Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Coast to Coast' with the Scorpions

Backstage with Scorpions lead guitarist Matthias Jabs at USANA Amphitheatre.

 Rock musicians tend to do scores of interviews when they are out on the road promoting a new album and tour, so I never assume that they will specifically remember one they did with me.

That, however, was not the case at the Scorpions’ “Get Your Sting and Blackout” farewell tour at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City. The concert may have been the band’s last in Utah – but it provided a first for me.

It’s the only time I can remember being openly mocked eye to eye by a rock star for a question asked in an earlier interview.

I had a 20-minute phone conversation with lead guitarist Matthias Jabs nearly two weeks before we met up backstage prior to the Scorpions’ Aug. 16 Utah date. (You can read the full interview here.) At the end of our earlier chat, I asked Jabs this question: “Of all the interviews that you’ve done over the years and the thousands of questions that you’ve been asked, what’s the one question you wish you would’ve been asked -- but never have been?”

He laughed and said the answer to that question probably doesn’t exist, essentially responding that he’d been asked every imaginable query over the years, and was holding nothing back.

Fair enough.

Klaus Meine and Matthias Jabs in concert. (Doug Fox)
On the day of the show, I had the opportunity to meet up with Jabs several hours before he and his bandmates hit the stage with “Sting in the Tail.” We were only a few generalities into our conversation when I asked if there was a certain portion of the band’s live show that had become his favorite part of the night. With a complete deadpan delivery, and tilting his head as if giving the issue serious thought, he responded, “Wow, that is a question I’ve never been asked before.”

Admittedly, I was a little slow on the uptake. My first thought centered on the irony of him answering that to such an innocuous question considering what he’d answered in our original interview. I was still trying to wrap my head around his response when I noticed the slight smile on his face. That’s when I realized he was completely toying with me. I called him on it and we both had a good laugh over it.

I don’t know if Jabs simply remembered the earlier question because he’d never encountered a similar one – or maybe the band’s management had sent him the link to the full interview for him to review before our backstage meeting. Either way, I consider it an honor that it was memorable enough for him to take a good-natured run at me with it a couple weeks later. I mean, it could have been worse. (I’d hate to be remembered, for example, as the person who asked, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” during a much-mocked Super Bowl Media Day session.)

One aspect of concerts that’s always intrigued me is how bands develop their setlists. Why, for example, do certain songs seem to stick in the setlist, while other clearly fantastic tunes get dropped after a year or two, never to return? Having seen 13 Scorpions concerts on 10 different tours dating back to 1982, I can tell you that they are always going to play the songs “Blackout” and “Bad Boys Running Wild.” Now, I love those two songs, but neither was what you would consider a hit single. On the flip side, great rocking tunes like “Can’t Live Without You,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Arizona” and “Wild Child” have all but been banished from the band’s live show. How does that happen?

Rudolf Schenker in concert. (Doug Fox)
One of my all-time favorite songs, however, the melodic instrumental jam “Coast to Coast,” has remained a concert staple. Every new tour, I’m always fearful that this will be the time the Scorps finally drop the tune, off of 1979’s “Lovedrive” album. But it is always there, usually about five to six songs in, serving as a sort of transitory bridge between the first to second third of the show.

I mentioned this to Jabs, pointing out how grateful I was that “Coast to Coast” had managed to stick in the live show all these years.

“It’s like a drum solo,” Jabs said. “We have to play it.”

But not for the reason one might think.

Besides it being a fun song to play every night, Jabs said the main reason it remains is it gives vocalist Klaus Meine a nice break early in the set. The rigors of worldwide touring, sometimes with four to five shows a week, can take a toll on a lead singer, so the band always includes “Coast to Coast” early in the set and a drum solo late as a benefit to Meine.

Klaus Meine belts out a song. (Doug Fox)
We touched on several other topics during a 10-minute chat before Jabs was called away for a scheduled phone interview from South America – where the band will be touring throughout September, before heading back to Europe in October and November. I expressed surprise that the U.S. leg of the tour was over so quickly, but Jabs explained that the band will be returning at some point to the U.S. on this final tour because, “We haven’t played everywhere yet.”

The problem with this being a farewell tour, he said, is that everybody wants you to come right away, so the band is trying to touch all its bases globally before more in-depth return visits.

Three hours after our backstage meeting, the Scorpions launched into “Coast to Coast” on stage, with Jabs and fellow guitarist Rudolf Schenker cranking out the intoxicating rhythm and trading off lead solo breaks. The crowd was fully involved, and experiencing it live – not to mention rib-rattling loud from my vantage point a mere two rows and a photo pit removed from the front speakers -- brought a big smile to my face. At one point early in the song, Jabs meandered over right in front of our location and recognized me in the crowd. He broke out in a huge grin and spontaneously pointed right at me as if to ask, “Yo ... how do you like your ‘Coast to Coast’ now?’ ”

Well done, apparently.

On top of that, I figure Matthias and I are now even – because that’s a question I’ve never been asked before.

Note: For the full concert review of the Scorpions show at USANA Amphitheatre, click here. To see video from the show, click on the following songs: "Loving You Sunday Morning," "Raised on Rock," "Blackout" and "Big City Nights."

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  1. Doug, I completely agree with you on "Wild Child" particularly, and the others you mentioned that you wished they'd played. I made a list of the songs I wished they'd played in my blog post on the USANA concert (http://blog.mvryan.org/2010/08/farewell-scorpions-farewell/) as well - and it came out to another 17 songs, give or take.
    Hey, I could definitely do a 3 hour Scorpions concert. But I'll take what I can get I guess. :)

  2. Doug,

    I have been privileged to see a mere 3 Scorpions concerts but I can agree completely on Coast to Coast. Quite possibly the best instrumental hard rock tune ever. I have loved it ever since the first time I heard and saw it live on World Wide Live. As for the rest of the set list, Arizona, China White, Can't Live without you, Coming Home, Now, Always Somewhere, Holiday, Animal Magnetism and many others come to mind but what I was holding out hope for was that they would play SLY and Slave Me from the new album. Amazing stuff all. But let's face it, there is simply too much amazing stuff from a band as long lived and prolific at song writing as are the Scorpions. Let's hope that in some way, shape or form, the best really is yet to come!

  3. Hay i love Matthias music albums ..thanks for sharing this interview. Where is the best place online where i can purchase his latest song tracks? thanks

    Telephone interview questions

  4. Matt, thanks for passing along your blog link. I enjoyed your review and left a comment there.

    Jared, I agree with you. I was going to put that "Coast to Coast" is possibly the best rock instrumental ever -- but then I thought I'd better try and run through a lot of them in my mind before making that statement. As far as I can remember, it is definitely my personal favorite.

    The first time I heard "Coast to Coast" was in the Salt Palace Assembly Hall in 1982 -- the first time I saw the Scorpions. I had heard "No One Like You" on the radio, immediately went out and bought "Blackout" and went to see them based entirely on that record. I vividly remember them playing this fantastic, rocking instrumental that I loved -- but had no idea what it was. In the months after the show, I started buying some of their older albums, and it wasn't until I bought "Lovedrive" that I finally heard it again and recognized it from the concert.

    I saw the Scorps open with "Coming Home" twice -- "Live at First Sting" tour and "Face the Heat" tour -- and it was great both times. Only saw "Arizona" once ("Savage Amusement" tour).

    You know what? "Holiday" got replaced in the USANA setlist by "Another Piece of Meat." Matthias said the guys in Tesla had petitioned earlier in the day for the opportunity to join the Scorps onstage for that song -- which they did. And "Holiday" was the song that got bumped. Also, they have been playing "Still Loving You" in their encores along with "Hurricane" and "No One Like You" -- not sure why they didn't do that for our show.

    Good call on "Slave Me" -- that's a great one. "Turn Me On" would have also been great live. Too many great songs to play -- but I wish they could do a three-hour, evening-with show for this final tour, just to touch more aspects of their history.

  5. 3 Hours for a couple of 60+ year olds is a bit much I am sure. As you touched on in your interview, they take breaks for Klaus as it is. But what they gave was amazing albeit too short. I really enjoyed your other articles an will keep tabs on your writing more now that I know where to find your stuff. The insight you provided through your questioning of Matthias was excellent. His melodicism if that is a word, is unique and truly adds a sound to Scorpions songs that few other bands can achieve. You made me go back and listen to No one like you again to appreciate that solo all over again. Since World Wide Live, which was my introduction to the Scorpions, I have loved Matthias and found him to be the guy I enjoy watching the most at a Scorpions show. Klaus and Rudolph get most of the pub and of course are very deserving, but Matthias is greatly under appreciated by most. Thank you for asking questions he doesn't hear very often at least.