Alternate titles: Scorpions, Chewable Crickets, Chinese Democracy, 80's Power Metal, and how the hell is that guy running around like that at 68 yrs old?
I’m sitting in a bar in Dallas with a thumb war challenge staring me down. Now, I love me some good warring challenges but the loser has to eat a full box of Bacon & Cheese Crickets (a real thing in Texas) and this has my brain and intestines spinning. This is not going to mix well with my vodka.
Now, I’m competitive to the max and apparently stupid. (This should not be a surprise.) I assume this is a ploy by my Texas-born challenger to get me off my game. And when I say, “Let’s go!” his bluff is called. You see, it *was* all a ploy to test me. This Texan was sure a guy from San Diego would crumble from the challenge; to be honest, I probably would have, had we gone at it. I would have lost that bet because all I was thinking about was getting on a plane to Vegas the next day to see the Scorpions. Clearly, I had my priorities straight.
Ah, yes, original Power Metal. European style, power ballads, anthems, “Raaaaccckkk yoooouuuu like a huuurrriiiccaaannnneeee,” and four German guys (three of them in their 60’s) plus a beloved drummer from Sweden, all trying to channel 7% of their peak period of commercial success, roughly 1979-1986. I think there will be a lot of walking around the stage. Sounds about right for Vegas.
For this guy, the Scorpions were one of my DNA metal bands that for some reason I had never seen. We had always missed each other over the years. Bad luck and bad luck. Finally, however, with the Scorpions doing a residency of five shows at The Joint at the Hard Rock and a few buddies in tow (the conversation went like this: “Listen, the Scorps are in town on Wednesday. I’m going and I’m sorry I’m not sorry. I’ll see you after.” Luckily, they were all in, Vegas pun intended), yeah, this was a nice set-up for 13-year-old M. to explode in all his bedroom air-guitar glory.
I grew up in the desert, in the Joshua Tree area of Southern California. Music – its purpose and meaning - was just everything to me. I listened. I grew my hair out. Music, for me, was band posters, MTV’s “120 Minutes” and “Headbangers Ball,” denim jacket pins, band shirts galore, mentally starting 17 different bands, being in one band long enough to take pics in front of a 1968 convertible Corvette wearing zebra pants and a black mesh shirt (you can’t make this stuff up), and hanging at the only record store in town (Blue Mill) with my Bro (Syd/AG) and metal nutcase buddy Kirk on new music Tuesday to see/hear/explore in anything and everything we could soak up. Along with Iron Maiden, Priest, Sabbath, Floyd, Nugent, The Cult, Motley Crüe (STILL one of the best debut albums EVER EVER and I will write about it sometime. IT’S SO GOOD), Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Queensrÿche, Ratt (hey, Warren D is a hell of a guitar player. Show me something heavier in 84 than “Lack of Communication”), Slayer scaring the soul out of me, and some upstart band that was gaining traction called Metallica, the Scorps were a major musical part of my youth.
Scorpions were meticulous but not overly technical. Klaus Meine could sing high and low. Almost operatic in some ways but he didn’t quite have the same depth and range of Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden (few ever have). Plus it was all about fun with the Scorps. Klaus liked to sing about sex, lots of sex, getting lost in Arizona having sex, promises of crazed sex (“Dynamite,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Another Piece of Meat,” “Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep)”), but he did it in a fun way that had this kid growing up in the desert smiling in delight, wondering what it would be like to live out one of their songs. My mind would be racing with ideas! I had never thought like that before. I mean, this was fun! They were fun. BUT, damn! They would rock your brain with heavy riffing laden with perfectly melodic hooks.This is part of the genius of original co-founder Rudolf Schenker. He wrote these great, fun, heavy riffs that not only made their music fun to listen to but perfect for fully rocking out. You can’t think of the Scorpions without Rudolf. He’s the reason this band has existed since 1965.
Read that again. 1-9-6-5. WTF?
When the Scorps grabbed new guitarist Matthias Jabs in 1978, it all turned for the better. So this is how it happened, and how I became a metal head.
OK, I’m geeking out. I’ll stop. Let’s move forward.
Few bands can pull off the residency trick. I remember when Guns N Roses pulled off their six-date residency at the Hard Rock in 2014. At the time I remember thinking this might be going through Axl’s head: “Ok, this is where we’re at now. A showpiece to try and make us seem important when we’re no longer important.”
[Let’s all take this moment to shed the smallest tear (just one, thank you) for the Axl-only GnR classic Chinese Democracy. This is my favorite hate-listen album of all time. It’s so bad…you have to listen to the whole album. Multiple times. You’ll find the same humor in it all as I did. Trust me….It took 17 years to make. It’s the most expensive rock album ever produced – around $20m. There is not a single fucking piece of empty space on this album as Axl just had to fill it up. I am sure they teach ProTool classes that demonstrate what you DON’T want your album to sound like and they just point to Chinese Democracy. I’ve never heard a more mixed/overproduced/engineered album. It’s horrible and beautiful at the same time.)
Back to Axl, I couldn’t blame him for taking the residency. Guns wasn’t really doing much other than playing around the country and South America with a band NOBODY recognized other than its bad-fu-manchu-mustached-ginger screamer Axl. I was tired of it, too.
BUT, The Scorps pulling off five dates in one venue? Really? Their last real successful album was 1984’s “Love at First Sting,” or 1990’s, Crazy World. PLUS, they were a niche band. This is not Rock ‘n’ Roll Americana excess like Guns. If it was Aerosmith, I would get it. (Makes sense? I’m happy we agree.)
(Sidebar: I’m listening to the Scorpions’ excellent album Lovedrive right now. The ballad “Holiday” just came on. I will now start the concert candle app on my phone and waive it in the air in respect….head down.)
For the Scorps, this was not only genius but it had zero downside. If it didn’t sell great…so what? It wasn’t expected to sell great. Meaning, “That’s ok.” BUT, it did. Most of the shows sold out. I was there on a Wednesday night and it was nearly packed. All levels. Wait…Whaaaaattt..?
And they killed it. With a setlist heavy on the gratuitous cuts of the past, the show was a total foot stomper. They played 18 songs. I knew 14 of them without thinking. Meaning, they were playing to their strengths and selling it perfectly.
Mikkey Dee from Motörhead was brought in to drum for the shows. I have to tell you it was fun to see Mikkey Dee up there, hair all over the place, banging the living hell out of that kit. With the loss of our great Lemmy, it was extremely fun to see another part of our metal family up there, keeping it alive and bringing it hard. The crowd understood as well.
Remember how I thought they would be walking around the stage? Um, no. Sir Rudolf was all over the place. Running, jumping, carrying the rhythm with ease. He’s 68 and he was on complete fire. I don’t understand. I don’t care.
For me, I appreciated what they were doing. Selling it all with ease. Rocking. Enjoying. The average attendee at this concert was between the ages of 37 and 109. Hey, they have a long legacy. They have been touring around the world for 50 years and, like Iron Maiden, they’re dearly loved.
Thank God for Metal. You’ll never find a genre of music with nicer fans and bands that just want to rock out all they can, whenever they can. It’s what separates Metal from other genres. They need to play. Not for your money. For themselves. I love that.