By Adam Waldman
There were a lot of outstanding live performances in 2015, but one stood out above all others – The Winery Dogs. It’s fitting that the band’s second tour in support of their latest album (Hot Streak) is dubbed the “Double Down” tour, given that this power trio has now been named the Top Live Performance of the Year for 2014 and 2015 by Hard Rock Daddy.
It wasn’t until their last American tour date in 2014 that I got the chance to see the virtuoso supergroup that redefined what live music is all about. By that time, Mike Portnoy, Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan had played around 100 shows together, and the chemistry was unlike anything that I’d experienced before, particularly in a club setting.
Although Portnoy, Kotzen and Sheehan had always maintained that The Winery Dogs were not a one-off project, many other supergroups have uttered the same words, only to be never heard from again. Each member still performs outside of The Winery Dogs, but their second release (and subsequent tour) has proven that this is a band that is here to stay.
As geographic luck would have it, The Winery Dogs began the “Double Down” tour in the same area where they ended their first tour of America. This time around, they were at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut. With each member coming off of projects outside of the band, the opening show of the worldwide tour was meant to serve as reaquaintance of sorts, a place to work out any kinks that may exist.
There was something magical about being present in a setting that felt less like a finished product, and more like a work-in-progress. Here are some observations from the performance…
After the band played their first five songs of the set, Portnoy discussed the pros and cons of attending the first show of the tour to the passionate, appreciative crowd. The pro was that we would be the only ones to be truly surprised by the setlist. The con was that the show might suck since they were still “learning” the songs (Hot Streak had just come out the day before the show).
With the talent and chemistry between three of the most talented musicians in the world, “suck” is quite a relative term. While the band members might have noticed a mistake here or there, it certainly wasn’t detectable to the audience, who hung on every note played and every word uttered between songs.
Even though The Winery Dogs are in their infancy as a unit, the decades of experience that each member brings to the table makes you feel like you are watching a band that has been around forever.
What sets this band apart in a live setting from almost every other is the fact that the setlist is almost irrelevant. Of course, everyone has favorite songs that they want to hear, but when it comes to The Winery Dogs, the setlist could literally change on a nightly basis and there would be absolutely no drop-off. They leave you wanting more, but that would still be the case even if they played every song off of both albums (and then some).
As a lifelong fan of hard rock and metal, I never really understood why Bruce Springsteen fans would want to sit through a show that is several hours long or why Grateful Dead fans followed the band all around the country. The Winery Dogs have made me understand both.
They’ll probably never play shows as long as Springsteen, but if they did, it would be an evening to remember. It’s not logistically possible for me to follow the band around the country like a “deadhead,” but it would be a fun adventure if it was. Suffice it to say that I would not miss any local show, and I would strongly recommend that you don’t either if given the opportunity to see The Winery Dogs perform live.
There are no bells and whistles, no elaborate stage show or pyrotechnics. The real beauty lies in the simplicity of a band that embodies the phase…“let the music do the talking.” And for that reason, The Winery Dogs once again have been named Hard Rock Daddy’s Top Live Performance of the Year.
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