The Winery Dogs Live Review
The Winery Dogs
Live gig review - 5 February 2016
O2 Institute, Birmingham, UK
By Maggie Wright
If you ever want to find out about a band, I mean really find out, spend some time in front of a venue talking to the fans that have queued there for hours to get that all important position on the front barrier. Find out how far they've travelled, how many gigs they've been to, and how long after a gig they've stuck around on the off chance they might catch a glimpse, or, if the rock gods allowed, actually get to meet the band. This night was a prime example. In near freezing temperatures, fans who had commuted from all over the UK, and all over the world, were buzzing to see The Winery Dogs (TWD), and were more than happy to share why. Some had been to multiple gigs on this leg, and were proof that when it comes to TWD, you just can't get enough.
The trio, made up of Richie Kotzen (vocals, guitar), Billy Sheehan (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums), has been riding high on the release of their sophomore album, "Hot Streak". After a successful U.S. tour, the band had brought their unique rock fusion style to the U.K., and February 5, 2016 was the last night of that leg. The crowd, who had been warmed up by an excellent set from Inglorious, had hit the merch stand hard and had all donned their dog wear. When the lights dimmed and the intro track started playing, the room at the O2 Institute broke out in applause, which continued as, one by one, each of the band members entered the stage. It gave the fans time to acknowledge them individually, for one of the results of this supergroup is how it has brought fans from different music circles together.
Sheehan and Kotzen had played together in Mr. Big, and indeed Sheehan has been part of Kotzen's solo recordings. Portnoy and Sheehan played together in another supergroup, Portnoy, Sheehan, MacAlpine, and Sherinian, whose ending led the two to form TWD. It took the genius of Eddie Trunk to suggest the obvious choice of Kotzen as the frontman. With the fan base each one of them had as individuals, TWD had an instant and indeed passionate fan base of its own.
The set list opened with the first track of "Hot Streak", Oblivion; a perfect opener which exemplifies TWD. Signature runs, complex time signatures, tight harmonies and that trademark fusion of rock, jazz, and funk. This song displays the skill of all three artist, and could be reason alone to have you buy the album, the gig ticket and the t-shirt. But this was just the start! Song two was also track two from the album, and it was clear that the choice of song order for the album was perfectly planned. Captain Love, one of my favorite tracks from the album, slowed the tempo slightly to a funky groove that showed off Kotzen's vocals; vocals I have often described as rivaling those of Chris Cornell. By the time Kotzen croons, "I'll be your Captain", he had every woman in the palm of his hand. Having seen TWD on their previous UK tour, Kotzen seemed to have gained in confidence and interacted with the crowd far more this tour than on the previous.
The title track, Hot Streak, was like witnessing a musical masterclass. Sheehan, one of my favorite bass players of all time, is almost a one man show. The variety of technical styles he used could make a performance of its own, and I would be first in line to see it. His partnership with Portnoy in the rhythm section is exactly that; as tight a rhythm section as I've been privileged to witness live. No competition or one-up-manship; quite the opposite. The humility and mutual respect was subtle yet evident and there were several moments when I almost felt like I was in a studio session watching the band jam.
The crowd really erupted when Time Machine started, with its low, dirty groove and a real highlight of the night was Kotzen's guitar solo; one which showed his skills on guitar equal that of Sheehan's. His ability to alternate between a flicking style, finger plucking and finger tapping was just insane. And we got to see the length and depth of his abilities.The lights dim and Fire was performed by Kotzen as an acoustic guitar solo while Portnoy and Sheehan went off stage. You could've heard a pin drop in the room, such was the focus the Kotzen's performance commanded. The rest of the band returned for Think it Over, another soulful yet jazzy number on which Kotzen played the keyboards.
Then it was Portnoy who took over the stage and gave the crowd the drum solo, which featured his left foot on cowbell, he told us, everyone had been craving. If you have never seen Portnoy play live, let me tell you, no YouTube video, drum cam video, or fan footage can give you any idea what it is like to see this man at his "desk". The kit itself was an absolute beauty. But even a solo-motion video couldn't explain how he was able to play with the speed precision and dexterity he achieved. It defied the laws of physics! And ever the entertainer, Portnoy gave the crowd a little extra towards the end of The Other Side, by coming out from behind his kit and performing by playing the drums standing in front of them. He was interrupted by the untimely breakage of a drumstick, which amused him and the crowd equally. Grabbing a new stick he then continued to drum his way across the stage floor, in a kind of duck walk, right up to Sheehan's feet. To Sheehan's surprise, Portnoy drummed on his bass guitar! He continued across the floor, up the stage wall, back down on the floor, stopping to drum on both mic stands in his path, before he finally returned to his stool behind the drum kit. His little ad-lib was greeted with huge cheers and whistles, before the band finished the song together.
Next came the bass solos to end all bass solos. Sheehan, who had been outstanding throughout the night, treated the fans to an almost five minute bass feature that left you with the feeling that you'd only witnessed a fraction of what this man's hands, and mind, were capable of. Then he still had enough left in his tank to go straight into Ghost Town with the rest of the band. Sheehan has been a ground breaker in terms of how a bass guitar can be played and he continues to push the boundaries of what can be achieved. He is a musician every young bass player should study!
The set finished with Elevate, the first TWD song I ever heard, and I have to credit my local record store in Orlando, Park Avenue Records for introducing me to TWD during a trip home. They turned me on to TWD and I've been a staunch admirer ever since, never worrying for one moment as to the longevity of the band or their ability to produce more outstanding music. There are musicians and there are artists, and what these three guys create is something that should have it's own category altogether. In acknowledgment of the reception the Birmingham crowd had given TWD, Portnoy stood on his kit at the end of the song and saluted the crowd, which brought on a huge cheer.
During the brief interval before the encore, the fans were visibly impressed with the performance, stomping and yelling for more with already hoarse voices, The first encore, Regret, started with Kotzen on keyboard, and showcased Kotzen on guitar during the instrumental break. Kotzen has an ability to write and deliver lyrics that make you feel his very soul when he sings. Desire, with that dirty, low guitar sound I love, enhanced by Sheehan's bass line, topped with Portnoy's clever percussion, was the pinnacle of the night. To say the night ended on a high would be an understatement, and everyone was left shouting for more.
If you haven't bought "Hot Streak", it should be at the top of your list for albums to buy. Check out the tour dates below to see if The Winery Dogs are coming to a city near you; and if they are, mark sure to get in that line early!
We Are One
Fire (acoustic, Kotzen solo)
Think it Over
The Other Side
I'm No Angel
"Hot Streak" is available now through all major retailers
For More Info On The Winery Dogs Goto Their Official Site
The Winery Dogs tour dates:
Feb 12 - Rome, Italy - Crossroads
Feb 13 - Prattein, Switzerland - Z7 Konzertfabrik
Feb 15 - Munich, Germany - Backstage Halle
Feb 16 - Bratislava, Slovakia - Majestic Music Club
Feb 17 - Budapest, Hungary - Barba Negra
Feb 19 - Olomouc, Czech Republic - Olomouc Rocks/ S Klub
Feb 20 - Warsaw, Poland - Progresja
Feb 21 - Berlin, Germany- Bi NUU
Feb 22 - Hamburg, Germany - Knust
Feb 24 - Stockholm, Sweden - Debaser Strand
Feb 25 - Goteberg, Sweden - Sticky Fingers
Apr 15 - Osaka-Shi, Japan - Osaka Zepp
Apr 17 - Hiroshima, Japan - Hiroshima Blue Live
Apr 18 - Nagoya-Shi, Japan - Bottom Line
Apr 20 - Tokyo, Japan - Tokyo Dome City Hall
Apr 21 - Tokyo, Japan - Tokyo Hitomi Kinen Kodo
May 14- Brasilia, Brazil - Clube do Congresso
May 15- Belo Horizonte, Brazil - Music Hall
May 17- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Imperator
May 18- Sao Paulo, Brazil - Tropical Butante
May 20- Curitiba, Brazil - Opera de Arame
May 21- Londrina, Brazil - Autodromo Ayrton Senna
May 24- Asuncion, Paraguay - Teatro del Hotel Guarani
May 27- Santiago, Chile - Teatro Cariola
May 28- Arroyo Dulce, Argentina - Teatro Vorterix
May 31- Mexico City, Mexico - El Plaza Condesa
Jun 02 - Guadalajara, Mexico - C3
Jun 03 - Monterrey, Mexico - Cafe Iguana
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