MARCH 11th 2016 

Review by Lana Muirhead
Photos by Peter Ruttan
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I do not know why I was so surprised to see the line-up for Uli Jon Roth’s “The Ultimate Guitar Experience Tour” to be as long as it was, but: I was. That is until I lived the experience and it all made more than a bit of sense. This was honestly the best guitar show I have ever seen and expect to see in the near future. Let me lead you down the road I took this particular night and buckle up: because it was a rollercoaster to arthritis and carpel tunnel for the ages.

First up was Andy Timmons, an instrumental guitarist out of Dallas, Texas. He was accompanied by bassist Nico Deppisch and drummer Richie Monica, who both doubled in Uli’s band. Now try as he might, Timmons could not disguise the hemorrhage of Hendrix that oozed out of his playing; nowhere was this more evident than with his tribute to Hendrix on a tune he wrote called “Electric Gypsy”. Being from Texas, he did try to walk on the country/polka side a smidge with “Groove or Die” and settled into some fast driving rockabilly at one stage. To rev the crowd up Timmons called to the concert goers to cheer and told them the louder they cheered the faster he would play…and long story short I was dizzy with eye craps trying to keep up with the tempo: his fingers were moving like 10 uncaged ADD kids on a sugar high. Timmons then finished up with “Cry For You” and just when you thought he was cooling it down, came back with a fury, literally shredding the strings of his Ibanez. The man was so in the zone he looked as though he could have been playing at home alone without a soul in the vicinity. Timmons put on an absolutely amazing show and I literally did not even realize the set was entirely instrumental.

Jennifer Batten got on stage next and accompanying her was a power point projection and electronic ‘band’. Batten is known for her time as second guitarist to Jeff Beck and has toured with Michael Jackson as a part of his band. She is also a master at the two handed tapping technique, which was repeatedly demonstrated during her performance.

Batten took the audience on a world tour with instrumentals specifically influenced by Japan and India, space, and (should we be worried?) her two cats. She chitchatted with the crowd, joking about Canada and explaining her rationale behind purchasing a cat for her cat and then a dog for her cats.  Batten was a great player, creating sounds on her guitar that lesser musicians would never even think to seek out. She used her tapping, cross-hand playing, and a hand slide along the neck of her guitar which created a full-bodied sound all her own. My only critique would be for her to lose the back beats: if they help her play then shame on me, but I would have been very excited to hear her alone without all the background noise. She did redeem herself, however when she came to her closing tune.  Batten explained to the audience that as a guitar player in the crowd at a show like hers, she would want to hear all the great guitar songs and would not be able to just pick one.  So she created a collage of tunes ranging from Beach Boys to ZZ Top to Motley Crue to Michael Jackson and onward which really got the crowd back into rock mode.

Finally the moment came when Uli Jon Roth took to the stage. He was joined by Niklas Turmann (guitar & vocals), David Klosinski (guitar), Corvin Bahn (keyboard), Deppisch and Monica and blasted right into their opener. For those of you who have never seen Roth, he actually looks as if he stepped out of the 60s and right on stage: he has the flowing locks, the loud blouse, the bandanna and feathers attached to his guitar neck.  And for those of you who know nothing about Roth, he invented the Sky Guitar. What is this you ask?  This is a guitar with anywhere from 5 to 7 strings and upwards of 35 frets (though not always fretted).  The unique and signature teardrop body design is exclusive to Roth and manufactured by Dean Guitars.  The purpose of the extra strings and frets was to reach higher notes as on a violin or harmonica and exponentially expand the musical range of a guitar.

It is one thing to talk about the guitar and quite another to see it played.  Despite the somewhat crowded stage, Roth shone even when in the shadows.  What was obviously a very orchestrated set also seemed like a total Carlos Santana cameo special: Roth blended with his other guitarists and musicians seamlessly and left the crowd utterly in awe. Roth did change things up from his opening acts by bringing out a vocalist, John West, and even taking up the mic himself on a tune or two. Turmann rounded out the sound with epic harmonies and incredible range. The band belted out “In Trance”, “The Sails of Charon”, “Dark Lady”, “All Along the Watchtower” and “Little Wing”. Although the entire set consisted of covers, Roth put on an insane twist of his own and expanded the songs to well over 7 minutes each. West and Turmann were excellent choices for vocals were nothing short of exhilarating.

For the final minutes of the set, Roth brought Timmons out and planned to have Batten as well, however she hurt her back during her performance and was unable to join the two on stage. Regardless, seeing them all playing together was like an existential experience and one that cannot properly be put into words. Without having been there you just will not understand this article.

With 48 years of guitar playing experience and being the innovator behind 7-string electric guitars, Uli Jon Roth is a phenomenon not able to be described with the English language; or any other for that matter. Hands down this was the best guitar performance I have ever seen. Get off your thumbs and see what success actually looks like.