by Howard Whitman
Oblivion | Captain Love | We Are One | Hot Streak | How Long | Time Machine | Empire | Fire | Think It Over | The Other Side | Bass Solo | Not Hopeless | Ghost Town | I'm No Angel | Desire | Regret
Hard-rock supergroup The Winery Dogs came roaring back in fine style with a stellar show at The Keswick Theater in the Philadelphia suburb of Glenside, Pa. on Oct. 8, 2015.
As a teaming of established, virtuoso musicians who had never played together before, there was no way to tell what The Winery Dogs would become as a live act, since they had never played live when they released their debut album in 2013.
But it didn't take long for The Dogs to gain a reputation as one of the finest live rock bands on the planet. I got to see them twice on their debut tour—one of their first shows ever at a small club in Lancaster, Pa., and then on a second swing to promote the first album that brought them to larger venues including the Keswick.
Two years later, The Winery Dogs are back with their second album, Hot Streak, and a tour that takes up where they left off the first time. Beyond that, this show, and tour, and CD, prove that The Winery Dogs are not a one-off, here-then-gone phony supergroup. They are a real band, and as embodied by the returning trio of Richie Kotzen (guitar/lead vocals), Billy Sheehan (bass/backing vocals) and Mike Portnoy (drums/backing vocals), they remain one of the most incredible acts a rock fan is likely to see in his or her lifetime.
The Dogs circa 2015 are out with a show that's half debut album and half Hot Streak, with a solo section thrown in for good measure. While their debut shows included songs from the members' pasts including solo tunes from Kotzen along with a song from his days in Poison, as well as a throwback to Sheehan's Talas days, this tour finds the band playing only Winery Dogs material. With two albums under their belt, they have ample stuff to play in a ninety-minute set.
And play they did. These are simply astounding musicians, but they make it look easy. Bursting out of the gates with two new songs, “Oblivion” and “Captain Love” (which, at least thematically, recalls “Calling Dr. Love” by Kiss), it was clear that the new material finds the band as energetic and vibrant as ever, even as they embrace new styles in their music. Hot Streak finds the band embracing more of the R&B vibe that Kotzen frequently explores on his solo albums, while still offering up the chops-saturated Van Halen-meets-Soundgarden sound that made their debut an instant hit.
Superstar drummer Portnoy, who's done an admirable job of establishing himself as an internet sensation, first gained fame drumming in progressive metal masters Dream Theater, and while he continues to explore his proggy side in his work with Neal Morse, he also has a new metal band in the works, and has filled in with alt-rockers Avenge Sevenfold and more recently classic metal anthem-makers Twisted Sister. His work with Winery Dogs lands somewhere in the middle of all of these styles—not prog but with plenty of complexity, yet more focused on solid rhythms. He remains one of the best showmen of all drummers with his stick-twisting antics and unbelievably fast-yet-precise handwork. And as the main spokesman for the band onstage, his personality and fan-friendliness come through as well.
Billy Sheehan has been called the Eddie Van Halen of bass, and he more than deserves that title, because he's taken a traditional rock role and evolved it into something new. He's not just an incredibly busy and fast bassist, he's also a fiercely melodic one. It's accurate to call him a lead bassist, because his bass lines are so prominent and aggressive within the band's music that his instrument truly cuts through the mix. It doesn't hurt that he employs a heavy, slightly distorted tone that often makes him sound as much like a guitarist as a bassist.
For me, one of the best things about The Winery Dogs' instant success has been the recognition Richie Kotzen has so deservedly received for his talents. Not only is he a shredding guitarist who more than holds his own with Sheehan matching him barrage of notes by barrage of notes, but Kotzen is an incredible singer as well. And he's getting better. His vocals on Hot Streak and at this show were even more emotive, soulful and powerful than the last time around. And for fans of shred, his guitar playing is unreal—and he plays without a pick! The fact that he's fingerpicking those incredible runs and solos just makes them all the more unbelievable.
The show went from highlight to highlight, with not a dud song on the set list. When Kotzen took a break from his signature Fender Telecaster to play the new song “Fire” solo on acoustic guitar, it didn't send the audience to the rest rooms … he's that compelling a player. He gave “Fire” a touching intro, mentioning that the song, and the entire night, was dedicated to Alisa B. Anderson, a singer who had worked with him in the early days of his career in his nearby hometown of Reading, Pa., and was an important person in his musical journey. She had just passed away that day, and Kotzen was visibly saddened by the loss.
“Desire,” which closed the pre-encore set, was a fun singalong that incorporated a section of the band jamming on Sly Stone's “I Want to Take You Higher.”
Back onstage for an encore, the trio wrapped up the night with two slamming tunes from the debut, “Regret” and “Elevate,” ending a night that should have been infinitely satisfying to Winery Dogs fans as well as people who'd never heard them before.
The show was opened by Kicking Harold, an indie hard rock trio The Winery Dogs selected to open all of the concerts on this swing of the tour. They delivered a solid set of songs from their independently released CDs that was capped by a well-received cover of Rush's “Working Man.” Bassist Julia Lage was a crowd favorite, especially to the many males in the audience, and guitarist/vocalist T.D. Kelly and drummer Michael Odabashian turned in strong performances.
This was a great rock show, top to bottom. One can only hope that The Winery Dogs continue to make music together for many years to come, but I wholeheartedly recommend you check them out on this tour to see a prime band at the peak of its considerable powers.