Review: The Winery Dogs @ First Avenue

IT HAD BEEN AWHILE

since I had seen a live rock show that just blew me away. Hard rock band The Winery Dogs did that Monday, May 20 at the legendary First Avenue club in Minneapolis. For those who don’t know, The Winery Dogs consist of three simply amazing musicians: Mike Portnoy on drums, Billy Sheehan on bass and Richie Kotzen on guitar. Kotzen is a particular favorite of mine, he’s not only a killer guitarist but a great vocalist as well, with a soulful smoky voice. The pedigree for this trio runs deep, having each played with the many greats in different bands and projects and together these guys have an amazing chemistry. I’d been wanting to see these guys since their first album came out

STRAIGHTER TO THE POINT

the music was amazing. I’m a big fan of both their studio albums and while you can put them in the hard rock category, – their sound is big and loud and there’s soloing and shred galore – all their songs have big hooks and great harmonies. And unlike many “supergroups” or similar bands with virtuoso players, the songs have soul. All three guys sing so they nailed most of those harmonies. Sheehan is just a monster on bass – really, there’s no one else that can play like that! -and he’s got a great, high voice. And Portnoy…how can I describe him? The former Dream Theatre drummer plays huge on a relatively small kit – tons of fills, rolls and cymbal craziness – yet he doesn’t actually overplay. Imagine Keith Moon with 100 times the technical proficiency. And Kotzen…I can’t sing his praises enough. His soloing is effortless, going from full shred to simmering blues touches, and his voice is just classic. I’d listen to him sing the phone book, and probably get a tad emotional, too.

Live, The Winery Dogs simply smoke. There’s an intense energy happening, and its fun to watch three absolute masters go at it, just jamming and taking each other to different musical heights during different songs. The setlist consisted of most of both albums (sadly and strangely, they omitted not what I think is their best song, the massive and powerful “Six Feet Under” from their first album) including a great cover of the Elvin Bishop classic “Fooled and Fell in Love.”

As there’s no decent video (yet) at You Tube from the show, for a taste of The Winery Dogs greatness here’s a clip of them playing the song they opened with, “Elevate”, from their DVD Dog Years: Live In Santiago. “Elevate” is a hell of a choice – it was the first single from their first album and absolutely set the tone for the power and fun that was yet to come.

The Winery Dogs are one of those bands where I made my own personal vow: I’ll will see them every time they are in town.

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