Sunday, February 16, 2020

Lights Out: Quite Fantastically, UFO Lands in Waukegan and Rocks Me, Rocks Me -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act Damon Johnson
Genesee Theatre, Waukegan, IL
February 14, 2020

One's tastes should evolve over the years.

Although I was indoctrinated to musical theater during the first decade of my life, I really didn't come to love Broadway until I was 30.

Perhaps as a consequence of appreciating the diverse styles employed in musicals, not caring what others might think and developing a diverse love of live performance, in recent years I've made a point of attending concerts by a somewhat wide range of noteworthy acts that I'd never seen before--and which my teenage self didn't much like, know or care about.

Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Cher, George Clinton & P-Funk, Bruce Cockburn, Herman's Hermits, Peter Frampton, Jethro Tull, The The, Simple Minds, Journey, Erasure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Hall & Oates, Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, The Church, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Bryan Ferry, Aretha Franklin, Chicago, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Barry Gibb, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen and others.

But by the time I was 12, in 1980, I loved hard rock: the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Rush, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, The Who, AC/DC, Van Halen and more.

And I've never stopped. In the ensuing years, I've seen all of these artists multiple times--except Led Zeppelin, who splintered that year after the death of drummer John Bonham. But I've seen seen Robert Plant nine times, including twice with Jimmy Page.

Yet there was another hard rock band of that ilk that I really loved--I remember listening to their 1979 live album, Strangers in the Night, partially recorded in Chicago, at a junior high school friend's home--but never got to see live in concert.

Until Friday night at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan.

That band is UFO.

If's list of their Chicago area shows can be counted on as comprehensive, it seems that after playing a number of gigs at the long-defunct International Amphitheatre--including the one captured on Strangers in the Night--between 1977-82, only a NW Indiana show brought them back to the region until 1995.

And I guess I never cared enough to see them at the House of Blues, where they've played fairly often since 2004.

They also have played the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles a number of times since 2011--a co-worker seeing them in 2012 is what made me realize UFO remains extant--but I never shlepped to that far western suburb.

But I'm currently working in the northern suburbs, so getting to the Genesee in Waukegan--where I enjoyed seeing Herman's Hermits in January--was fairly convenient, especially as a face value ticket without Ticketmaster fees could be bought at the door Friday night. (They also played in Joliet on Saturday.)

Famed guitarist Michael Schenker, who powered some of UFO's most famous songs from 1973-78, and was back in the fold between 1993-2003, is no longer part of the band, now in their 51st year.

And longtime keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond sadly died of a heart attack just last year during a break from ongoing touring.

But original singer, Phil Mogg--who at 71 looks and dresses more like Leonard Cohen in his later years than his once ragamuffinish rock star self--still sounds good vocally, and is an erudite and engaging front man.

Another UFO original, Andy Parker, remains on drums, and Raymond's replacement--Neil Carter--had been with the band a bit in the early '80s.

Rob De Luca is the current bassist, and--as since 2003--Vinnie Moore is the lead guitarist, and on Friday night his playing was sensational.

Phil Mogg, in the early days of UFO and more recently
So although I didn't mind providing some sentimentality as I sang along lustily to AOR classics like "Lights Out," "Only You Can Rock Me" and "Too Hot to Handle," this was a genuinely excellent rock concert in the present tense, even as the Last Orders Tour seemingly signals the final flight of UFO.

A couple songs from this decade--"Run Boy Run," "Burn Your House Down"--fit in well with the oldies, including a few I wouldn't have recognized had I not studied up on Spotify. (See UFO's Waukegan's setlist here.)

Understandably, Mogg revealed that his upper register isn't what it once was on the "Love to Love You" ballad--quite apt on Valentine's Day, even with a number of aging stragglers like me on hand--but from the opening "Mother Mary" to the end of "Shoot Shoot" 100 minutes later, his vocals were entirely satisfactory.

And Moore repeatedly played the kind of blazing guitar leads--and extended solos, such as on "Venus" and "Rock Bottom"--that helped me fall in love with rock music as a young kid.

No offense to Smokey Robinson, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and others referenced above, as I truly enjoyed their performances, and widening my musical tastes. (Smokey, who I saw just a week prior, was especially sensational.)

But it sure was nice to have my ears blistered, my balls rocked and my ass kicked.

Once again, and specifically in terms of UFO, for the first time.

Opening the show was a singer/guitarist named Damon Johnson, alongside a drummer and bassist. He played in a '90s band unfamiliar to me named Brother Cane and seems to currently tour with a latter day version of Thin Lizzy. His 48-minute set was solidly enjoyable, including tunes from his new solo album, Memoirs of an Uprising ("Dallas Coulda Been a Beatdown," "Down on Me"), Brother Cane ("Got No Shame") and a pair of Lizzy classics ("Jailbreak," "The Boys are Back in Town").

Here are snippets I shot of UFO's "Lights Out" and "Only You Can Rock Me." No rights assumed or infringement intended.

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