TVD Live: Uli Jon Roth at Sully’s, 2/5

“I’m not even supposed to be here today.” Not since Dante uttered those words in Clerks has that statement meant so much, but it’s true. I was already lined up to cover another band at a larger, trendier venue. Then I got the email…”Would you be willing to cover Uli Jon Roth at Sully’s in Chantilly, VA?”

The surprise and joy I felt were immediate and overwhelming. He may not be prancing around at the Super Bowl Halftime Show or selling out huge venues, but this is Uli Jon Roth, guitarist for this little band from Germany that you might have heard of, The Scorpions.

Uli was guitarist, occasional singer and songwriter for the band from 1973 to 1978 (in the pre-“Rock You Like a Hurricane” days), recording classic early albums like Virgin Killer and Taken by Force. At Sully’s, the rock legend would forego his recent orchestral rock material and celebrate his 40th anniversary of The Scorpions, playing some songs that have never been played live before.

The crowd began to file in to the adjoining bar while Uli and the band were finishing sound check. The eager crowd gathered at the window and watched in awe, as if a group of kids looking in a toy store window at Christmas. After the sound details were worked out, the patrons filed into venue area and found their tables, giving the show the feeling of a miniature theater.

At 9:30, Uli Jon Roth and his band took the stage, with Uli wearing his trademark bandanna and turquoise baubles and sporting his signature “Sky Guitar,” a 30-fret, 7-string work of musical art. Kicking things off with a bang, the band tore into “All Night Long” from Tokyo Tapes, and the crowd was instantly enthralled, roaring approval. Vocalist Henning Basse was stunning, belting out the notes for all they were worth.

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As they played through classics like “”Longing for Fun,” “Fly to the Rainbow,” and “Life’s like a River,” the band was firing on all cylinders and sounded great, if a tad bit loud in the small space. The rhythm section of drummer Pete Holmes (formerly of Black n’ Blue) and Elliott Dean Rubinson (who also happens to be the owner of Dean Guitars) held down the low end, and keyboardist Paul Rahme added to the groove, but the surprise of the show was 16-year-old guitarist Ali Clinton. While others his age are worried about driving tests and trips to the mall, this kid is touring the world with Uli and blowing people’s minds. He played rhythm guitar, occasionally did a matching/dueling solo with Uli, threw in some pretty powerful lead vocals during “Drifting Sun,” and played his own shredding solo during “I’ve Got to Be Free.”

At the center of it all was Uli Jon Roth. A player that many consider a legend, Uli displayed an absolute mastery and devotion to his craft. Every note was perfect, and his solos were beautiful, transcendental ariosos that pulled you in and lifted you away to another place, or even another plane of existence. Rather than just a dazzling display of techniques like some rock solos tend to be, Uli’s were very fluid and purposeful, somehow escaping the song while still carrying it on. All eyes were glued to him, the crowd avidly welcoming every song like an old friend they haven’t seen in years.

As the set went on, the band breathed new life into definitive Scorpions songs like “Sails of Charon,” “Kill a Raven,” and “Catch Your Train.” When they hammered into “Catch Your Train,” the energy that was put into the song and received from the audience was akin to an arena in the late ’70s, bundled tightly into the small room. “In Trance,” the title track of the 1975 album, began low and subtle, exploded into a massive, powerful chorus that raised fists into the air, then back again in perfect crescendos.

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The set was brought to a close after a searing version of “Robot Man,” with Basse’s powerful voice soaring as each chorus ended with “Well, that’s my mind, That’s my life, That’s my soul!”

The band said their thank yous and goodbyes, but the crowd clamored for more. The band returned to the stage (minus Basse) and played “All Along the Watchtower,” and continued into a Jimi Hendrix medley that included “Little Wing” and “Purple Haze.” The night finally drew to a close, and the looks on the people’s faces said it all, everyone knowing that they were witness to something special that may not be repeated anytime soon.

Photos: Kristin Horgen

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  • further

    “Yellow Raven”

  • Dennis Eyre

    great review wow

  • Georgiann P

    Wow, everything said here was exactly how I felt a week and a half ago when I saw him in Milwaukee!  It was pure magic…got tickets to two more shows and can’t wait!!  🙂

  • knight55387

    I felt the same way 2 nights ago when I saw Uli for the first time ever in Savage, MN. Magic and special are 2 of the very same words I used to explained it!

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