MANHATTAN, NY—The highest praise Duke Ellington would bestow upon a musician was the phrase “beyond category.” Guitarist Uli Jon Roth fits that description perfectly. A masterful musician that can flow effortlessly from Hendrix-inspired noise to heart-wrenching classical melody in a single phrase is indeed a rare thing. Even rarer is to see him dig in so deeply to the five albums he recorded with German hard rock heroes the Scorpions between 1973 and 1978. For his current tour, Uli decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his joining the band. His concert at Stage 48 was a classic rock fan’s dream come true. Stage 48 is a new venue in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen more suited to DJ dance parties, but Uli had no trouble turning it into an Electric Sky Church. I just wish he could have worked some of his magic to lower the price of drinks.
Leading a five-piece band that hit the stage at 8:45 p.m., Uli launched straight into “All Night Long,” the last song he co-wrote with Klaus Meine for the classic 1978 Scorpions live album, Tokyo Tapes. Sporting his trademark headband, turquoise jewelry and bellbottoms, Uli let the notes fly fast and furious out of his one-of-a-kind Sky Guitar. Roth is one of the few people who are allowed an extra string and extra frets on a guitar. He really puts them to use and never abuses the privilege. And talk about loud! Two Blackstar half stacks fully cranked with the speakers facing away from the audience. The only other guitarists that I’ve seen do that are Link Wray and Stevie Ray Vaughan. This was certainly one of the loudest shows I’ve seen in a long time. Uli’s band was very tight and clearly excited to be sharing the stage with the maestro. Elliott Rubinson, the CEO of Dean Guitars, is playing bass on the first half of the tour.
The bulk of Uli’s set was indeed Scorpions tracks with an emphasis on the obscure rather than the obvious. “They Need A Million” from 1973’s Fly To The Rainbow is one that was rarely played back then. 1976’s “Yellow Raven” and 1977’s “I’ve Got To Be Free” gave hardcore fans a real thrill. “Day Late And A Dollar Short,” a song Uli recorded on one of Ian Gillan’s solo albums, was also dusted off. The crowd went crazy for classics like “In Trance,” “We’ll Burn The Sky,” “Catch Your Train” and “Robot Man.” Roth’s solos on “Dark Lady,” “Polar Nights” and “We’ll Burn The Sky” had every guitarist in the room staring in disbelief. But the real highlight of the main set was his showpiece “Sails Of Charon,” an extremely complex song that he makes look so easy. He also played a totally improvised duet with his keyboardist that was truly inspired.
After two hours of melting minds and battering eardrums, Uli and the band left the stage. After a very short break, they returned and really wiped out the audience with 30 minutes of the best Jimi Hendrix jams you could ever hope to hear. “All Along The Watchtower” followed by “If 6 Was 9” into a gorgeous “Little Wing.” Roth let his co-guitarist take over the mic to sing “Purple Haze” and engage in some guitar battling, then followed it with “Villanova Junction,” just as Hendrix did in his performance at Woodstock. Live music doesn’t get any better than this. If you missed the show, Uli plans on releasing a live CD and DVD from this tour so you can hear for yourself.