The term “supergroup” is thrown around pretty recklessly these days. It seems to apply to basically any collective of musicians of any renown who get together with other players of similar renown to either record or tour. The Winery Dogs, whose individual members manage to keep themselves quite occupied in between periods of joint activity, each seemed to find a one month’s hole in their mutual schedule. It appears they decided to fill that hole with a 31 day tour of the United States which had them traversing from South to East, into the upper plains, and finishing up out West. Whether or not you want to apply the term super group to them, this group of super musicians roamed into The City National Grove of Anaheim on Thursday, May 30th to deliver the second to last performance of their spring jaunt.
Along for the last four dates of the Who Let The Dogs Out Tour is the Los Angeles based quartet, ZFG. Perhaps what could be known as a legacy super group, as ZFG boasts within its ranks, two sons of members of the 70’s and 80’s powerhouse Toto. On what guitarist Trev Lukather (son of Steve Lukather) relates as the one year anniversary of their formation, they treat the near capacity crowd of the Grove to a 45 minute set of original music. With only a few singles released to date, the band promises a full album in the near future as they will soon make a European tour in support of Toto. This association is made up of three very solid musicians. Drummer Josh Devine spent five years as the touring drummer for the boy band, One Direction. Sam Porcaro (son of Mike Porcaro) handles bass duties with a sober quietness while providing four pistons to Devine’s opposite four, creating a well synced V-8 power plant.
The more than competent musicianship is underscored by an extremely charismatic front man in Jules Galli. The interplay between Lukather and Galli brings life to the performance as they both appear to really enjoy performing on stage. Galli exhibits the stage presence and showmanship of a veteran vocalist with years of stage practice. Galli’s vocal abilities also bring him to the forefront in a band where although he occupies that physical space, the spotlight is split four ways before they ever take the stage. With a debut record yet to be released it looks like ZFG, based on their ability to produce on stage, may be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
As the clock strikes 10:00 pm, the room seems restless as the crowd awaits the arrival of The Winery Dogs. The house lights dim within a minute or two of the top of the hour and the room comes to life. The power trio tears into the first number Elevate, setting off a 90 plus minute exhibition of noodling, drumstick tossing and soulful vocals. The first thing that is noticeable about the set is the power with which these three play. Having seen each of them perform live multiple times, there is a special dynamic with the three of them that the writer has not experienced prior. They run through two more tunes, Captain Love and Hot Streak in what seems like an instant. The fast paced Hot Streak ends and gives way to the slower and somber Time Machine and its foreboding riff.
The middle of the performance highlights the lead bass prowess of Billy Sheehan, who plays his instrument more like a lead guitar than he does an electric bass. His five-minute bass solo evokes sounds that don’t sound like they should be coming from a bass guitar, including his little excerpt from Eruption. Sheehan ambles about the stage intermittently works his side of the stage to give all sides a glimpse and interacts with Mike Portnoy behind the drum kit when the two are not ringing out songbird-like backing vocals. Portnoy is extremely playful on this evening, tossing and catching his sticks repeatedly, sticking his tongue out and making silly faces as well as inciting the attendees to participate. The middle portion of the presentation ends with guitarist and lead vocalist, Richie Kotzen, alone on the darkened stage, at his electric piano with a few spotlights on him to emote The Road with no accompaniment, just the piano and his touching vocals. The other members join him as he begins the bluesy Regret from the piano until he rises, and straps his guitar on and finishes the impassioned number into its climax.
Kotzen, who can be very animated in his playing is a bit subdued through the first half of the show. He loosens up through the last third of the show and begins to display more of his signature persona while accenting certain parts of the song. His gyrations and spontaneous contortions kick in and he begins to really feel the performance. The main portion of the evening goes by in a blur. The Winery Dogs retreat to the backstage area for a brief respite. They return to the stage and Kotzen ushers in the first piece of the encore with a funky, disco strumming riff. Portnoy and Sheehan join in with Sheehan playing the lead riff of the Gary Wright cover Love Is Alive, which they interpret a bit heavier and faster. When Kotzen begins the solo opening riff of Desire the room erupts. This evening’s finale is punctuated by Portnoy grabbing a cymbal stand and crashing other cymbals with it. The Dogs walk the front edge of the stage, shaking hands and exchanging fist bumps before convening at center stage for a unison bow. With the band hinting at a new album and most likely a subsequent tour, perhaps more cities will get to partake of the next Winery Dogs tour.