Live Review : Michael Schenker Fest + Eden's Curse @ Academy, Manchester on November 11th 2018

Eden’s Curse have an uphill struggle from the off. Theirs is smooth retro AOR and whilst it is melodic and even sweet in places, it just echoes around an almost empty Academy. The Schenker devotees that have crawled in early, look like they are still shaking off their Sunday morning hangovers and look in no mood to be swayed by Survivor-esque light rock, it is almost like they are playing into a void. What they do isn’t bad and the vocals are strong if not a bit clichéd but it just fails to connect with an audience waiting for the main attraction.

Michael Schenker is one of Rocks great journeymen and survivors. He has had stints in both the Scorpions (with his brother Rudolf) and in UFO, as well as his own band’s MSG (modestly standing for the Michael Schenker Group)and Temple of Rock. All of this means that plenty of musicians and especially vocalists have passed through his carrier, so the idea of gathering a good proportion of those into a single unit for a fan-boy friendly series of special shows makes great box office sense. The first round of Schenker Fest’s last year (featuring Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley on vocals, all of whom had served stints in MSG) saw packed houses (including a sold out Ritz here in Manchester) and to critical acclaim. So with any commercial success it is time to go for round two, this time with an actual Schenker Fest album under their collective belts and the addition of a fourth vocalist in the shape of Temple of Rock warbler Doogie White. Sadly the novelty seems to have well and truly worn off as it seems barely 600 people have been suitably convinced to brave a cold Mancunian November Sunday and come out to the Academy. And of the fans that are here, well they are much more of the folded arms ‘entertain me’ variety than the starry-eyed ‘once in lifetime’ gushing super-fan that I stood shoulder to shoulder with in a packed Ritz last year.

All of this is a crying shame as this is one of the most slick, professional but also warm and genuine shows that I have seen for a long while. In some reunions it is blindingly obvious that long-held resentments still bubble and there is a total lack of chemistry, the most obvious of those being the recent Guns n’ Roses tour where there seemed to be an actual exclusion zone of a good ten meters between Axl and Slash. Here there is genuine air of respect and brotherly love between Michael and every one of his four former vocalists that paraded out this evening. They all seem to be sincerely pleased to be once again out on tour with Michael or, as in Graham Bonnet’s case to be on tour for the first time as he was originally booted out of MSG after just one solitary show in Sheffield way back in 1982.

And I haven’t said anything about the man himself whose name is displayed on massive letters on the backdrop and is the reason for the whole thing; Michael Schenker has been characterised over the years as a diva and a control freak and as a man that could out ego Ritchie Blackmore. Tonight he comes across as laid back and even slightly humble, but boy can he still play guitar. ‘Rock Bottom’ lasts a good ten minutes and you can feel the electricity coming off the strings as he milks every riff. In fact the sheer quality of the songs he has been part of is breath-taking, yes ‘Holiday, ‘Coast to Coast, ‘Lights Out' and ‘Too Handle To Handle are the ones that get the audience reaction but stuff from the more overlooked Robin McAuley era has aged well and it was great to hear personal fav ‘Bad Boys’ again!

The overall feel of the night is that time has soothed and tempered many of the blazing ego’s that have plagued Michael Schenker’s carrier and there is a real air of humility and authenticity to tonight’s show. All four singers provide backing vocals for each other during the two hour plus twenty three song set and they even trade vocals on the classic UFO number ‘Doctor Doctor’. There is a real relaxed vibe to the whole evening, peppered with good humour and gentle ribbing. This is simply a bunch of musicians happy to be alive, happy to be working and enjoying each other’s company and whilst the crowd may be small, it is still a joy to watch.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki