Live Review: Uli Jon Roth – Wolverhampton

Live Review: Uli Jon Roth - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton
21st November 2023
Words & Photos: Scott Clarke

It was a cold clear night, as the NASA toolbox orbited somewhere above us, we were in for some stratospheric entertainment as one time Scorpions guitarist, Uli Jon Roth took to the stage for an evening with the man and a journey through his storied history.

The queues outside the venue from the outset had tongues wagging as fans were discussing their favourite eras of the Scorpions, especially the albums they always go back to. The first five, Uli being involved in four of these, were top of their lists.

Almost into his seventh decade, this legend of the 70’s and pioneer of guitar work as well as guitar technology with the formation of his own Sky guitar, had before him an evening of awaiting fans from the home of heavy metal. As we entered the venue, spotlights in the shape of swirls decorate the stage floor as Uli’s custom Sky guitars stand to attention facing the crowd as they feed in. Their unique design alone, a thing of beauty worthy of being a museum piece.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

There was no support tonight, Uli was on a one band show with an intermission thrown in the middle of the set to break up proceedings. It was a night of two halves for sure which I’ll get into in due course. However the format was fitting, it put the spotlight firmly on who the paying crowd had all come to see and no warm ups or introductions beforehand were necessary.

The room wasn’t at full capacity but it was a generous turnout, especially for a mid week show and although we weren’t heaving out the door, it isn’t any less full with awe and admiration for a legend of the game that was set to put on a blistering show.

The anticipation builds as the lights dim and the crowd erupts in cheers. The night begins with an interstellar voyage through space playing out in a very nice video package on KK’s large screen. A feature that would be quite heavily utilised through the night. Another shoutout to KK’s Steel Mill and their fantastic setup. It may not be the biggest venue, but it is certainly one of the best and boasts a great range of facilities and features that bands can use to enhance their shows. Here tonight, Uli used the screen to great storytelling effect.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

The band take their positions, then Uli Jon Roth steps onto the stage, guitar in hand, ready to captivate the audience with his immense talent and passion. The room is filled with an electric energy, and you can feel the anticipation hanging in the air.

First up was an instrumental piece, Amadeus. It set the tone for things to come and showcased Uli’s lightning, malleable fingers as they danced across the numerous frets making the Sky guitar soar.

Up next is an Electric Sun track, Cast Away Your Chains from the groups second album. It went down a big hit as the crowd enjoyed and savoured every note, however it was also part of a running theme where Uli pointed out several songs that they had not played for a long time that had undergone metamorphosis and had make overs. It’s nice to hear, the variations add to the live music experience, as do the little stories and tales woven into the mix throughout the night.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

Although it’s the Uli Jon Roth show, a special mention should go to the rest of the band on stage. A spectacular display of musicianship as well as versatility and adaptability, joined onstage by Uli’s daughter Akasha, on keyboards. All of them did themselves proud, put on an excellent show and allowed Uli his spotlight to shine. It’s also a question as to how this was put together, as I saw no setlist on the night, even after asking around, I do wonder if Uli pulled an audible on stage and called it on the fly. If this is the case then it makes the adaptability of the group even the more impressive!

Up next was a Scorpions track, Sun in My Hand, from the In Trance album back in 1975 written by Roth. The hard hitting, foot tapping beat packing a punch as Uli’s guitar once again wailed and screamed melodic goodness.

Uli Jon Roth treats the audience to a diverse setlist, showcasing his versatility and the depth of his musical catalog. From classic Scorpions hits to his own solo compositions, each song is performed with precision and emotion. The crowd finds themselves immersed in a musical journey through time, as Uli seamlessly transitions from one era to the next with ease.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

Next is a very nice tribute, reminiscing of his departed brother Zeno who wrote the track Don’t Tell The Wind. A video tribute plays on the screen behind them, it’s an emotional number, a solid strong ballad showcasing the nuances of guitar playing as apposed to some of the heavier tracks, its a nice change of pace, again making good use of KK’s facilities to great effect.

Uli speaks to us of a new composition that he will play for us next, it’s an instrumental piece called The Cry and showcases video footage of New York with snippets of Jimi Hendrix and Martin Luther King Jr. The piece feels like a story playing out, its an emotionally reflective track and even overlays vocal samples from Martin Luther King’s famous speech of equality.

After a change of guitar and a change of tuning we are right back to the rock classics, another from Electric Sun. From the album Earthquake, the bands self titled number, Electric Sun. This then takes us back to the Scorpions In Trance album for the terrific, Longing for Fire.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

A mention to Uli’s bass player come vocalist, Niklas Turmann who has great clean, strong vocals, he has a great range, never struggling and makes sounding out those high notes as effortless as Uli makes his guitar playing look.

To round out the first half of the show is a haunting tale, Enola Gay, Hiroshima Today. A track that they haven’t played for some time however, with recent events and conflicts around the world it was added into the setlist. Beginning with a serious, solemn intro, the story of tragic events unfolds on the screen behind in historic video footage as Uli manages to captivate the audience with his skills. Old footage of the planes and the people as well as a younger Uli in concert play and the set seems like a soundtrack at times as Uli, using the Sky guitar, is able to craft ethereal, other worldly sounds by adjusting the tones on the guitar, how it works and how he does it I can’t say, it’s a hard thing to describe but he makes his guitar play notes and sounds that seem impossible.

As we reach the intermission with a big round of applause, Uli promises that all the serious stuff was in the first half and when they return we are in for some fun and games. We didn’t have to wait long before Uli retook the stage with a simple “We’re back” and a cheer from the crowd as the band launched into the Scorpions classic, We’ll Burn The Sky.  The twin guitar work on stage is a sight to behold. Following up with In Trance from the album of the same name, and then onto Pictured Life and Catch your Train the second half of the show was off to a high tempo start of legendary Scorpions tracks one after the other.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

One of the highlights of Uli Jon Roth's performance is undoubtedly his breathtaking guitar solos. With lightning-fast fingers and a deep connection to his instrument, Uli takes the audience on a sonic adventure like no other. Whether it's a soulful ballad or a blistering rock anthem, his solos leave the crowd in awe and craving for more

Also a shout out to the guy doing the excellent video work on the fly, as he was constantly adjusting and changing the video footage up on the screen as well as filming the band in action from the back of the venue and casting it to the screen in psychedelic overlays to match what was happening on stage. It was a cool, surreal effect, almost like watching a music video play out in real time.

Up next was a song that has undergone many a metamorphosis over the years, here tonight in an extended version (not the full orchestra version), Sails of Charon, which gives Uli a chance to stretch his fingers and provide us with a little improvisation during the track, the rest of the band never missing a beat.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

Completing the set for the evening Uli gets the crowd to do a little play and repeat in a way I’ve not seen before, as he plays licks and gets the crowd to chant them back, becoming increasingly more complex, its an amusing, playful interaction. As the band take a bow and the crowd chant for more, Uli obliges with an encore featuring Yellow Raven and, after a little Monty Python humour (It’s an ex parrot!) regarding his failing peddle board, Uli borrows an amp and takes centre stage to effortless bring the house down with All Along the Watchtower.

Nothing can dampen his performance, not even technical difficulties as he worked around everything with a constant smile on his face as calm as you like. As I said in the beginning, it was a show of two halves, the first being Electric Sun focused and the second half being geared toward Scorpions and more classic hard rock, it was a structure that worked well and was thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance. Even approaching 70, Uli is showing no signs of slowing down and is as incredible to behold now as ever.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

All photo credits: Scott Clarke Photography

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