ONLY THE SCORPIONS MAKE IT TO OPENING NIGHT IN TORONTO
Date: August 21, 2022
Venue: Budweiser Stage
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I remember when the rather enticing tour package consisting of the Scorpions, Whitesnake and Thundermother was first announced. I was really excited to attend but mainly because Thundermother were part of the bill. Sure, the Swedish female rockers would likely only get 30 minutes for their set but nonetheless, I was pumped to finally get the opportunity to see them play live. After all, Thundermother had released the #1 album (Heat Wave) on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020. However, when I went to purchase a ticket for the tour stop in Toronto, I was quite surprised at the high prices. Originally, my plan was to get a general admission ticket but the prices seemed astronomical for that section. I eventually “settled” for getting a ticket in the 200 section, which still came up to $154.50 Cdn (which included $25.00 in fees). To give some perspective on where my seat was located, the Budweiser Stage (previously known as the Molson Amphitheatre), which has a capacity of anywhere from 16,000 to 20,000 people, has five sections — the 100s (general admission), the 200s, the 300s, the 400s and the upper lawn section. Both the 400s and lawn sections leave the concert goers exposed to the elements (i.e., rain).
About two weeks prior to the Scorpions‘ Rock Believer World Tour 2022’s scheduled start at the Budweiser Stage in Toronto, Whitesnake delivered the bad news that they were bowing out of the tour due to what appeared to be some David Coverdale vocal issues. It wasn’t that surprising considering that the group had already canceled a number of its European shows in the month prior. That being said, Whitesnake pulling out was frustrating simply because I had always thought that bringing in powerhouse singer Dino Jelusick into the line-up was to provide some support for Coverdale with another lead vocalist. However, it seems that Whitesnake just ended up using Jelusick as an extra keyboardist rather than using his immense singing talent to help Coverdale‘s disappearing voice make it through the group’s Farewell Tour. I was hoping that the Scorpions would recruit another band to replace Whitesnake but that never seemed to materialize.
At least, Thundermother were still on the bill and would presumably be given more time to play since there were only two bands now on the bill rather than three. I confess that I wasn’t quite happy with that situation either given that I had posted a message on Sleaze Roxx‘s Facebook page earlier that day suggesting that concert goers should be able to get either refunded or at least some sort of discount for Whitesnake not being there. A few people started posting some comments and a couple of hours later while having a late lunch with my wife and kids at a restaurant, I decided to check out what people had written. To my dismay (or more like horror), there were quite a few people mentioning that Thundermother were not playing on opening night and had been replaced by JJ Wilde. JJ who?
My next 30 minutes or so were spent trying to figure out whether Thundermother were actually playing or not in Toronto, and lamenting to my wife how the tour package was now just a fraction of what had initially been advertised. My youngest daughter’s only question was, “Does that mean you’re not going to the concert?” There was no information from the Scorpions on their Facebook page and also nothing from Thundermother even though the ladies had been pretty good and up front about explaining if they couldn’t make a gig or tour in the past. I even received an email from Ticketmaster at 3:13 pm about how to gain entry into the grounds but there was no mention of any line-up change. Even though I knew in my heart that it was a done deal that Thundermother wouldn’t be playing in Toronto on this night, I decided to head early to the Budweiser Stage venue “just in case”. By the time I arrived at the venue, my worst fears were confirmed as the opening act’s gear set up on stage didn’t seem to belong to Thundermother and upon a closer look, the drum head indicated “JJ Wilde”. Ugh. JJ who?
Upon checking into things a little further, it appears that Thundermother may not have obtained their visas to enter Canada and possibly the States in a timely manner. When I had interviewed Thundermother band founder and guitarist Filippa Nässil back in late May of this year, the possibility of not getting visas on time was a live issue that clearly had the guitarist preoccupied. I have to imagine that everyone in the Thundermother crew was very disappointed not to be able to make the Toronto tour stop. In any case, this likely answered why I had received no answer in the last two weeks about a possible photo pass for the show from Thundermother‘s publicist.
On my way to the venue, a gentleman indicated to me that JJ Wilde was a “blues” artist. That certainly didn’t peak my interest. Eventually, I did a search of “JJ Wylde” (at the time, I didn’t know how to spell the “Wilde” name) to see if this was an artist that might have been covered on Sleaze Roxx in the past (which would have been a good sign) that I had forgotten about. As it turns out, Sleaze Roxx had never covered JJ Wilde before so I took that as a bad sign that I might not like that band’s music. It was unfortunate that the Scorpions had not secured a more compatible “local” opening act such as for example, the Killer Dwarfs or Helix. Unfortunately, both those bands along with a number of other Canadian groups such as Lee Aaron were booked to play the Rock The River event during the weekend so perhaps none of them could show up and play the Budweiser Stage in Toronto on such short notice.
In any case, four JJ Wilde band members made their way to the stage with little fanfare around 7:30 pm. Based on those four members’ positions on the stage, it seemed that there would be one more member that would be gracing the stage before the group launched into its set. I was correct in my assessment. I was expecting an older grizzled veteran male with a guitar but instead a seemingly young woman with leather like bra and shorts, an oversized jean jacket and bright white boots took to the stage. She started singing and you could tell that she had a great voice. Right after the first song, the female vocalist announced to the crowd that she was JJ Wilde from Kitchener, Ontario. Kitchener is only about one hour away from Toronto so presumably, Wilde mentioned she was from Kitchener as fast as possible to get the crowd on her side since there were probably many in the audience wondering what she was doing on stage (and where the fuck was Thundermother).
Wilde and her band played for about 30 to 35 minutes. Their songs seemed to be a bit on the poppier side / more classic rock vain. Sometimes, they seemed to go overboard with their stage actions when the songs didn’t warrant such active movements. I was surprised to see Wilde try to separate the crowd in two and get each faction to scream louder than the other. Wilde asked the crowd probably the only question that could generate any sort of good pop from the audience being something along the likes of “Are you excited to see the Scorpions?” After getting a lukewarm response from the crowd side to her right, she received a little bit louder reception from the audience side to her left before telling the losing side that they got their asses kicked but that they would get another chance later on. I don’t know if that ever happened afterwards as I was busy writing this review for a good chunk of Wilde’s set.
Overall, Wilde and her band put on a decent performance under difficult circumstances. That being said, I won’t be visiting Wilde’s music anytime soon. I also still felt that I got ripped off with Wilde ending up “replacing” both Whitesnake and Thundermother, and having to pay more than I wanted to in the first place to only end up seeing one band that might interest me. The reality is that had I known that the bill for this night would have been the Scorpions with JJ Wilde as the only opener, the likelihood that I would have purchased a ticket would have been quite low.
About one hour after JJ Wilde ended her set, the Scorpions finally came on. The Budweiser Stage venue appeared packed. The stage was well put together with lots of lights seemingly everywhere which gave it a very bright look. Given that frontman Klaus Meine is 74 years old, rhythm guitarist Rudolph Schenker is 73 and lead guitarist Matthias Jabs is 66, I wasn’t expecting the trio to move around much but I have to say Schenker seems to have the energy of a man about a quarter of a decade younger. At first, I was skeptical about whether Meine was actually singing since his microphone seemed so far away from his mouth but I was later satisfied that he was indeed singing rather than tracks being used. There was seemingly a little bit of track usage when the whistling portion of “Wind of Change” was playing while Meine addressed the audience but for the most part, it seemed to be Meine actually singing. There also seemed to be a bit of a miscue during the last encore (“Rock You Like A Hurricane”) when Meine was at one end of the stage a little too long to make it back for his vocal part. Since no vocals were heard while Meine quickly moved back to centre stage to reach his microphone, it all seemed legit! I would have never thought of even questioning this five years ago but with an older and once upon a time awesome singer Paul Stanley clearly using tracks for his vocals during KISS’ End of The Road World Tour, anything seems possible.
The Scorpions opened up their set with a new track — the very good “Gas In The Tank.” That was the first of four new songs played by the Scorpions from their latest studio album Rock Believer. The other three new tracks were “Seventh Son”, “Peacemaker” and the title track. I was very surprised that the Scorpions didn’t play their amazing new ballad “When You Know (Where You Come From).” What a shame to leave out that brilliant song from their set! There were no surprises in terms of songs for the rest of the Scorpions’ set with the German rockers playing their biggest hits and well known songs. One thing that surprised me was the time wasters sprinkled throughout the set. “Coast To Coast” is a cool instrumental but should have been the only interlude of that kind and came a little early in the set as the fourth song played. Unfortunately, the crowd was “treated” to another instrumental for the eighth “song” where Jabs took centre stage and a guitarist other than Schenker provided rhythm guitar support (for what seems to be a song known as “Delicate Dance” — thank you setlist.fm). It was kind of weird to see another guitarist other than Schenker or an actual Scorpions band member. I guess Schenker needed a break? If those two instrumentals weren’t enough, the audience was also “treated” to a bass solo from Pawel Maxiwoda (accompanied by drummer Mikkey Dee) and then a drum solo from Dee. Wow… It’s nice and all but I strongly suspect that no one is attending the Scorpions‘ concert thinking “I can’t wait to hear solos from the Scorpions‘ two newest (and least known) members.”
One area where the Scorpions truly excel is when it comes time to playing ballads live. They truly are masters in that department and have so many great ballads that they have come up with over the years that they could probably play six or seven of them and the crowd would still be into it. There were only two ballads played on this night but they were great ones, and Meine was able to get the crowd singing along to each of them. You simply can’t go wrong with tracks such as “Send Me An Angel” and “Wind of Change.” The latter track had the distinction that Meine had changed the opening verse’s lyrics (which were flashed on the big screen) to presumably send a message to Russia (“Wind To Change”). You could see a large peace sign in the Ukrainian colours of yellow and blue on the big screen behind the stage towards the end of that song. It was nice to see a major group such as the Scorpions using their elite position and platform to send a subtle message in that regard while keeping the atmosphere light and fun throughout the night. Speaking of humour, prior to the Scorpions taking the stage, there were some thunder warnings prompting the venue to ask the concert goers in the uncovered sections (400s and lawn sections) to move into the covered sections to avoid any thunder strikes. By the time that the Scorpions were playing, it was dark outside and Meine noted, after the Scorpions had played a few songs, that “Rock You Like A Hurricane” could now be saved for the end of the band’s set or something to that effect.
Overall, I was happy to see the Scorpions play live but I certainly didn’t feel that I got my money’s worth in terms of what I was expecting to get when I first purchased my concert ticket (i.e., sets from Scorpions, Whitesnake and Thundermother). Once I found out that Thundermother were likely not playing the tour’s opening night in Toronto (which was only a few hours prior to having to make my way to the venue), I had quickly looked into getting a refund but I couldn’t get an answer in a timely manner so I ended up attending the concert in any case. I can’t recall bands canceling left and right (for whatever reasons) on tours prior to the Covid pandemic aside from some ill-prepared concert festivals (like Rock and Skull and Hair In The Fair) but it seems that this is now starting to be a more common issue where the concert goer often ends up getting the short end of the straw.
Scorpions’ setlist on Aug. 21, 2022:
01. Gas In The Tank
02. Make It Real
03. The Zoo
04. Coast To Coast
05. Seventh Son
07. Bad Boys Running Wild
08. Delicate Dance (Matthias Jabs Guitar solo)
09. Send Me An Angel
10. Wind of Change
11. Tease Me Please Me
12. Rock Believer
13. New Vision (Bass solo / Drum solo)
15. Big City Nights
16. No One Like You
17. Rock You Like A Hurricane
Scorpions performing “Big City Nights” live at the Budweiser Stage in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (video from Jim Symington‘s YouTube page):