The anticipation to seeÂ The Winery DogsÂ was palpable in the queue outside the venue, on a cold, damp night in Birmingham.
By the time new British rock hopes, Inglorious,Â hit the stage, the place was filling up nicely. The band launched into “Until I Die” like they owned the place, with all the confidence and swagger of a much more established band.
It was easy to forget this concert was about gig number six for them together as a band.
Focal points are Nathan James on vocals and Wil Taylor on lead guitar and hat; they feed off each other well on stage. “Breakaway” followed, and then a cover of Rainbow classic “I Surrender,” which was given a nice modern twist with some excellent drumming from wildman Phil Beaver behind the kit.Â “Gypsy” is a sleazy blues rocker and the Deep Purple comparisons light up with “Warning.” The band followed with “Youâ€™re Mine” showcasing Nathanâ€™s huge voice and great vocal range â€“ despite showing evidence of overuse on this weekâ€™s tour.
Another big classic blues ballad, “Holy Water” preceded a ballsy cover of Totoâ€™s “Girl Goodbye” which the band delivered well. “Girl Got A Gun” kept the blues rock feel going with some terrific harmonies in the chorus and backing vocals. Inglorious closed their set with “Unaware,” which includes some off-beat tribal rhythms and pounding drums, beneath a great riff and more harmony vocals.
Itâ€™s probably too soon to know if the enormous hype surrounding IngloriousÂ is well-founded. The band members are all solid musicians, and Nathan is a special frontman, but perhaps they need to play more together onstage to build more presence and character.Â However, they were a great start to the show.
The place had filled out more as the lights dimmed and The Winery DogsÂ banner unfurled from the roof. Three of rockâ€™s virtuosos appeared on stage with a blistering opener, “Oblivion,” from the Hot Streak album. They followed, rolling into “Captain Love” and “We Are One” without the chance to take a breath!
Billy Sheehan prowls the stage wringing the neck of his bass as if trying to snap it. He provides the rolling counterpart to the effortless yet ridiculously complex drumming of Mike Portnoy, who is clearly having fun in this band. He interacts easily with the crowd in between throwing inconceivable fills into the rock solid beat.Â Richie Kotzen is the cool, laid-back member of the band, making the riffs flow smoothly and then ripping out the licks and solos at will.
“Hot Streak” and “How Long” keep the set moving along. The Eastern feel of “Time Machine” highlights Kotzenâ€™s vocal range. As the band destroyed the crazy middle-eight section under the solo, the crowd responded with a roar; this is what they had come to see.Â “Empire” kicked off with an industrial bass and drum riff, and closed with another inspired solo from Kotzen.
Throughout the set, there is a feeling that this is a real band, not just a collection of brilliant musicians. The songs from both albums sound even more complete live than on their records.Â These are all well-constructed songs, with form, content and melody, but also, allow the band to highlight their considerable talents within the song structures, not as contrived solo spots.
Kotzen picks up an acoustic guitar for a solo version of “Fire” and displays a delicate and plaintiff voice, which continues with the piano for a jazz-funk intro to “Think It Over,” which closes with a short but sweet drum solo from Portnoy.Â “The Other Side” sees Sheehan take center-stage with Kotzen for some great interplay, and Portnoy comes out from behind the kit to play drums on the floor, the walls, Sheehanâ€™s bass, and the kit itself, before the solo of the night from Kotzen, where he just lets rip.Â After a brief pause for breath, Sheehan then launches into six minutes or so of the bass solo, which was possibly too long for some, but was lapped up by the die-hard musos in the crowd.
“Ghost Town” and “Iâ€™m No Angel” flow by, before “Elevate” closes the set with a bang.Â Sustained applause brings the band back out for a restrained version of “Regret” with Kotzen again on piano before “Desire” allows the band to explode like Prince on steroids, with another jaw-dropping solo from Kotzen. Â The Winery Dogs are a genuine supergroup â€“ it was a privilege to witness this one!
Words/Photos: Peter Coates / Inside Edge Photography