UFO at The Canyon
By Dave Kaplan 11/29/2012
Youthful naiveté dictates that our favorite rock stars aren’t supposed to grow old, the denial somehow preserving our own youth in that same mental haze. But once we come to terms with the hand that time deals, the awareness of an upside to growing older as a music fan begins to unfold. In particular, notable trailblazing rock ’n’ rollers of the 1970s, whose only accessibility in their heyday may have been via a Creem or Hit Parader article and photo spread, or a rare tour stop in your town are now touring club-sized venues! At the head of this pack: UFO, which landed at The Canyon last Saturday.
Retaining three original members from the legendary late-’70s lineup — singer Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker and guitarist Paul Raymond along with lead guitarist Vinnie Moore and touring bassist Rob De Luca — UFO brought the same ferocity to the intimate confines of The Canyon as it did to venues that made it a hard rock legend, not to mention your older sibling’s (or at this point your bad-ass uncle’s) favorite band in the pre-punk rock’70s. And the UFO die-hards who rejoice at even the hint of U.S. tour dates packed the house, treating the band to a hero’s welcome.
As with Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and a few other notables, UFO has earned and enjoyed an enduring legacy far beyond its salad days because — well, let’s not mince words — its 1970s-era catalog is just that good and really hard to ignore. A streak of five consecutive studio albums featuring guitar virtuoso Michael Schenker, from 1974’s Phenomenon through 1978’s Obsession, may have been topped only by the exclamation point of 1979’s jaw-dropping live effort, Strangers In The Night, often heralded as rock’s greatest live record. And while UFO certainly embraces the strength of its past, one distinguishing factor sets it apart from many of its contemporaries: touring and recording new material. Its latest release, Seven Deadly, is the 21st studio album, and a very solid offering that further impresses upon UFO’s proven bluesy hard rock formula. And while the band’s live blueprint, post-Schenker, still relies heavily on the fan favorite ’70s material, UFO refuses to define itself by that.
“Fight Night” and “Wonderland” from Seven Deadly fit in seamlessly with the set, and rocked just as hard as classics “Lights Out,” “Let It Roll” and Mogg’s spontaneous personal choice for the night, “Cherry.” And nothing threw UFO off, not even Moore’s guitar going out just in time for the solo in “I’m A Loser.” Mogg handled it with good-natured wit and humor, joking that the technical difficulty was probably due to all of Moore’s guitar pedals! Mid-set brought the catchy blues rocker “Burn Your House Down,” a standout track from the new album, and one that set quite the incendiary tone for the firestorm of UFO hits that rounded out the night: “Only You Can Rock Me,” “Love to Love,” “Too Hot to Handle,” “Rock Bottom,” “Doctor Doctor” and “Shoot Shoot!”
UFO is undoubtedly one of the most underrated, yet influential rock bands, and while it may never receive 20 million ticket requests for its concerts, as Led Zeppelin did back in 2007, if it’s still recording relevant new material and crossing oceans to play small gigs to satiate American demand, and all with members nearing their mid-60s, then maybe UFO is more worthy of our respect now than ever. As Phenomenon’s blistering opening track may have accidentally prophesied UFO’s own youthful naiveté nearly 40 years ago, “Oh my, oh how the times have changed.”
Dave Kaplan works in radio as a sound engineer and music writer, and also hosts a’70s-influenced podcast.