Direct from Las Vegas, ‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ was one show that had a marked difference from most we associate with the Sunset Strip and had much more in common with the residences of the bands like Def Leppard and KISS than the painted smiles and millimetre deep glitz and glamour of Liberace and his kin.
The idea was relatively simple; put together a live rock show that chronologically covers two and a half decades of some of the best known rock music from the mid 60‘s onwards, get a crack team of musicians who had been in some of the most respected bands in the business, add some visuals and costume changes and put it in a club style setting.
Already a huge draw in ‘Sin City’, Ladbroke Groves newly refurbished Subterania played host for its debut trio of shows this side of the Atlantic and word of mouth had soon spread as tickets were snapped up eagerly and leather jackets and sunglasses were dusted off ready for a night of rocking.
The first thing that strikes you is the set up at the venue as reserved tables fill a huge swathe of the venue, pressing against the stage and the relaxed, night club atmosphere as people sit around chatting, waiting for the entertainment to begin.
A huge screen at the rear of the stage scrolls through the list of artists appearing tonight and their CVs read like a who’s who of rock and metal, whetting the appetite of those who are already fully aware of the history attached to the musicians and points of interest for those who are just along for a great night out.
It’s a nicely mixed crowd, the curious and the committed rubbing shoulders as everyone gets ready to celebrate some of the cream of a genre that, thankfully, just won’t die. Fortunately the set is a mix of some of the most famous tracks in rock but there’s also some lesser known ones thrown in too that, whilst certainly aren’t deep cuts by the various artists, show that all the obvious choices are not strictly adhered too and these infrequently heard gems are a treat to see performed live.
The shows opened in a whirl as Slash bassist / vocalist Todd Kerns leads the band into a propulsive and ferocious ‘My Generation’, the Who classic played with a real mixture of passion and fun. Shorn of his instrument, it was down to Kerns bandmate Tony Franklin to take on the duties of the mini bass solo that The Ox played that is such a highlight of the song.
Having first seen Franklin with the sadly short-lived Jimmy Page/Paul Rogers supergroup, The Firm, over thirty years ago it was a huge pleasure to witness him up close and his playing, along with Yes/Asia drummer Jay Schellen brought a solid groove to the night, providing a mighty base for the rest of those onstage.
Rough Cutt / Quiet Riot singer Paul Shortino takes on Jim Morrison as ‘Light My Fire’ provides a more mellow, psychedelic, the vocals having a much more ‘rock’ edge and Lita Ford/Angel keys player Michael T. Ross gets to let loose on the intricate patterns that swirl around the hall. After a brief intro of ‘Star Spangled Banner’, third vocalist Robin McAuley joins the ensemble as the band goes into a powerful ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and so it goes. Classics by the Stones, Free, Zeppelin and Deep Purple follow in rapid succession, the live jukebox working overtime to bring the visceral thrill of the songs being played live to an audience who, for the most part, seemingly rarely went to gigs.
After the blast of ‘Smoke of the Water’, with an added snatch of ‘Space Truckin’, it was time for the West Coast sunshine as the opening bars of ‘Hotel California’ brought all three male voices to the forefront as they shared verses and, mirroring this, former Dio guitarist Rowan Robertson and Jason Boyleston (Paul Rodgers Band) traded licks on the extended solo. Despite their disparate bands, it was great to see how all the musicians seemingly fitted together seamlessly and each was given their time in the spotlight.
Kerns shone as he was freed from any restriction of his usual role playing bass, every inch the frontman, the voice and moves all there and Shortino combined grit with a deep soulfulness and power. Fresh from his day job with Michael Schenker, the tattooed McAuley displayed a natural ease, commanding the stage as his voice soared and he effortlessly flirted with the audience and it was to the huge credit of all those onstage that they really made a genuine effort to connect with the people throughout the two levels of the club, each musician seemingly having a blast playing these classics.
After a well-received run through of Queen’s cock-sure ‘We are the Champions’ the band broke into an extended medley of Boston, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Kansas hits that made you ache for the full length songs, not just the famous riffs and choruses. It was during the Mac’s ‘Dreams’ that sole female performer Megan Ruger made her impressive debut on stage, bewitching the audience with a performance that would have made Stevie Nicks proud.
Sadly though, this fraction of the song was the template for the rest of the night with Ruger being very underused despite a voice that could have broken hearts or shattered concrete blocks at a hundred paces. Outstanding versions of Pat Benatar’s ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Alone’ by Heart (former Heart guitarist Howard Leese being a mainstay of Raiding the Rock Vault in Vegas) showed her range and that she is easily capable of rocking as hard as the boys and you can’t help but wish she was given whole songs to sing or more of a platform for her undeniable talent.
Eschewing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, the harder hitting ‘Separate Ways’ showed the tougher side of Journey and was a welcome addition to the set before ‘Eye of the Tiger’ (McAuley fronted Survivor for five years) and ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ got everyone singing again. More staples of rock compilation albums followed with Def Leppard, Robert Palmer and Whitesnake getting nods as the whole audience were up on their feet, Kerns and Boyleston gleefully flicking plectrums into the audience at every occasion.
With a strong finish of numbers by Foreigner, AC/DC and Van Halen the night came to a joyfully earsplitting and adrenaline soaked end, the musicians saying their goodnights before heading to the rear of the hall for a thankfully free and much welcome meet and greet.
It would be churlish to criticize the execution of the show itself, packed as it is with superb artists playing some of the best loved songs in the canon and you’d have to be a real musical snob not to gladly sing along and fist pump.
Okay, so the tables could have been removed for more of a gig atmosphere and a slightly more leftfield choice of songs peppered throughout would have added some twists but why mess with a hugely successful formula that has such a broad appeal and won plaudits in Vegas? Part gig, part theatre show, ‘Raiding the Rock Vaults’ is a great evening and hopefully it’ll return to the UK soon. Give me some Leppard over ‘Cats’ anytime.
Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM