After a whirlwind year that saw The Winery Dogs release their eponymous debut album, a box set (Dog Treats), run a 4-day camp for aspiring musicians (Dog Camp) and tour the world, the band performed their final U.S. show of the tour at The Chance in Pougkeepsie, NY this past weekend.
It may sound cliché to say that they “rocked the house,” but The Winery Dogs did so both literally and figuratively. If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe that this was only a three-piece band; it sounded like double that (at the very least). Simply put, Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy have given new meaning to the term “power trio.”
Each member of The Winery Dogs plays a pivotal role in the band. Portnoy is powerful, Kotzen is “kool” and Sheehan, well, there is no alliteration to describe him, but suffice it to say that he is a madman on the bass who plays like no one else that I have ever experienced in a live setting. In fact, the entire Winery Dogs performance was unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of concert going.
From a technical standpoint, The Winery Dogs are as good as it gets. At times, technically proficient bands tend to sacrifice the human quality that creates a connection with the audience. However, in the case of The Winery Dogs, their technical skills are matched by their ability to connect with each other and the audience in a meaningful way. They are as close as you can get to being a perfect live band.
Even the most diehard fan of a band looks forward to hearing certain songs when attending a concert. With only one album under their belt, every fan was guaranteed to hear their favorite songs, but when it comes to The Winery Dogs, it just doesn’t matter what songs are played. If they were to play an entire set of songs that you have never heard before, it wouldn’t take away from the experience in the slightest, especially in an intimate setting like The Chance, which only holds around 1000 people. After all, how often does one get the chance to be in such close proximity to greatness?
The Winery Dogs don’t rely upon an elaborate stage show when they perform live. It is all about the music and the energy that they create by feeding off of each other. In fact, this was easily one of the most straight-forward, stripped-down shows that I have ever seen. Sheehan played the same bass throughout the entire show, and Kotzen’s only equipment change came when he performed acoustically. The only notable equipment moments came when Portnoy would kick a cymbal off of his riser, forcing the tech to scramble to put it back. Moments later, with a Cheshire grin, Portnoy would do it again just to entertain himself and the crowd.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that The Winery Dogs are unlike other bands, but Portnoy acts more like a typical frontman than Kotzen does. While Kotzen plays guitar and sings like few others can, he takes a more subdued role on stage, as Portnoy (the gregarious personality of the band) takes center stage. Even when Kotzen was alone on the stage performing “Regret” acoustically, the jovial drummer made his presence felt by yelling “that’s what she said!” from behind the stage after Kotzen sang the lyrics “you make it hard.”
It is difficult to think of another band that has the technical chops of The Winery Dogs with a personality to match. Even though this was their first tour together, The Winery Dogs already have an on-stage chemistry that rivals that of any other band. Watching these master musicians make things look easy, as they inject personality into virtuosity, is something to behold.
Kotzen effortlessly shreds on guitar as he hits high notes that would challenge Steve Perry in his prime. In fact, during some of the slower, more emotive songs, Kotzen’s voice was very similar to Perry’s. Fans of The Winery Dogs should feel fortunate that Kotzen wasn’t scooped up to replace Perry in Journey back in the day, otherwise this incredible band might not exist today.
From the vocal harmonies to the punishing drums and thunderous bass, it’s hard to think of a rhythm section that comes close to the combined musicality of Portnoy and Sheehan. The chemistry between the two goes beyond great musicianship; they genuinely seem to be having as much fun together as the crowd watching them.
There is no point in trying to pick which songs were the highlight of the night because The Winery Dogs were outstanding from the first note to the last. Seeing them in an intimate setting like The Chance made the experience that much better.
During the concert, the band announced that they will be going back into the studio in December to record their next album, which will be released in 2015. If you did not get the opportunity to see them on this tour, make sure to catch them the next time around.
The countdown to 2015 begins!