Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Live Review & Photo Gallery: Winery Dogs at Arcada Theatre • St. Charles`

| March 12, 2023

The Winery Dogs

The Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL

Friday, March 10, 2023

Review by Jeff Elbel. Photos by Ed Spinelli.

On Friday night, the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles welcomed a full house of faithful hard rockers. Fans were on their feet from the moment that supergroup The Winery Dogs walked onstage. The celebratory mood endured throughout the set, and it wasn’t lost on the band. The appreciative trio delivered a spirited concert full of camaraderie and goodwill that circulated around the stage and extended into the last row of the balcony.

The Winery Dogs may have begun as a recording project among three of hard rock’s most respected virtuosos, but the standout players have discovered rare chemistry in the recording studio and onstage. The quality of their collective work makes a strong case for bumping The Winery Dogs to the upper echelons of their extensive resumes.

The nimble fingers of bassist Billy Sheehan provided the groove and melodic foundation for hits like Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” and David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise.” Progressive rock powerhouse Mike Portnoy has drummed for Dream Theater and Transatlantic, atop a sprawling list of other accomplished acts. Guitarist Richie Kotzen is a guitar hero’s hero and soulful singer, with time in Mr. Big alongside Sheehan and history with glam-rockers Poison. He also has more than 20 solo albums including 2020’s ambitious 50 for 50 and collaborations including 2021’s Smith/Kotzen with Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden.

Chances are that all three members would have had plenty to do without reconvening to follow The Winery Dogs’ 2015 sophomore album Hot Streak. After an eight-year gap, however, the new album III arrived in February. The collection is loaded with thrills and fun songs, suggesting ample staying power.

The show on Friday began with “Gaslight” from III. Portnoy thundered through the song like he was driving Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Sheehan’s bass soloed madly alongside guitarist/singer Kotzen’s flying fingers. With a blast of fog jets, the band transitioned directly into III’s heavy riffer “Xanadu.”

“You guys sound loud, and you’re looking good,” said Kotzen afterward, saying that they the band was going to check in with an old friend. The Winery Dogs then lashed into “Captain Love” from the band’s self-titled debut album, which marks its tenth birthday this year. The set list drew nearly evenly from the debut and III, with a few songs from 2015’s Hot Streak as well. The song “Hot Streak” followed, offering a master class on all instruments by the ferociously tight band. “Desire” featured sweet vocal harmony from all three players and a dazzling tandem solo between Sheehan and Kotzen. Kotzen’s unique fingerstyle technique enabled unusual textures and flourishes intermingled with his fluid leads.

After a particularly rowdy ovation not even halfway through the set, Portnoy couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. “Fuckin’ A, St. Charles!,” he exclaimed. Kotzen introduced more new material. “We’re super excited about our new album,” he said. “Have you heard about it?” The band dug deep for the empowered and cathartic III track “Breakthrough,” making a contrast with the Zeppelinesque debut album cut “Time Machine.” With the pairing of those two songs, the trio proved just as adept at conveying the emotional essence of a relatable lyric and melody as they were at blinding instrumental passages. Each player spent time playing in supporting roles to his bandmates and stepping forward with maximum flash.

“Stars” began with a watery guitar sound and took flight with soaring chorus harmonies and Kotzen’s keening tenor. The song stretched into a mesmerizing psychedelic rock instrumental that was a mid-set highlight for Kotzen’s playing with equal parts technical fire and vibe, drawing from the well of forerunners including Prince and Jeff Beck. “Damaged” pulled the volume down without reducing intensity. “Mad World” pushed Kotzen’s Motown and R&B influences forward as the band worked a heavy-soul groove a la King’s X. “We gotta help each other,” sang Kotzen in a chorus about overcoming unbalanced odds.

Sheehan was given space alone for a bass solo that took influences from players like John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Tim Bogert, and Jaco Pastorius and stretched them to the outer limits. The main set concluded with celebratory III anthem “The Red Wine,” debut favorite “I’m No Angel,” and Hot Streak’s pummeling and pyrotechnic workout “Oblivion.”

For the encore, Kotzen sat at an electric piano during the first half of the soulful power ballad “Regret” before finishing on guitar. The trio closed with the adrenalin blast of “Elevate.”

The Winery Dogs connect internally on classic rock staples including the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, but each player’s divergent tastes create a special blend. Sheehan’s hard rock and pop bona fides are well known through time with Roth’s band, and Mr. Big. Portnoy is a prog-rock poster child at this point. Kotzen walks in many musical worlds but brings soulful sensibilities through a love of classic R&B including Dorothy Moore and Stevie Wonder, Philadelphia soul, and fusion titans like Allan Holdsworth. The musicians’ differences clearly keep them inventive and engaged, which was evident by smiles flashed around the stage throughout the evening – as well as those from the beaming audience.

 

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