Monday, November 18, 2013

Scorpions Live In The Quad Cities

Scorpions

Live at the I-Wireless Center

Moline, IL August 20, 2010

You would surmise from my farewell to the Scorpions as they embarked on their Get Your Sting and Blackout tour, I’d be chomping at the bit to catch the band on one final ride.

Like everyone reading this, I too am constrained by outside influences when it comes to seeing a concert: wife, kids, budget, work schedule, etc. The child daycare secured through the wife who had no interest in seeing Germany’s greatest rock export (Her: “Are they going to play ‘Wind of Change’?” Me: “God I hope not!” Her: “I’ll stay home with the kids, then.”) and with the show scheduled for a Friday night, there was no conflict with work. The only real obstacle was self-imposed; having shot a major financial wad on Iron Maiden, did I really want to make another investment on Scorpions…particularly if the openers were Dokken?

I checked the tour schedule months ago and noticed that younger brother Michael Schenker was opening on one of the Scorpions’ dates in Chicago. That got me excited as the Quad Cities date was the day before. But Michael was only appearing at the Chicago show, and I was bummed about that, because Michael Schenker rhymes with “rockin’” ten times more than Dokken does. I put the Quad Cities date into a questionable status.

Occasionally, I kept tabs on the show leading up to the date and in the process began to notice how dismal the ticket sales were. I also began to figure out how ticket sales work. When the date was first announced, only tickets in the venue’s lower level balcony were available. By a week before, the seats had suddenly improved to ground level center seats. On the day before the show, that had improved to the 13th row center.

Still, I procrastinated.

Work trudged along until Friday came, a day that I thought I would be able to check out early since I had thrown down a bit of OT for the rest of the workweek. By Thursday afternoon, I learned that my presence was required for the rest of the day on Friday, and since I’m takin’ what they’re givin’ cuz I’m workin’ for a livin’, I spent Friday afternoon stuck at work instead of prepping for a Scorpions concert.

While at work, I tuned out the reality by listening to Animal Magnetism and some selections from Blackout. I should note that a few days before this I got the latest Scorpions album Sting In The Tail as well, to review and to get familiar with what appears to be the band’s final studio album. By the time I got home from work on Friday, my shitty week fueled an unstoppable desire to have a good time, in whatever manner that was available. And with the knowledge that there would be bad boys running wild about an hour-and-a-half away, I made the decision to go see the Scorpions.

A quick check of Ticketmaster proved to be fruitless, but since I knew the show wasn’t anywhere near a sell-out, I figured that I could still pick up a spare ticket at the box office window or from a needy scalper.

For reasons only explained by the items obtained in preparation for the show, I became convinced that the I-Wireless Center was located in Rock Island, Illinois. Rock Island is indeed one of the Quad Cities, but the I-Wireless Center is located in one of the other three communities in that region.

It took walking around idiotically for a half-hour in the Rock Island District during a light rain shower before I figured out the venue that the Scorpions were playing at was not there. My quiet stroll also put me even closer to the band’s starting time, and the fact that the Quad Cities seem to not be large enough to necessitate the need for high-speed mobile connections made the Google Maps search on my Blackberry a frustrating ordeal of “requesting information” bars and “timed out” errors.

I’d been at the I-Wireless Center before under different names and for different shows and I remembered even in my condition that it was next to the Mississippi River. With absolutely no technology helping, I used my manly powers of magnetic field direction and followed the river upstream until I was in the second of the Quad Cities: Moline, Illinois.

Thankfully, there were road markers indicating that I had navigated correctly. I quickly found a place a few blocks away from the venue (note to self: Pabst Blue Ribbon sign) and walked towards the show, confident that I had not only completely missed Dokken, but that my endless delays and bad luck had most assuredly made me miss the first two songs of the Scorpions’ set.

As long as I didn’t miss “The Zoo,” I would continue onward.

A middle-aged man stood across the street, yelling “Tickets!” in humid sprinkle of the Friday evening. “What have you got?” I asked.

“Row 12. Center section. Down in front.”

“How much?” I asked, knowing that at this late stage, he did not have much bargaining power.

“At this point, you’re my last option, I’ll let them go for face value.” I probably could get them for less if I bartered some more, but I knew from looking at the ticket and seeing the section and rows on it that the seat was indeed a good one.

What I didn’t know was how good. The stars aligned in such a way that after I paid the man for my ticket, I walked into the I-Wireless Center and was greeted by the sound of an intermission crowd buying beer, Scorpions t-shirts, and slowly making progress in the lines for the restroom.

I made it before show time.

An usher pointed me to my seat, and I did a double take to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. Row 12, section B placed me right in front of the stage catwalk, which meant that everything timed out perfectly to where I had gotten front-row seats to the Scorpions show.

I’m not sure how other stops on the tour are doing, but for this Quad City stop the venue was maybe half-full. They had even partitioned off the top level of the arena since no seats were sold for it and no band that’s touring for their 40th year of existence wants to visually see how strained their appeal has become.

There were very few in attendance under the age of 30 and I noticed that one parent had brought his 9-year-old girl to sing along with “Tease Me, Please Me.” There were also a lot of decent looking, middle-aged ladies who did their best at dolling up to make a good visual impression with their husbands, boyfriends, or to the members of the Scorpions’ video crew.

My neighbor was a forty-year old, well-dressed Mexican man who was sweating away the beers he consumed during Dokken and was manageably inebriated in preparation for the Scorpions set. “I was drunk and a little high last night and on the computer,” he offered, “and I just went to the website and bought a ticket. I had no idea that I got seats this close!”

I didn’t spoil his story by letting he know that I had literally just walked up to the arena and gotten my ticket for the same spot, but I shared with him that our seats were indeed “Awesome!” and that our seats would automatically make the show “Awesome!”

And with perfect timing, the lights darkened and the Scorpions took the stage with the title track of their latest album. Their set was fantastically appointed with two giant video screens that would often match the pixelated light sequence of an illuminated grid that covered the band’s gear. The drums were hoisted on a platform that immediately began to rise, causing my new friend to exclaim “Holy shit! That’s awesome!”

It was awesome, but not as great as when guitarist Rudolph Schenker came out on the catwalk, opened his mouth wide and began playing his custom-made flying V that had a Mercedes Benz logo on the headstock. There was another Mercedes logo on one of the “V’s” that went through the entire body of the guitar.

Throughout the night, he would offer up other Flying Vs: a Ferrari edition with the appropriate color schemes and a hollow cutaway for that brand’s logo, an infamous half black/half white model that’s been a mainstay of his collection, and a vintage blond model that’s seen plenty of action. I was so close that I could hear the sound of him strumming the strings before I heard the amplified results coming from the P.A.

Matthias Jabs also found his home on the catwalk. Jabs was wide-eyed and smiling with his mouth open during the entire set. He’d occasionally blow a kiss to a foxy MILF or scrunch up his face (still grinning) whenever he’d offer a bit of tasty fretwork. He played a variety of guitars too, but I was a bit shocked when he used a couple of Cort models, a low-priced Korean guitar maker who is more famously known for the atrocious working conditions of its guitar factory than with their guitar quality.

Drummer James Kottak fancies himself as a good enough musician to warrant a ten minute drum solo, which featured a video collage of him acting in short vignettes that identified some of the band’s most notable albums while managing to steer clear of their ’70s output, with the exception of their breakthrough U.S. album, Lovedrive. Most of the albums they featured would have included drummer Herman ‘Ze German’ Rarebell on them, but Kottak does a good job of acting the Wildman part.

At the end of his solo—drum riser about twenty feet in the air-he jumped on top of his kit, turned his back to the crowd to reveal his t-shirt to read “Rock & Roll Forever” on the back. He then took off his shirt to reveal that he had the exact same lettering tattooed across his back permanently.

“That guy’s fucking crazy, man!” declared my neighbor.

It turns out that the guy even has his own t-shirts for sale with “Kottak Attack” on the front and—you guessed it—”Rock & Roll Forever” on the back. A quick glance at the man’s website shows that, prior to his stint with the Scorpions for the past fifteen years, he was one of the members of Kingdom Come. And since Kingdom Come was pretty great in a Led Zeppelin clone kind of way, I have no issue with James Kottak franchising himself.

The only disadvantage to being that close to the stage is that you have a chance to see just how much your old school metal acts have aged. Matthias Jabs looks no worse for the wear, opting for a hat during the entire proceedings, presumably to hide his diminishing follicles.

At 61 years of age, Rudolph Schenker looks fabulously toned and carefully shone in his close-cropped platinum blond spike top. He is a master rhythm guitar player, cutting through the staccato introductions of “Blackout,” “The Zoo” (Neighbor: “Oh my God! I can’t believe they’re playing this!”), and “Big City Nights.” At the end of most songs, he’d strike an iconic hard rock pose, usually with pointing his Flying V up in the air, out towards the crowd, or out to the outstretched arms in phallic symbolism. There were moments where I felt giddy inside thinking, “Rudy Schenker is an arms-length away from me!”

But there was nothing compared to the moment when the lead singer of the Scorpions walked down the catwalk to similar proximity, prompting me to think, “Klaus Meine is an arms-length away from me…and he’s really old.” At sixty two years of age, Meine looks his age up close and that fully explains why the video screen projection of the based was either colorfully pixelated or with footage from the archives.

His voice has tapered somewhat and he was visibly winded by the last third of the set, but Klaus gets a pass because he continually worked the crowd treating the newer material with a bit more attention than was needed. After the power ballad “The Best Is Yet To Come” from the recent Sting In The Tail, Meine cajoled the crowd for over five minutes until they sung the refrain to his satisfaction.

Then he made us do it again.

He also took part in a bit of each song’s closing poses, which were accented with endless measures of last guitar notes and cymbal crashes. During one pose, he put one foot on Jabs’ thigh and the other on Schenker’s and then balanced himself up into some high-school cheerleader pose. The entire band made it to the end for a pair of acoustic songs, the power ballad “Send Me An Angel,” complete with an increasingly clichéd Dio tribute and Lovedrive‘s “Holiday.”

With every rehearsed pose, each prolonged final chord and every silly bit of stage banter (Klaus’ best bit: “Hello Quad City Moline United States! Are you ready to rock and roll toniiiigggghhhht?!”) there was something strangely enduring about their performance.

I hope shows like these aren’t a dying breed; they provide a necessary bit of tension release. One of the Scorpions’ most notable talents is their ability to shuck off every bit your dismal life with a message of “Our interpretation of the English language is questionable, but we play really good, enjoy having a good time and would like for you to loosen up for a couple of hours!” And after forty years of existence, they still possess that ability.

According to my neighbor, he had recently seen Aerosmith and reported that “the Scorpions are working the crowd up a lot more than those guys!” He also kept telling me how much he hoped they played “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” Having glanced at the setlist of this tour beforehand, I knew that they were saving this song for last, during the two-song encore.

After they came back out with “There’s No One Like You” (which prompted immediate vocalization from every woman in attendance), the band set out with the song that rocks so much that it creates nautical gale force winds. Right before they began playing it, I pulled my neighbor closer and told him, “They’re going to play your song now.”

On cue, the band started playing. The man returned with a legitimate surprise of “How did you know, man! This is awesome!” and became so worked up that he began pushing himself up the barrier to hoist himself to get Rudolph Schenker’s attention directly in front of him. Rudy opened his mouth in another one of his silent scream faces and security personnel came over to us to advise my neighbor to stand down.

Was the enjoyment gained from the Scorpions’ performance on Friday night due to the chemically altered waves of nostalgia and the fortunate acquisition of choice seats?

Absolutely.

But I’d like to also believe that the Scorpions’ history of endless tours and countless sets would make even the most cynical of music fan smile with some level of appreciation. Their adhesion to the familiar arena code now seems positively fresh in a world of autotune, lip-syncing, and indifference.

There’s a place for bands like Scorpions, a goal for other like-minded acts to attain and a model for anti-arena bands to avoid. In either case, those bands will have to put in some long hours to match the band’s work ethic and sheer ability.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.