Drums. Bass. Guitar. They are the essentials of rock and roll. And with the right musicians in control, you don’t need anything more.
Such was the case Monday night at the Soiled Dove when the power trio of Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen — the Winery Dogs — plowed through every track from their debut album. After a busy, somewhat dissonant opening set from Atlanta’s the Sixxis, the three took the stage and launched into an adrenalized version of “Elevate” that instantly locked and loaded the crowd for the rest of the night.
In his constant quest to prove that the guy behind the kit can be as interesting as the guy at the microphone, Mike Portnoy approached the drums like a lead instrument, inserting stick spins, finger points, spitting and punches to his head into his precise assault and battery of an uncharacteristically small set. Formerly the drummer of progressive metal titans Dream Theater, Portnoy has branched out beyond the technical epics and played with a variety of other bands, including Adrenaline Mob, Neal Morse and Flying Colors. But as his face showed all night that it’s the Winery Dogs he’s most excited about right now.
And rightly so, as the chemistry between him and bass icon Billy Sheehan (formerly with Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Talas and Mr. Big), was constantly on display. Sheehan rumbled and wailed on the bass, slappin’ and tappin’ it from a wide variety of angles with a frantic finger workout reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.” His background vocals were surprisingly strong, as well.
The vocal performances of the night, however, belonged to Richie Kotzen, who summoned the spirits of Chris Cornell, Prince and David Coverdale throughout the set with a soulful, bluesy tone that was loose but never out of place. Kotzen buzzed and whined the entire set’s guitar riffs and solos without ever using a pick, donned an acoustic guitar for a captivating version of “Doin’ What the Devils Says to Do” and even manned a Rhodes electric piano for one of the show’s more laid back moments.
Despite this being their first tour, the classic rock tinged Winery Dogs come off as if they’ve been playing together for years. Each member’s monstrous musicianship was unapologetically on display in featured solo spots throughout the set. Was it at times over the top? Without question, but the circus act was put on by such a talented troupe of performers that the audience was thrilled to hear the spectacle.
The set ebbed and flowed nicely, with high-octane tracks like “We Are One,” “Not Hopeless” and “Six Feet Under” contrasted by the bluesy feel of “The Dying,” the ballady tone of “Damaged” and the gospel flavored refrains of “Regret.”
The fact that they played every song off their debut with no sense of filler is testimony to the band’s writing strength. The fact that they could convincingly pull off an encore of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” is evidence of the band’s live abilities.
Alan Cox is the president/creative director of Cox Creative, a Highlands Ranch-based creative shop. He works too much, sleeps too little and spends every free moment coaching baseball, shooting images and hanging out with his rowdy sons and rowdier wife. Check out his photos here.
Jason Bullinger is a graphic designer, illustrator and photographer and a new contributor with Reverb.