Scorpions and Orchestra: Bad on Paper, Bad in Practice


The Scorpions -- with help from the Berlin Philharmonic -- outdo Spinal Tap in L.A.
Posted Sep 30, 2000 at 12:00am
Lower those devil horns, folks. To paraphrase Morrissey, this joke isn't funny anymore. Dave Grohl thinks it's cool to don a Dio tee and Sugar Ray giggle through a cover of "Breaking the Law" and it's all a laugh riot, but what these clowning hipsters don't seem to realize is that they've unearthed acts we rightfully buried a decade ago.

It's this very exposure that made the Scorpions recent pairing with the Berlin Philharmonic, for their new Moment of Glory album, a tragic reality. Certainly Korn, Creed, Staind and other similarly down-tuned offspring of Circus Magazine haven't helped, but fault foremost this annoying trend of otherwise credible rockers pretending Eighties metal was cool. The world needs to stop trivializing what ranks among the darkest periods (save Van Halen) in music history. The cycle must be broken.

Nevertheless, it was a packed Greek Theater that greeted the Scorps and conductor/arranger Christian Kolonovits' umpteen-piece orchestra Thursday night. Having scrapped almost every other Stateside date reportedly due to guitarist Matthias Jabs' nagging tendonitis, this was one of only two chances fans had to see in person what happens when those crazy Krauts lock horns with woodwinds and a string section.

Comparison to Metallica's recent pairing with the San Francisco Symphony was inevitable, but by midway through the glitch-plagued opener "Rock You Like a Hurricane" it was clear America had defeated the Germans yet again. In a purely Spinal Tap moment, Jabs' guitar cut right at orgasmic solo time, sending a fleet of roadies frantically scrambling onstage. The mood was set.

From there the band (only Jabs, singer Klaus Meine and rhythm guitarist Rudy Schenker remain from the original quintet) wound through a set built principally on ballads, completing their painful transformation from '83 US Festival (day two) hard rockers to Divas Live (Men Strike Back) soft poppers. "Send Me an Angel," with its chest-swelling crescendos, openly flirted with New Age as did the contrived revolution anthem "Wind of Change" (a song CNN reportedly commissioned for the falling of the Berlin Wall) and "Moment of Glory" (a song NBC reportedly commissioned for the Sydney Olympics).

Not helping any were the three female back-up singers, who swayed seductively to and fro as they unleashed operatic harmonies in the tiny space between the symphony and the Scorpions. How do bands find these singers anyway? Do they place a want ad: "Wanted: Three girls to sing harmony. Must like metal. Huge breasts a plus."

Whereas SF Symphony maestro Michael Kamen's arrangements added a Wagner-ian, battle anthem urgency to Metallica's thunder, Kolonovits' stabs at swell and sweep came off wholly Yanni-esque. The presence of synthesizers injected an unwelcome Disney score feel, particularly to the newer, slower songs that already come off like B-sides from the Titantic soundtrack. His counter-melodies, if sometimes interesting (as in "Big City Nights"), fell awkwardly on and struggled to stretch out within the Scorpions' simplistic framework. Unlike Metallica, whose earlier, progressive material in particular welcomes horns, bassoons and flutes, the Scorpions' rudimentary power chord metal assured a square peg/round hole syndrome.

Jabs' extended instrumental intercourse with the symphony proved the evening's most effective moment; elastic, airy and tastefully ascending. When his guitar is actually on, the man can shred like cabbage at a sauerkraut factory. The older rockers? "No One Like You" and "The Zoo" worked okay, the later surely the only time in music history a full orchestra has collided headlong with a talkbox solo. Jack Blades from openers Night Ranger (more Eighties kitsch!) ruined an otherwise adequate romp through "Big City Nights." Assigned lead vocal duties (on the Moment of Glory album, they're inexplicably handled by obscure Genesis frontman Ray Wilson), Blades botched the words to the first verse and tossed it back to a surprised looking Meine.

Meine, to his credit, ranks among the most consistently on-key metal men in the world, a point hammered home by a mix that often found the vocals drowning even the supposed power of a full orchestra. To his discredit however, his knowledge of the English language seems limited to geography. Rallying his legions, he gave big ups to California and Los Angeles no less than fourteen times at the Greek. Following "There's No One Like You," he said "there's no one like you, California!" Following "Still Loving You," he noted "still loving you, California!" Giving props to himself, he later added, "Los Angeles, we rocked you like a hurricane!"

In an absolutely inexcusable move, the Scorpions closed the show with the same song they opened it with, "Rock You Like A Hurricane." That's right, they played the same song twice, something not seen since tune-starved EMF trudged out "Unbelievable" a few times nightly on their first and only U.S. jaunt. The presumed motive was to compensate for the technically flawed first go at their signature number, cause for speculation that this show was being taped for a live album. Some were puzzled, most didn't seem to care.

I hope I'm dead by the time Limp Bizkit try this.

Written by GREG HELLER for RollingStone.com News

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