There are still a few safe bets left in our modern day society- death, taxes (unless you’re GE), and the fact that the Scorpions will rock your face off any day of the week. If you have doubts, ask anyone who went to their sold-out show at the Freeman Coliseum on September 7th. The Scorpions’ triumphant return to San Antonio was not only highly anticipated, but enthusiastically received. They played to a packed house of rock fans that spanned at least three generations, a feat that only the upper echelon of rock bands can accomplish consistently throughout the world. (To see the full album of Scorpions photos, click here. For the full album of Queensrÿche photos, click here. All photos by Rob Gomez)
The opening act for the North American leg of the tour, the force of nature known as Queensrÿche, left a strong impression upon the audience and set the bar high for the night. With founding members Eddie Jackson (bass), Michael Wilton (guitar), and Scott Rockenfield (drums- absent from this tour, but still with the band) at the helm, the band is as formidable onstage as they’ve ever been. While some fans of the classic Queensrÿche lineup continue to balk at the absence of former lead singer Geoff Tate, the truth is that they’re missing out on the phenomenal talents of their current dynamic frontman, Todd La Torre. It’s not easy to fill the shoes of a beloved lead singer, but La Torre has been more than game since joining the band in 2012. His powerful vocals, delivered with confidence and conviction, were never less than extraordinary. The endless energy and commanding stage presence of La Torre had the audience spellbound for their entire set, which consisted of old favorites like “Jet City Woman”, “Eyes of a Stranger”, and, of course, their 1991 smash hit, “Silent Lucidity”. That’s not to say that the band didn’t have a few surprises for their audience, though. They dusted off “Queen of the Reich” from their debut EP, as well as “Screaming in Digital”, from their second album, Rage for Order. La Torre nailed every song as if he’d been singing them his whole life, and when they snuck in “Guardian”, off their 2015 album Condition Hüman, it sounded right at home with the rest of the group’s hallowed material. The twin guitar attack and hard-rocking rhythm section churned out quite an impressive performance, and the crowd went wild every time they struck a chord. La Torre encouraged crowd participation during all the big hits, and the audience, a sea of black shirts bathed in LED lights, obliged him on several occasions. By the end of their set, they had fans running back to the merch booth to buy a second t-shirt! The chemistry of the current lineup is undeniable, and the fact that they’re still around and continue to perform so passionately is proof that Queensrÿche is one of the pound-for-pound best groups of their era.
Since this concert was technically a make-up date from last year’s cancellation (due to Scorpions frontman Klaus Meine contracting laryngitis), it’s probably safe to say that most of us had waited at least one year to see this show. In my case, I’d been waiting almost 28 years. The Scorpions have been at the top of my list of bands I want to see live for a long, long time, and when I finally got the chance, they didn’t disappoint. They opened up with “Going Out With a Bang”, a celebration of the nearly 50 years they’ve spent rocking around the globe. The fans ate it up. Screaming, headbanging, and even (gasp!) spilling their beers, the crowd showed the band that they were game. That tit-for-tat intensity being shared between the performers and their audience lasted the entire show! Meine wasn’t taking any prisoners, and he turned in a masterful performance, sounding fresh and comfortable, song after song. Fan favorite “The Zoo”, featuring the beloved talkbox guitar solo from lead guitarist Matthias Jabs, was an early highlight, and the hits kept on coming. “Coast to Coast”, an instrumental that’s standard for any Scorpions show, features founding member and rhythm Rudolf Schenker up front and center. Schenker was absolutely amped up for this show, and he really gave the audience his best. He never stopped moving, constantly running to the front of the stage in multiple (quite successful) attempts to get the audience to lose their shit. They did, every single time. He ran through his rolodex of rock star moves and poses, hitting them all by the end of the night. Schenker was as cool as could be in his skinny jeans and white leather-and-studs jacket. Hell, the guy moves like he’s in his twenties, so why shouldn’t he dress that way? He’s your crazy German uncle!
Jabs and Schenker stayed in sync all night, their decades spent playing together evident in their total comfort and understanding of the other’s methods. Jabs wasn’t afraid to boogie a little bit, or flash a million dollar smile at his adoring fans, and with every guitar solo he performed, he showed that his playing has aged like wine. “Delicate Dance”, the other instrumental the band performed, was an exhibition of Jabs’ elite fretboard proficiency and Jedi-like understanding of “sometimes, less is more”. He knows when to hit the gas and when to let off it, and that’s what makes him so enjoyable to watch. He’s not the only one, though. Bassist Paweł Mąciwoda, who has been with the band since 2003, and newcomer Mikkey Dee, formerly of Mötorhead, were both on the top of their game. Mąciwoda thumped away on his bass guitar all night, singing and playing, completely in the zone. His actions looked effortless, but he never stopped smiling or encouraging the crowd to react. Drummer Mikkey Dee was hidden away on a high-rise drum platform, but his playing was breathtakingly brutal, and every kick to his bass drum was a punch right to the gut. During his nearly ten minute drum solo, his riser lifted up, sending him skyward while he deftly whipped the skins to an insane rhythmic pattern. As he began, the LED panels around the stage filled with every album from the Scorpions’ vast back catalogue, receiving tremendous applause. The years Dee spent under the tutelage of the immortal Lemmy Kilmister have served him well, and he brings a youthful ferocity to the Scorpions’ live show. Evidently, the band thought so, too, and Klaus Meine was quick to bring up his time spent with the metal legends. Meine talked about the mutual respect the two bands had for each other, and offered a breakneck, earsplitting rendition of “Overkill” as a personal tribute to Kilmister. Dee and the Scorps gave it 110%, and the rabid crowd of metalheads were absolutely riveted. They did Lemmy proud.
One of the most impressive things about the Scorpions is that massive collection of fantastic material they have. 70’s albums like Fly to the Rainbow, In Trance, and Taken by Force are sometimes overlooked in favor of their more commercially-appreciated 80’s material, but the Scorps love playing their older songs, and thank God for that. They did a superb 70’s mashup of killer tunes like “Top of the Bill”, “Steamrock Fever”, “Speedy’s Coming”, and “Catch Your Train”, set to a psychedelic LED light-show that was mind-blowing (for some more than others, I’m sure *wink*). The acoustic rendition of “Send Me an Angel” was particularly moving, and the audience singing along seemed to really move Meine, bringing out the best in him. His voice, one of the most recognized and revered in rock music, is still clear and emotive, and he had many moved to tears with his soulful cries and pleas for angelic assistance. “Winds of Change” is one of the “big three”, as Meine explained to me during our interview a few weeks back, and for good reason. Everyone knew the words, and the sound of the crowd was loud enough to drown out the band. Pure passion flowed through the Freeman Coliseum as thousands sang along to the Scorpions’ Cold War ode to hope and change, and it’s relation to our current political climate was not lost on us.
“Blackout” and “Big City Nights”, two of their biggest hits, saw the Scorpions in rare form, and they could have easily ended the night on that performance. They had already rocked us to our core, and we had already begun to lose our voices from screaming. But they weren’t done… they had a couple more tricks up their sleeve. After a much-deserved standing ovation, they returned for a two-song encore. “No One Like You”, a personal favorite, received a huge reaction. Meine was clearly exhausted (who wouldn’t be!?), but he gave it his all, and his fans did the same. The chorus was quite literally a chorus, as the entire crowd sang along, thundering above the sound of Jabs’ slick guitar playing. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” closed the show, as we all knew it would, and the band brought the house down. Jabs and Meine took center stage, standing back-to-back, a vision of hard rock glory. They tore into the song, leaving it all on the stage for the fever-pitch crowd. They were reliving past glories, but they were still having a hell of a time in the present, a perfect reminder of how to age like a badass.
Just because we get older doesn’t mean we have to stop being ourselves. We can still rock out, still have a great time raising hell and singing along to the music that has provided the soundtrack to our many late nights, bad decisions, and after-midnight Whataburger runs. The key is staying true to yourself, and that’s exactly what the Scorpions live show offers- an authentic, honest representation of a band who owns their history, survived the bumps in the road, and is still as electrifying today as they were 30 years ago. Time holds no sway in the house that rock built, and though the Scorpions are approaching the end of their career, they still have plenty of Sting left in the Tail.