XG – Extreme Guitar Tour 2015 – Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, New Hampshire – USA
Winter has been brutal in my part of the United States – as we’ve had snow storm after snow storm to recover from, usually dumping feet of white powder each time and only giving us a few days to dig out before the sky opens up again. So I felt thankful that through the good graces of Dave Tedder of Head First Entertainment, I would be able to take in this particular tour with an amazing set of musicians known the world over in the heavy metal community. Headlining the night would be Uli Jon Roth, the ex-guitarist of German pioneers The Scorpions during their 1970’s early years. Support would come from Canadian hard rockers Old James (unfortunately I was only able to catch the final song, due to the hour and 10 minute commute to the venue), Black Knights Rising that would feature guitarist Craig Goldy (Dio) and drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) plus vocalist John West and bassist Elliot Rubinson, as well as an instrumental set from UFO guitarist Vinnie Moore.
This would be my first time at Tupelo Music Hall, located about 20 minutes outside of Nashua, New Hampshire. The staff are very friendly, but from the outside it seems more like an inn than a concert venue – and inside the seating is such that you almost get the feeling that you are taking in a seminar with rows of regular chairs sitting side by side. The stage did not sit very high off the ground – and as such most of the patrons in the sold out crowd (capacity I think around 250) would be sitting most of the night, only rising at the end of songs for extended applause. Set changes would be very quick – as it seemed only the drummers wanted their own kits and everyone else shared similar backlines.
Black Knights Rising would pay tribute to the legends of the 70’s and 80’s – from Deep Purple and Rainbow to Craig and Vinny’s work with Dio and Black Sabbath, we would get stirring renditions of "Mistreated", "Stand Up and Shout", "Neon Knights", "Highway Star", and "Death Valley Driver" to name a few. Vocalist John West has the potent pipes to channel Ronnie, Ian, and Joe Lynn Turner easily, and it was fascinating to hear Vinny’s drum solo be as spectacular today as I know he was during his 1980’s prime time years. I feel they honored the hard rock/ metal genre more than adequately.
Vinnie Moore would hit the stage next, offering up a plethora of his instrumental tracks. Many remember his solo records like "Mind’s Eye" and "Meltdown", and of course cuts like "Daydream", "Hero Without Honor" and "Check It Out!" would appear in the set. He would pay tribute to the late Gary Moore who died four years to the day, and you can always sense that amidst his technical fluency the man also could ring out notes of pure emotion. Sharing bassist Elliot Rubinson (who proudly wore a ‘Round 2′ t-shirt), Vinnie also playfully joked around about the similarity to Alaska weather we are experiencing, and congratulating our Super Bowl champions Patriots for winning the weekend before.
And then at a little after 11pm, we would take in the one of a kind master class that guitarist Uli Jon Roth provides. Understand that he’s been playing guitar in the hard rock/ metal realm as long as the genre has been around, and you can see that he has individual character, grace, and passion that keep him young even in his golden years. A couple of songs in, vocalist John West would let us know that ‘you guys are in for a real treat… the man never plays the same song the same way twice on this tour’… and that’s due to his innate, cerebral tendency to go on instinct and extend instrumental sections based on the crowd, the feel, the mood, and his environmental surroundings. Sometimes he will wave his hand like a maestro when he wants the band to finish a segment or song – other times he will wave things off as he did during a special acoustic section of the performance, where the drummer would eventually catch up to the tempo Uli desired.
Everything from "The Sails of Charon" to "In Trance", "Dark Lady" to the double shot Jimi Hendrix encore of "All Along the Watchtower" and "Little Wing" mesmerized the sold out throng. Just when you thought you had seen and heard it all, the axe master would peel off another emotive lead break. It didn’t matter if things were slow building and sparse or speedy and arpeggio-laced, the talent within that body, brain, and hands is off the charts. 100 minutes later, the crowd gave the band a hearty standing ovation, knowing that this type of ability doesn’t come around these parts very often in the world of hard rock and heavy metal.
This is a night that will stay burned in the brain forever.