UFO | 10.15.09

live_ufo.gifUFO itself is a well-kept secret of sorts.

 Bottleneck Blues Bar, Ameristar Casino, St. Charles, Mo.

Something happened at the UFO concert in St. Charles, Mo., that I’d never experienced. The band played a good show, and a good encore (the Michael Schenker/Phil Mogg-written stomp-rocker "Doctor, Doctor"), then left. The house lights came back on, along with the house PA music. People were feeling that good afterglow (and ringing in the ears), smiling, and beginning to file out.

Then, a few minutes later, the band suddenly came back onstage and grabbed their instruments. Charismatic lead singer Mogg explained that the bar had turned off their power and turned on the house lights erroneously, before the encore was truly over, so the band had left the stage. But that little logistical snafu was over, and UFO wanted to finish their set proper. So they did, with the joyous pounder "Shoot Shoot."

We audience members just looked at each other. Oh my God! A secret encore for the less-than-half of the original audience still left! How lucky were we? This was just exclusive and golden, all because of someone else’s bad timing. Shitty luck for those who’d left, fer sure, but a happy lagniappe for us lucky few.

UFO itself is a well-kept secret of sorts. The U.K.-formed hard rockers started back in ’69, and they play shows in 2009 with original members and ageless wonders Mogg and drummer Andy Parker. Celebrated original bassist Pete Way has had health problems of late, and has been replaced in recent years by one Rob De Luca. Guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond (who plays a right-handed guitar upside-down and lefty, a lá Hendrix) has been in the fold since ’76. Vinnie Moore, respected as a "shredder" guitar speed-specialist in the ‘80s, has been with the band for a number of albums now.

So 40 years and 20 albums on, UFO may be a bigger draw in Europe, but the hard-rock cognoscenti (read: aging mulletheads like me) packed the casino’s small club for this show.

Mogg sounded great, with his scratchy working-man’s tenor largely undiminished by time. His face is sufficiently gaunt that he could do a reasonable Peter Cushing imitation, too, which just adds to the image of immortal rock vampire. (And his onstage banter is pretty good material, incidentally. An extended discourse on Cialis earned big laughs, and a story about someone from Deep Purple supposedly telling him that "‘the problem with you guys [UFO] is you just can’t be serious…’ was probably the greatest compliment we ever received" was illuminating.)

The band played a nice chunk of its greatest hits. "I’m a Loser" with its refrain of "Hard times!" and its "hang on, brother" vibe sounded just great. "Love to Love" began with that spooky, John Carpenter-esque keyboard and switched into its time changes nicely. UFO specializes in hard rock, but they have quite a few mid-tempo songs and ballads that have become memorable, too.

I prefer the hard rockers, though, and they saved the blistering "Lights Out" for the end of the show. I hate to say it, but I was awfully dismayed with the way the sound was configured. The guitar was just buried in bass, and I found myself running all over the venue like an idiot looking to stand in a spot where the song sounded as majestic as it can. It was a hopeless chase.

I had to wonder why I‘d just noticed it then, after a dozen other songs. I realized it was because as a middling UFO fan—not a fanatic—I like some songs in their catalog quite a bit, but I’m just crazy for "Lights Out." That single song was what had really got me out to the show. When they kicked into it, my standards had ramped up, and though the gods of rock may have been smiling, they simply were not raining down beatitudes upon the brows of the fervent. Cool, but not awesome.

What happened next further saddened me. Vinnie Moore, the aforementioned "shredder" who’s been with UFO for about five years now, took Michael Schenker’s truly epic solo from the middle of "Rock Bottom" and replaced it with one of his own.

The original is unmistakably Michael Schenker at the top of his game. It just builds and cooks and soars and enchants. Moore, on the other hand, is one of these guys who receives acclaim for how many notes he can fit into one burst. His solo was just endless, passion-free noodling, and I began to wish I’d brought a crossword puzzle.

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but there’s a reason the average rock fan has never heard of most of the ‘80s "shredders." Moore and compatriots Tony MacAlpine, Jason Becker, Chris Impellitteri, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, "The Great Kat," whoever, are largely guitarists who appeal(ed) to other guitarists. It’s not about the speed, dude, it’s about the art. Paganini wasn’t exactly famous for his songwriting, either.

Regardless, the UFO show was empirical proof that a group of wild kids playing hard rock can coast for four decades, right into the AARP years, and lose virtually none of the magic. | Byron Kerman

 

Set list:
Saving Me
When Daylight Goes to Town
Mother Mary
Let It Roll
I’m a Loser
Hell Driver
Cherry
Only You Can Rock Me
Ain’t No Baby
Love to Love
Mystery Train
Too Hot to Handle
Lights Out
Rock Bottom

Encore:
Doctor, Doctor

2nd Encore:
Shoot, Shoot

(Special thanks to Derek Lauer for knowing the name of every song I didn’t.)

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