It's a Thursday night at the intimate Northern Lights Theater inside Potawatomi Bingo and Casino. I came up here this evening to check out UFO on the North American leg of their world tour. This is a band that I have been a fan of for a very long time, going back to the Michael Schenker days of the late 70's. The last time I saw them in concert was at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, and that was so long ago they were actually taping the "Strangers in the Night" live album so I am WAY OVERDUE. Now over the years the line-up for this hard rockin' English powerhouse has changed many times over, but their unmistakable sound has always been classic driving rock mixed with melodic ballads.
Tonight's line-up featured original members Phil Mogg on vocals, and Andy Parker on drums, the wickedly talented Vinnie Moore (now in his 4th year with the band) on lead guitar and longtime keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond. Pete Way, the founding member and bassist for the group was denied a working visa by the #$%^* US Embassy so Rob DeLuca filled in for him on the US leg of the tour. The stage set-up was simple, with the drums as always to the back center, lead guitar to the left, Phil's mic on center and bass and keyboards to the right center and right.
With a simple introduction of "Ladies and gentlemen, this is UFO" we were off and running. The opening number, "Mother Mary" was crisp and clean with Mogg's vocals amazingly clear for someone who has been singing hard rock for nearly 40 years. As they flowed into the second song "Long Gone" it was clear that they were in great form. The music was tight and Moore wasted no time making his presence known with precision playing and an easygoing stage style. DeLuca stepped up front with his bass and Raymond seemed at ease switching between the guitar and keyboards. Ramping it up, the band fired up the lead track from their newest release "The Monkey Puzzle". "Hard Being Me" is a jam and is obviously a song that they enjoy playing. Everyone wore a smile and the music was smooth and clear, with Paul Raymond making his mark with a slide part to his rhythm guitar. By this time the audience was completely into it and you could see hands pumping as this band of veteran rockers cranked it up.
Next up was the song "Push It To The Limit" followed by "This Kids". Two songs on which Moore's guitar work shone through like a lighthouse on a foggy night. His riffs were effortless and passionate, showing why many of us were sitting and wondering "Schenker who?" Next up were more classic favorites "Only You Can Rock Me" and "Ain't Your Baby", followed by another new track "Heavenly Body". The latter of which was punched out emphatically by Parker's tight drumming and DeLuca's menacing bass line. Old or new, the members knew their parts and brought it all together in seamless fashion. Switching it up from the heavy side to the light, Moore stepped up to a stand mounted acoustic guitar and kicked into "Baby Blue". A great little number that has become a staple of their touring set. By this time the audience was riding a wave that was a mile high and the best was yet to come. Without any fanfare they brought the house down with a three song set off the "Lights Out" album. "Too Hot To Handle", "Lights Out" and "Love To Love" brought the crowd screaming to their feet and made the whole room shake. In the middle of this sonic celebration we had Moore and DeLuca face to face with their respective axes being played behind their heads. It was a sight to see! Moore even did a little Hendrix style playing with his teeth. With the cheers still reverberating they ended their set with the classic "Rock Bottom" featuring an extended solo from Moore that included his musical homage to Carlos Santana. What a great way to end the main part of the show.
Now you know as well as I did that there had to be an encore. Well there was, and what an encore. The band retook the stage after only about three minutes and immediately cranked it up with flawless renditions of "Let It Roll", "Doctor Doctor" and "Shoot Shoot". It was a fabulous ending to a near perfect show. I have to admit I was amazed by the strength of Mogg's voice and power with which Parker still drums. They haven't lost a step. And while Mogg's vocals aren't as high as they used to be, his low register is great and changes them only enough to make them seem like that's the way they have always been. Over all, this was an exceptional show. A few minor difficulties (shame on the sound man for cutting out Mogg's mic a few times) but one I would gladly pay to see again. In my opinion this was definitely a solid A effort. If you get the chance to see them when they come to your town, grab it, because bands like this truly prove what it means to rock!
Photos: Paul Kloiber
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