CONCERT REVIEW: Rock Legend ULI JON ROTH Stuns Toronto With Unforgettable Performance And Classic SCORPIONS Hits (May 10th, 2024)

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Remember Uli Jon Roth? If not, here’s a refresher for you: he’s best known for his work with the rock band Scorpions during the 1970s, and played a crucial role in shaping the band’s sound during their formative years, before leaving in 1978 and never looking back. Uli formed his own band, Electric Sun, and explored a wide array of musical avenues, incorporating elements of classical, blues, and world music into his compositions. Roth‘s solo albums include “Earthquake” (1979), dedicated to the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, “Fire Wind” (1981), dedicated to Anwar Sadat, and “Beyond the Astral Skies” (1985), dedicated to Martin Luther King.

Uli became one of the flag-bearers of the neoclassical metal genre, influencing names like Richie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Michael Romeo, to name a few. He continues to perform record, and tour worldwide and is currently in the midst of a North American Tour.

Uli played at the Lee’s Palace in Toronto this past May 10th, providing a night to remember for those in attendance. Initially planned for the fall of 2023, the tour had to be postponed, following an unexpected, yet successful, kidney removal operation. The show was split into two parts: the first half consisted of Uli alone on stage, playing his version of classical pieces such as Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca” and “Queen of the Night”, and excerpts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The name of the tour, “Interstellar Sky Guitar”, reflects the fact that Uli is celebrating 40 years since the first one of his ground-breaking instruments was built. The tonal range of Sky Guitars far exceeds that of traditional guitars, effectively turning the electric guitar into a six-octave instrument as opposed to the three-and-a-half octave ones which are industry standard. The ingenious, striking body shape of Sky Guitars which makes the extra frets possible enables Uli to equal the registers of the violin and the cello.

He entered the stage wearing minstrel-esque clothes, and a bronze statue of a mysterious woman placed in front of the audience added to the mystique. As he delved into the classical pieces, the screen behind him showed images of a young Uli playing with an orchestra, but also of Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and other figures of historical importance. The only downside of this part of the show was Uli’s new song “Child of the Thunder Mountain”, which presented a message about climate change that was somewhat simplistic and naïve. Other than that, a stellar performance, which concluded with a beautiful rendition of “Metamorphosis: Cry of the Night”. Oh, and there was also time to talk about Uli’s book, “In Search of the Alpha Law”. Written during COVID, it was initially not intended to be disclosed to the public, but now he’s ready to release it. 

The second part of the concert synchronizes with the worldwide vinyl release of all three Electric Sun albums, alongside all 5 Uli-era Scorpions albums. After a short break, Uli and his band entered the stage and quickly delved into the title track of “Electric Sun”. A staple of his solo shows, “Don’t Tell the Wind” was also played – a song written by his deceased brother Zeno Roth.

Aside from that, the set was a dream come true for fans of early Scorpions: “In Trance”’s “Longing For Fire” and the bluesy and upbeat “Sun in My Hand” were met with great applause, as was the futuristic and sci-fi inspired “Land of Dawn”. His rendition of “We’ll Burn the Sky” was absolutely cathartic, with the crowd singing in unison with bassist Frank Schwichtenberg. The title track of “In Trance” was probably the most celebrated song of the night, with the crowd again singing every verse.

Classic after classic, the Scorpions songs poured out of Uli’s guitar like musical honey, and many of the intros and solos were new, extended versions of those songs. “Pictured Life”, “Catch Your Train”, “Polar Nights”…all songs which are completely ignored by the Scorpions nowadays. Much like Steve Hackett, who is flying the Genesis flag up high and playing material from his time in the English band, Uli’s show is the only chance that old-time fans have at experiencing the material of early Scorpions live.

His wise use of effects and the incredible range that his guitars offer made the instrument sound like a six-stringed theremin at times. Watching him play those old songs, one couldn’t help but wonder what the Scorpions would have sounded like if he had stayed in the band. One thing is for sure: the mythical creature on stage that night would never EVER write a song like “Rock You Like A Hurricane”. Or at least it wouldn’t have sounded like it does.

As is typical of Uli’s shows, the night ended with a blistering version of what is arguably his signature song with the Scorpions, the much-revered “Sails of Charon”. Through Middle Eastern scales, mind-bending bends, and an extended mid-section, Uli left the fans satisfied, with their thirst for nostalgia fully quenched. With only a few more dates left of the North American Tour, Uli is now heading to Europe for the summer festivals there. If you’re a fan of the Scorpions and want to see a masterclass in guitar playing, don’t miss Uli Jon Roth live!

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