A final sting from the Scorpions

The Scorpions: Klaus Meine, Matthias Jabs, Rudolf Schenker, and Paweł Maciwoda

Let’s get this on the table right now: I wouldn’t describe myself as a huge Scorpions fan. (We’ll leave the issue of whether I would ever describe myself as a “huge” anything for another time.)

Back in my radio days, I always thought of the Scorpions as “that German metal band with the weirdly misogynistic album covers” — i.e., the Scorps’ 1979 release Lovedrive, which depicted a woman with bubblegum stuck to her exposed breast. And, to be bluntly honest, too many of the Scorpions’ lyrics sounded like they were written by someone for whom English wasn’t a primary language… which, come to think of it, is true. I dug a few of their hits — “The Zoo” is a fun, chugging rocker with a catchy hook, “Wind of Change” is as solid a power ballad as the genre allows, and come on, who doesn’t bang his or her head to “Rock You Like a Hurricane”? — but not enough to land the group on my list of top-rated acts. Liked ’em, didn’t love ’em.

When the Pirate Queen mentioned a few months back that one of her favorite bands from the ’80s was coming to town, however, I rallied to the cause.

And so it was that last Saturday evening we made our way down to Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheatre — or as I prefer to call it, Le Grande Brassiere — to check out the Scorpions on their final pre-retirement tour. (Considering that Scorpions lead singer Klaus Meine turned 64 last month, and the band’s founder and guitarist Rudolf Schenker will join him at that age in August… yeah, it’s probably about time to hang ’em up.) The Pirate Queen had been ill for several days with a nasty cold, but as she put it, “Either you or I would have to be on our death bed for me to miss the Scorpions… and if it were you, I’d see if someone could watch you for a few hours.” (She was kidding. I think.)

The show kicked off with Tesla, the hard-rocking Sacramento quintet who’d opened for the Scorpions on their 2004 U.S. tour. (I gleaned this factoid from the back of a passing T-shirt.)

Tesla: Let's get uncoiled.

A talented act who’ve knocked around the circuit for nearly 30 years, Tesla’s repertoire boasts a total of two hit records — a power ballad with the astoundingly original title “Love Song,” which climbed into the Billboard Top 10 back in 1989, and a cover of the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1960s classic, “Signs.” The band served up their duo of familiar tunes, surrounded by plenty of perfectly serviceable filler, during an entertaining hour-long set.

Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon

To Tesla’s credit, their performance held my interest throughout, even though I couldn’t have named more than the aforementioned two songs. Lead singer Jeff Keith probably had better voice back in the day than he displayed on this particular night, but his cigarettes-and-whiskey rasp was more than enough to do the job. (I don’t know whether Keith either smokes or drinks, but if he doesn’t, he might as well. He already sounds as though he’s pounding down a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and two packs of Marlboros daily.) I was highly impressed with Tesla’s guitar combination of Frank Hannon — who worked much of his fretboard magic on a double-necked Gibson — and Dave Rude; I’d gladly pay to hear these two gents rip it up anytime.

I’ll award Tesla’s Saturday show two-and-a-half tailfeathers on the Uncle Swan scale of a possible five. They get docked a half for Jeff Keith’s wearing of the ugliest shirt I’ve seen on a rock concert stage in 35 years.

Tesla lead vocalist Jeff Keith: Dude, what's up with that shirt?

When the Scorpions took the stage (after nearly an hour of technical set-up), I could tell immediately that we were in for a fun evening. From the thunderous opening riff of “Sting in the Tail,” the title track of the band’s final all-original studio album, the Deutschland destroyers grabbed the audience by the throat and never let up.

Scorpions Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine

Klaus Meine displayed a remarkably powerful voice for a man of his advanced years — I’m sure that a couple of the high notes soared a half-tone or so higher in decades past, but all in all, the diminutive vocalist (who reminded me of the late Ronnie James Dio, another powerhouse instrument packed into an impossibly tiny frame) sounded about as incredible as he did on any of the Scorpions’ albums.

Scorpions lead vocalist Klaus Meine: He looks bigger on screen.

Meine’s vocals surfed above a sonic tsunami generated by one of the tightest — and unquestionably loudest — ensembles I’ve seen in a while. The Scorpions have always boasted a guitar tandem among the best in rock, starting from the band’s origins, when rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker played alongside his brother Michael, one of the most capable artists in the history of the instrument, to Uli Jon Roth, who replaced Michael on the Scorpions’ early albums and helped create the band’s signature sound. Rudolf hasn’t lost a step that my ears could detect, and lead guitarist Matthias Jabs — who joined the band in the late ’70s, just before the hits started coming — continues his dominant presence as the Scorpions’ melodic engineer. (It’s no accident that the Scorpions transitioned from metal legends to mainstream rock superstars when Jabs entered the fray.) Among the fastest fretmen in the game, Jabs blasted out one scorching cascade after another before taking the spotlight near the end of the set for a blistering extended solo (dubbed “Six String Sting” on the setlist) that would have made many of his fellow guitarists lay down their weapons in homage.

Scorpions lead guitarist Matthias Jabs: He be jabbin'.

Not to be outdone, drummer James Kottak kept the fire burning all night, combining powerhouse bass drum kicks with flashy stickwork across his kit, perched on a moveable riser that at times towered 20 feet above his colleagues. The lone American in the band, Kottak also added background vocals on several numbers while never missing a beat. His “Kottak Attack” solo featured his own customized music video — starring the drummer himself in a surrealistic parody of several of the Scorpions’ album covers — that brought down the house.

Scorpions drummer James Kottak: Attacking.

The Scorpions’ farewell tour setlist compiles most of their chart-making hits, including “Send Me an Angel,” “Holiday,” “Tease Me Please Me,” my favorite “The Zoo,” and the set-closing “Big City Nights,” while adding a sprinkling of more recent works, such as “Raised on Rock” and “The Best is Yet to Come.” (Interestingly, the show contained not a single number from their first five albums, a.k.a. the pre-Matthias Jabs years.) The band saved three of its biggest crowd-pleasers — “Still Loving You,” “No One Like You,” and of course, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” — for the no-surprises encore.

Scorpions: One final sting before retirement.

Uncle Swan gives the Scorpions a well-earned four tailfeathers out of five, and wishes them well in retirement. Assuming, of course, that they actually retire. Old rock bands never seem to truly go away, even when it’s time… just ask the Rolling Stones.

One final question, though… are there really scorpions in Germany?

Explore posts in the same categories: Celebritiana, Hero of the Day, My Home Town, Soundtrack of My Life, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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