Try as hard as you can to avoid it—it’s impossible to not use the “s” word when describing the Winery Dogs. (Get your mind out of the gutter—no, not that “s” word.) Wikipedia defines a supergroup as “a music group whose members are already successful as solo artists or as part of other groups.” In the case of the Winery Dogs, said members would be Richie Kotzen, guitar/lead vocals; Billy Sheehan, bass/backing vocals; and Mike Portnoy, drums/backing vocals.
The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in Southern California was packed nearly to capacity on a Sunday night, which in itself is a testament to the reputation the three members of the band bring with them. As they came on stage, the biggest immediate surprise was the chameleon-like Kotzen. With short hair, headband and a mustache, Kotzen looked more like Prince than the longer haired, bearded version of himself in the Dog’s publicity photos and music videos. (Talking about appearances—there was Sheehan, looking dapper and clean with his hair tied nearly in a ponytail, contrasted with the shaggy outlaw biker look of Portnoy).
Very few words were spoken to the audience during the show; the three musicians let the music do the talking. When a band is touring in support of a debut album, you know pretty much what the set list will be. Many of the songs are constructed around the tight interplay between Kotzen and Sheehan, and the so-called “classic rock” influences of bands such as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin are readily evident. Arguably the strongest song on the album is Time Machine, and it translated very well to a live setting. The tune starts out with a very Zeppelin-esque intro and verse before shifting gears in the chorus, Kotzen singing plaintively “Oh, the time machine I ride, oh, take me back, relive my life. I’d go behind and change the time, but where do I come from?” Halfway through the song, the pace double-times for the final chorus, all leading to a dramatic stop ending to the song.
Other highlights from the set included I’m No Angel, with Kotzen’s bluesy signature guitar riff and soulful vocals, Six Feet Deeper and Elevate.
With a three-piece band working their debut album and a full hour-and-a-half set to fill, how about a drum solo, followed later by a bass solo? OK, so instrumental solos can tax the patience of even the most dedicated fan, but thankfully Portnoy knew better than to indulge in a ten-minute, John Bonham special. Sheehan’s bass solo demonstrated why he is one of the premiere bass players in the music world. His innovative techniques and revolutionary playing style showed why he could truly be described as “the Eddie Van Halen of the bass.”
As for Kotzen, no need to stand up there by himself and shred away–there were plenty of guitar solos built into the songs to show off his prowess on the six-string. What he did do is pick up his acoustic guitar for a rendition of a song off his solo album Into The Black, Doin’ What The Devil Says To Do. Kotzen is well-known and respected as a guitarist, but with just the acoustic accompanying him, it allowed the audience to appreciate just what a fine singer he also is.
For an encore, the band returned to the stage for a version of Fooled Around And Fell In Love, originally done by Elvin Bishop, followed by Desire, which was the first single off the Winery Dog’s album.
Usually on a work-night gig, people will start leaving the venue before the end to beat the traffic and get a decent night’s sleep. No one left this show early. There were probably more than a few bleary-eyed people at work Monday morning, but given what they had seen and heard, they probably didn’t mind.
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