first section of the show.
What I really like about the whole arrangement this time was the addition of instrumental pieces in the set when it was time for a vocalist change which meant no pause to get ready. “Coast To Cost”, the SCORPIONS classic marked the end of Gary onstage time and the entrance of Graham Bonnet. In Sheffield he made himself very visible with an extremely pink jacket. No matter what, he still can sing. It's fascinating to watch him as he uses all his force all the time, power he has all over the range. Yes, he slides a bit to hit the highest notes but that is nothing that disturbs the general impression. “Desert Song” is the first out for Graham and it's great to hear the crowd sing to it. It was very good in Manchester but absolutely ok in Sheffield too.
After “Captain Nemo” came the thing I was looking forward to hearing the most and the part that caused the most ruffle for me. I think the ‘Michael Schenker Fest’ event missed the mark with what Robin McAuley was assigned to sing at 'Sweden Rock Festival'. I loved to hear “Save Yourself” as well as his version of “Rock Bottom” but only that and one more was far from enough. So I was super-thrilled when “No Time For Losers” took off. A track from “Perfect Timing” and most importantly one new in the set. And damn he's good. His voice is crisp and clear and really cuts through the music. He has the same power and tone as back in the day. Michael had no luck with strings in Manchester though. One broke in the first few songs and another for the Robin part of the show. Robin excused Michael saying this to the crowd while waiting for him to come back with a new guitar on which Michael corrected him saying he actually broke two strings. Then continuing with; “if you wonder why the solos are a little bit special tonight, that's the case”; definitely different on occasion but still flawless and fantastic.
I really managed to not look at the list for this part of the show as both “Bad Boys” and “Love Is Not A Game” came as real surprises and sounded great them too. That Robin still got to do “Rock Bottom” after this set I certainly didn't mind. It sounded incredible at 'SRF' and the same here. The mid-tempo bridge especially. While Phil Mogg's voice is rather nasal and laid back, Robin really pushes it. I'd lost count at this point on what time but this was a truly pleasurable moment and every hair on my body stood straight up. One more thing that struck me here; Michael is the star of course and the solos he made for this song are impressive. He rightly got massive cheers after each section. But on the other flank of the stage with Steve Mann on keyboards doubling most everything Michael did. Sure, much of it is classic and should stay in its form. But it was definitely not the same solo during the two nights.
The real party and the encores started with “Doctor Doctor” where all vocalists participated and sung a verse each. Something that worked perfect. And I don't know it was the intimacy at these clubs as compared to the massive 'Sweden Rock Festival' stage or that the band has come together in a much better way. Because it doesn't get much better than this. Musically it was perfection. Michael had extraordinary good days here (which he always seem to have nowadays) and played in a fantastic way. He also looked extremely cheerful doing it. The rest were playing around pushing each other gently and it was huge smiles everywhere.
“Natural Thing” was listed for Sheffield as well but it was only in Manchester this was featured in the set. Even if I rather have songs added than cut (had the setlist, remember...) I really appreciated to get to hear that one once at least. The grand finale came with “Lights Out” and here too the vocalists took turns. The set lasted almost two hours but it felt it was over in no time. I could easily have gone with an hour each of the vocalists but of course that's not doable. Still, that must be seen as a very good grade for the show. It was good fun to watch and for sure two hours worth of flawless musical performances.
Michael Schenker setlist:
01. “Searching for Freedom”
02. “Into the Arena”
03. “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”
04. “Victim of Illusion”
05. “Cry for the Nations”
06. “Attack of the Mad Axeman”
07. “Armed and Ready”
08. “Coast to Coast”
09. “Desert Song”
11. “Assault Attack”
12. “Captain Nemo”
13. “No Time for Losers”
14. “Save Yourself”
15. “Bad Boys”
16. “Love Is Not a Game”
17. “Rock Bottom”
18. “Doctor Doctor”
19. “Natural Thing” (Manchester only)
20. “Lights Out”
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