Proof of the enduring appeal of classic rock is the success over seven years of residencies in Las Vegas of the ‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ show. The concept is deceptively simple, with live playing from a band of seasoned musicians, accompanied with an audio visual projection, taking the audience on a journey through the history of the classic years, from the sixties through to the eighties.
I’d become aware of its success when I kept reading about various artists having to fit their other activity around these commitments, and for the first time the franchise, which has won numerous visitor awards in Vegas, hit London, with a trio of dates at Subterania, a recently reopened venue under the Westway.
London is spoiled for choice with original bands every night of the week, so the question was whether this show could fill a niche and offer something greater than seeing a band rattle through well known covers in a pub. The answer would lie in two thing s- the quality of the musicianship and the quality of the presentation.
On the first score, the band were as you would expect extremely solid, with a couple of fine if not show stopping guitarists, in one time Dio prodigy Rowan Robertson and Jason Boyleston. Vocals were shared three ways, a concept Robin McAuley is used to from his day job in Michael Schenker Fest. Always the consummate pro, he also had the advantage of having sung some of these songs in his career before, viz. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (who remembers the Far Corporation? ) and ‘Eye of the Tiger’, though he was certainly no Freddie on ‘We Are The Champions’.
Paul Shortino, veteran of Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot and numerous other LA bands, looked less assured, notably on ‘Honky Tonk Women’ though his throaty roar has always been an acquired taste, but the surprise was the tall Todd Kerns, released from his bass playing duties in Slash’s band, who had both the looks and the vocal range of a natural frontman.
They opened in 1965 with ‘My Generation’ featuring a nifty bass solo from Tony Franklin, before moving through the likes of the Doors and Hendrix to over played staples such as ‘All Right Now’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’, though the latter was expertly delivered by Todd and did at least rouse those seated cabaret style at tables to their feet, after the atmosphere was initially very muted.
There were some nice detailed touches as Rowan played a 12 string both on ‘Stairway… ’ and ‘Hotel California’, and singers would don suitable shirts or jackets. However, the seventies segment concluded unconvincingly with a medley of unfulfilling snatches of several songs, at which point chronological order went out of the window and the narrative became more tenuous.
So, what of the second success criteria, the accompanying show? I am not sure how it is presented in Vegas, but it was embarrassingly low-fi with a bog standard light show and few visuals other than a modestly sized screen behind. This beamed a series of screen savers, band photos and factoids of the type the BBC run across the bottom of music clip shows.
As the set wore on these became increasingly excruciating, from grammatical errors – Stevie Nick’s – to factual ones – Karrie (sic) Livgren of Kansas – to the simply banal – my response to learning ‘Here I Go Again’ is ‘about heartbreak and the loneliness that comes with it’ was ‘no shit, Sherlock’!
I was also puzzled at the prominence given to Howard Leese’s role in Heart and Huey McDonald in Bon Jovi, but this made sense when I read on the way home they have been part of the show in the USA.
All in all, this had the air of a Powerpoint show about classic rock prepared for a school project, in which case my verdict was ‘must do better’.
At least the second half of the show had a better atmosphere as they moved into the eighties- strict chronology had now been totally abandoned but at least people could enjoy anthems in ‘Rock of Ages’ jukebox musical style – notably the opening ‘Livin On A Prayer’, ‘Heartbreaker’, where singer Megan Ruger from The Voice (no, me neither) did a very convincing Pat Benatar to follow an earlier Stevie Nicks cameo, ‘Separate Ways’ and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’.
Again others were reduced to medley format, though among them one highlight was a truly captivating delivery by Megan of ‘Alone’, before Paul enjoyed probably his finest moment with the aforementioned ‘Here I Go Again’.
There was a rather random but enjoyable trio of encores in a good stab at ‘Juke Box Hero’, ‘Highway To Hell’- with Robin sporting a flat cap and denim cut off, but shamefully the guitar solo omitted – and ‘Jump’. I was then rather uncomfortable at hearing Megan in introducing the band refer to them as ‘the cast’.
As a regular gig goer I had to suspend some of the cynicism that washed over me during the evening. The first night verdict was that the concept might work in the UK, but this was the wrong venue, neither a Central London Theatre attracting curious visitors nor the ‘chicken in a basket’ provincial hall circuit.
It might be something you could suggest for a stag or hen party or works Christmas do as a good night out featuring classic rock in the most accessible way. However, not least as the quality of the on stage performances was not matched by the amateur hour presentation, I felt it had less to offer us more committed rock fans.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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