Concert Review: UFO
(San Francisco, The Independent, 01-11-09)
On November 1, 2009, UFO landed at the cesspool known as The Independent (“TI”), a grungy club in a fairly scruffy neighborhood. This marks the second consecutive concert UFO has played at TI, the last time also being on a Sunday, July 25, 2005. TI is a 375 seat club built approximately 50 years ago that previously operated under names such as The Kennel Club and Viz.
As you walk through the entrance and go through a narrow hallway you immediately end up on the general admission floor approximately 10 feet stage left. The stage measures approximately 30 feet across and only four feet high with no photo pit. The bar is located opposite the stage. TI has a second floor that includes quasi box seat sections stage right (eight- to 10 seat capacity) and stage left (three- to four seat capacity), as well as a mixing console across the stage. [The box seats are not as grandiose as the ones located in a traditional theater and more resemble wooden structures perched atop a tree house. The venue size gives TI more of a square than a rectangular shape, making it ideal for (1) a cock fight contest or (2) the chap toting, beer swigging redneck brigade to raise a raucous line dancing. For these reasons, and the shady neighborhood, if UFO was really an alien ship, I am hard pressed to believe it would have taken a gander at this venue, much less went inside.] However, the intimate venue size, low raised stage, and lack of photo pit afford an opportunity to get close to performers. For this reason, I have not passed up opportunities to see acts such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Blackmore’s Night, Testament, and Y&T at TI.
UFO was supported by the Travis Larson Band, a Southern California based fusion rock band that played a 45-minute instrumental set from 8:15 to 9:00.
UFO played 16 songs. Rather than act as a brace laden, pigtailed teenage girl who is a tease only flashing her developing goods to a hormone enraged boy (i.e., analogous to you the readers), I will enumerate all the songs UFO performed in lieu of a select group.
1. Saving Me (The Visitor record, 2009). The show started out with background music that was the introduction to the first song off UFO’s new (and 20th) studio record released in June 2009. I give credit to UFO for having the courage to start a show not only with a new song, one that most fans are not familiar with, but also one that is mid tempo with an acoustic introduction that Vinnie Moore (“VM”) played on a guitar propped on a stand a la “Beyond the Realms of Death” by the mighty Judas Priest. [I would have preferred if the show started with a song powerful enough to sheer the skin off my face or, at the very least, pummel my brain to the point where I can only speak in monosyllables.] This song is very bluesy with a strong guitar riff, solid drum beat, and an acoustic guitar solo. At the end of the song, Phil Mogg (“PM”) pulled a note out of his pocket and extended “Happy Birthday to Bob.” [Two questions popped in my head. First, why on earth would PM need to keep a note to remember a name as simple and short as Bob. The only simpler name I can think of is Ed. Second, what would be the most efficient and clandestine means for me to hunt down Bob and shove my combat boot up his butt for interrupting the momentum so early in the gig.]
2. Daylight Goes to Town (You Are Here, 2004) features soulful vocal performance by PM. PM wore black jean pants, black jean jacket, black tank top, and black boots that he laced up above him cuffs. [PM was the rock version of Johnny Cash, only much leaner and fit, surprising given the amount of beer he consumed (see below).]
3. Mother Mary (Force It, 1975) featured fiery guitar riffs and runs, as well as a great guitar solo. VM wore black jean pants (with a chain extending from his belt loop to his back pocket), black and grey t shirt with a glitter skull emblem atop a cross, and black sneakers. PM repeatedly held up the mike stand throughout this song. PM continued this tradition throughout the show. [I was inclined to suggest a workout regimen to PM, placing circular weights at the stand base to make a makeshift dumbbell.]
4. Let It Roll (Force It, 1975) featured great guitar feedback that would have made Ritchie Blackmore proud. Andy Parker (“AP”), UFO’s original drummer, resumed his duties with vigor at the skins pounding a coffee colored Tama drum set with double bass drums like a madman. The song featured a fast pounding drum beat. AP’s act of snarling and grinding his teeth as he pummeled the life out of his drums was priceless. [I was waiting for AP to lift a bass drum atop his head and shout, “Hulk angry!” Then effortlessly crush the bass drum like an aluminum can.] AP wore a black muscle t shirt, fitting for his large John Bohnamseque frame. At the end of this song, PM made a witty comment, something that became the norm during the show. Sadly, given PM’s thick British accent, I could not understand most of what he was saying, something about it “being hard to get to the East End.” [I looked at VM and he had the same blank expression on his face. Now if VM does not understand what PM was saying after a six year tenure in the band, I gather I am not retarded, at least not in the clinical sense.]
5. I’m A Loser (No Heavy Petting, 1976) features a slow introduction and then progresses to an upbeat tempo. This song has a groovy, punchy bass line faithfully delivered by Rob De Luca (“RDL”). RDL, a New Yorker, formerly of Sebastian Bach’s band, filled in for the ill Pete Way. RDL wore a black muscle t shirt, brown boots, and vintage vertical striped (grey, red, and blue) slacks. [RDL told me post show his slacks were inspired by the Pete Way school of fashion.] Paul Raymond (“PR”) played his Korg and Roland keyboards. At the end of the song PM told another incoherent joke. [I felt as if I was watching the opening monologue of a re run episode of the classic 1970s British comedy show, “Benny Hill.”]
6. Hell Driver (The Visitor, 2009) was the second new song UFO performed, a song with a groovy riff, memorable solo, heavy drums, and prominent use of a cowbell. This song received the most rabid response, making it the ideal choice for the set opener. At the end of the song PM consumed one of many beers for the night and proclaimed, “It is all for effect.” [However, PM’s gusto for, and quantity of, beer consumption reflected it was more for the love of beer, qualifying PM for candidacy in Alcoholics Anonymous.]
7. Cherry (Obsession, 1978) is a crushing number that meandered between slow fast slow fast tempos. It reminded me of classic songs by The Who. At the end of the song PM said there is “humor in the last line [of the song].” [Sadly, the humor of the joke was lost on me. I looked at VM and his expression echoed the same sentiment. PM looked at VM while telling the joke and VM forcibly nodded while PM was mid sentence as if to say, “Get on with it already. I am on an adrenaline high and do not want to hear a standup routine.”]
8. Only You Can Rock Me (Obsession, 1978) features prominent keyboard by PR, making it a poppier song but still with a strong drum beat. PR wore black jean pants, a short sleeve button up black shirt, black satin vest with a burgundy floral pattern, and black sneakers. PR is a talented guitarist and keyboardist. His laid back lackadaisical stage persona is in sharp contrast to his band mates. [But then again, so was that of John Entwistle in comparison to the over the top antics of Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend of The Who.]
9. Ain’t No Baby (Obsession, 1978) features an effective, plodding bass line. During this song, and many others, PM took two to three steps left and right with conviction and a slight bob of the head. [PM looked as if he was sparring or getting ready for a boxing match. He would also come up toward stage front, but back away just before he got close enough for the fans to reach him.]
10. Love to Love (Lights Out, 1977) featured PR on keyboards. Although a slower song, it featured heavy drums and a heavy bass line. VM switched between his electric and acoustic guitars (the latter on a stand). This song was played in extended form and featured a great VM guitar solo. VM used Dean Guitars and Engl Amplification. At the end of the song PM reached in his pocket and pulled out some currency. [I thought he was going to tip the crowd for their enthusiasm, but PM had other plans that came to light after the next song.]
11. Mystery Train (Junior Parker/Sam Phillips cover, 1953) is a cover song from nearly 60 years ago with a very strong blues feel and clap along introduction. PM sang this song in a very low octave, so much so that the veins in his left temple were prominently exposed. [The veins were so apparent that PM looked like one of the victims in the 1981 horror film “Scanners” with the unfortunate fate of having his mind controlled by the scanner alien beings bearing great psychic power. I was waiting for PM’s temple to profusely bleed and eventually explode. Maybe that is why PM drank so much beer, to numb his brain to the point that it did not explode, something that may also work for me when my brain begins to feel warm, like a poached egg after continued, excessive head banging.] The song also featured harmonica. At first I was puzzled as I did not see any band mate toting a harmonica. But I looked up and saw PR synthesizing this effect on his keyboard. [It would have been more authentic to see PM pull out a harmonica out of his pocket.] At the end of this song a waitress toting a small plate with a beer walked right next to me front row and handed PM another beer. PM approached her with the currency he had earlier taken out and the waitress begrudgingly accepted the money.
12. Too Hot to Handle (Lights Out, 1977) features a great chorus and was one of the top three songs of the night. During the solo VM and RDL each lifted and positioned their axes behind their heads and then approached each other, standing within a few feet of each other while jamming. After about 30 seconds of dueling axes, VM took it a step further and began to pluck his guitar strings with his teeth. [Jimi Hendrix would have been proud. I wonder if VM’s band mates ever tease him by offering him a high E-string in lieu of dental floss once he gets in his jammies.] Positioned atop the monitor within a few feet of AP’s left shoulder was a colorful toy figurine measuring approximately three inches holding a guitar and gyrating his hips left and right like Elvis Presley in response to the sound reverberating through the small club. A very fitting addition to the band’s tongue in cheek humor. [Given AP’s husky frame, he looked like King Kong next to the figurine. AP’s menacing snarl, teeth grinding, and head shaking made it seem as if, at any moment, he would snatch the figurine and engulf it in one bite like a gummy bear.] At the end of the song PM pontificated, “Since this is the last gig [before UFO resumes the tour in Europe in mid November], I asked the band their thoughts on playing in a band. As it turns out, they all think different things.” [One of the readers out there please e mail me the point PM tried to make. I felt like I was listening to Confucius. PM’s eternal wisdom was far beyond what my miniscule brain could handle. I am still grappling and contemplating the difficult question of the true shape of my fuzzy navel.]
13. Lights Out (Lights Out, 1977) was likely the most memorable song of the night. As I was head banging to the rollicking guitar, bass, and drums, the music felt like a hurricane gaining force and momentum about to peel the ceiling off the club and my face. [A cautionary note to young head bangers front row near a low raised stage: be wary and cognizant of the location of stage monitors. I have driven my forehead into monitors while head banging due to my lack of coordination and appreciation for the laws of physics, acting like an inept martial artist feebly attempting to split the monitor as if it is a pine board.] Lights Out began with an up tempo beat and a slower mid section, providing definition and depth.
14. Rock Bottom (Phenomenon, 1974) featured an extended five to six minute guitar solo during which PM stepped off stage. [I gather PM had enough time to make a quick beer run to the liquor store located across the street.] PM reappeared on stage following VM’s solo concluding what turned out to be a 12 minute epic that left me physically drained akin to a quickie nookie session. Rock Bottom, Too Hot to Handle, and Lights Out were the top three songs. The band left the stage at 11:10 and returned in two minutes to play the first of two encores.
15. Shoot Shoot (Force It, 1975) features heavy drums, a great guitar riff, and an extended solo break. The band left the stage a second time at 11:21 and returned in two minutes to play the second encore.
16. Doctor Doctor (Phenomenon, 1974) was the final song, a strong number, but not as memorable as the preceding three songs.
Two flashback memories are worthy of mention. The first involves seeing Dio at the Cow Palace in San Francisco during the Sacred Heart tour (12-08-85). During that show I recall looking around the nearly sold out 18,000 seat arena at the sea of fans of all ages, those dating back to Ronnie James Dio’s Elf and Rainbow days, as well as newer fans that revered his work with Black Sabbath and his solo band. The wide age spectrum reflected a healthy fan base, ensuring Dio’s commercial and artistic success for many years to come and laying the basis for him to continue to play large arenas through the late 1980s. Sadly, the same could not be said for UFO because the Old Fart Test failed. The Old Fart Test is simple to apply. When the white stage lights shine on the crowd you simply look back at the audience at the quantity of prescription spectacles sparkling and reflecting light. If you observe a large quantity of reflections, it means the audience contains a lot of older fans (i.e., old farts). This was the case at the UFO show. Do not get me wrong. It is ok to have a large contingent of older fans because they tend to be the diehard fans able and willing to sing and play air guitar to each and every song in the band’s catalog. However, when the audience has a limited number of younger fans, like at the UFO show, it is cause for concern. A band such as UFO will continue to have its core of diehard fans in there thirties and above that worship UFO for significant, immeasurable impact on the development of the heavy metal genre. However, judging from the San Francisco show, UFO may have difficulty drawing younger fans, at least in the Bay Area, stymieing its efforts to play to larger crowds, sell greater quantities of records, and, in turn, attain the commercial success UFO rightfully deserves.
The second flashback memory I had was to seeing (Ritchie) Blackmore’s Night play at TI (02 01 05). In contrast to the loud raucous show UFO put on, Blackmore was more intent on decorum and keeping sound at a minimum. On a few occasions I observed from front row Blackmore looking above his head at the air conditioning (“A/C”) unit hanging above the stage approximately 10 feet from his head. Blackmore seemed distracted as if he was being pestered by tsetse flies hovering overhead. Then, Blackmore abruptly put down his acoustic guitar mid song and casually walked off stage. A venue staff member came on stage and made an announcement that the A/C unit was making excessive noise and distracting Mr. Blackmore. This coming from a guitar legend who, as a member of Deep Purple and Rainbow, used to play in front of a wall of Marshall amplifiers high enough to require a ladder and oxygen mask for his stage hands to scale their lofty heights. The house crew worked diligently to shut off the A/C. When Ritchie came back on stage I was saddened I was not wearing my Kiss Lick It Up tour t shirt (1983) so I could proudly display the bold and poignant message it bears, one I will preach to the day I gingerly cart my IV ridden, hobbled, shriveled frame to my grave in a rusted, squeaky wheelchair, “If It’s Too Loud, You’re Too Old.”
Arash Moussavian, Entertainment Law Attorney
All photos taken by Arash Moussavian. This article and all photos are protected by copyright. Please contact me prior to use, or I will make shish kabab of your loins.