Uli Jon Roth Entertains reaching the Sky with his Guitar

Uli Jon Roth & Kaleb McKane, University of London Union, 30th November 2018

This may be met with screams of disbelief by long-time fans but until I had seen him at the G3 tour earlier in the year I had not consciously registered the existence of Uli Jon Roth and knew nothing about his background and status (while friends at school were getting into bands like the Scorpions I was looking back to the sixties and groups like the Small Faces and the like).  After seeing him on that tour and having been impressed both by his guitar style and his sage like stage presence I did two things, starting listening to his back catalogue and bought a set of earplugs!  This is all a prelude to saying that it was with some excitement that I saw he was touring again.  Checking out the small number of songs available beforehand for the unknown support act Kaleb McKane (not saying much considering that UJR was unknown to me until recently!) whetted the appetite for finding out what he was like in the flesh, creating a real sense of anticipation for the gig at ULU.  Kaleb’s limited output to date consists of a couple of singles, one of which, “Universe in Reverse” is a three-track extended play consisting of the title track, and two others, “Psychosexual Supernova” and “Lack of Gravity” which he and his 4-piece backing band played one after the other as the opening numbers for his support slot.  These three tracks are nothing short of superb and bear repeated listening.  On the recording, Kaleb’s sound is expansive and rich in colour, an interesting mixture of prog and classic rock with a touch of glam thrown in.  The first thing that strikes you about KM’s voice is that it’s pleasingly reminiscent of David Bowie. Live, in the laid-back confines of ULU this connection wasn’t so obvious. Standing centre stage KM presented a confident yet hesitantly charismatic persona, channelling Marc Bolan in a stage costume of a spangly jacket over the top of a red satin shirt and silk scarf as he sang and ripped off solos on his strat’, eyes closed and throwing some classic lead guitarist shapes.     Five newer songs followed (well four in fact as the last number “Bisolar Disorder”  due to lack of time – a reflection on the band’s ability to stretch out their numbers was cut short. They create an interesting vibe that doesn’t rely on battering the audience with a wall of sound). Definitely, a band to look out for. It will be intriguing to see how their sound develops.

Uli Jon Roth Guitar Magic Wins Attention Again

The headliner, the venerable Uli Jon Roth, provided a real contrast to the baby-faced young pretender.  The combination of his flowing white hair, capped under a large headscarf/bandana and his amiable yet low key stage presence gave him the impression of a Germanic Merlin reincarnated in the guise of a west coast hippy.  The nativeAmerican accessories hanging from the tuning pegs of his guitar, not to mentionthe distinctive look of his “sky” guitars all added to the semi-mystical air.  The tour posters promised excerpts fromrecordings by “Electric Sun”, UJR’s group after his departure from theScorpions, as well as from that group’s “Tokyo Tapes”, which was duly deliveredas songs from across his career were showcased, starting off with “Indian Dawn“and “Electric Sun” from his “Sun” period. What makes UJR’s sound so distinctive is the vibrant clarity of tone he achieves, every single note ringing out clearly. 

Uli Jon Roth Entertains reaching the Sky with his Guitar. Specia guest Kaleb McKane opened a night of pure guitar magic and energy

There is no problem guessing who is the bandleader as his guitar dominated proceedings, solo after majestic solo.  He was flanked by two other guitarists, giving the band a powerful sound as they hit the riffs together that formed the basis of most songs; the three frequently played guitar motifs in unison high up the fretboard, playing in thirds to give that distinctive wailing sound that always sounds impressive in its pleasing synchronicity. As a guitar player, watching him play was a real joy.  Kaleb Mckane is quoted as saying that he cried the first time he heard Jeff Beck play live; standing at the back of the auditorium during Uli Jon Roth’s set he may well have experienced at least one small tear given the similarity the German wizard has to Beck as a guitarist that manages to create a sonic energy in his playing that veers between being beautifully melodic and controlled then changing to manic shredding as notes flow in high speed rippling scales.  The highlight for me was his version of the Shadows “Apache”, which he introduced as being an influence both on himself and many other well-known guitar players (and myself for that matter) which he mainly played straight, if more muscular, for the most part, before diverting into more free-form soloing towards the end. This was followed by his classic “The Sails of Charon”, which went down well with the knowledgeable crowd.  UJR sang a few numbers in a strong enough voice but more often left vocals to Niklas Tumann, who has an incredible range and a powerful voice. With his flowing locks and strong features, he looked both a classic rock frontman as well as reminding me of one of the German terrorists in the first Die Hard movie! Other songs that stood out were “Don’t tell the Wind”, written by his brother Zeno who died earlier in the year, whom UJR gave a moving tribute to and Ian Gilan’s “A Day Late and a Dollar Short”.   The extensive set concluded with superb versions of Jimi’s “All Along The Watchtower” and “Little Wing”; a real treat for the ears and a fitting end to a great night of varied music.

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