Thursday, October 18, 2018
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Review: Scorpions strike Tampa with eager, ageless glee at Amalie Arena

It's probably best not to look too closely at the optics of playing Rock You Like a Hurricane while there's actual hurricane battering the seaboard just a few hours away.

But what were the Scorpions going to do, NOT play their biggest hit for 7,000-plus fans at Tampa's Amalie Arena?

Florence may forge on, much like time itself, but the Scorpions on Friday were a portrait of rock exuberance from another era. If you came expecting a mature snapshot of a stately band in its 53rd year, all somber bows and gentlemen acting their age, this was not the concert for you. Instead, the German rock heroes played to the cheap seats with glee, delivering a boisterous blitzkrieg of pretense-free rock.

This was, in some ways, arena rock at its thirstiest, with a singer in Klaus Meine and a guitarist in Rudolf Schenker never missing a chance to work their razzle-dazzle on the masses. It was as if they were still a young band in Hanover trying to win over a club, and good on them for it – it shows that after all these years, the Scorps haven't stopped striving for an A for crowd-pleasing effort.

Returning after the Scorps canceled their last Tampa show due to his bout with laryngitis, Meine mugged in grand exaggerated stances on most every song, wiggling a tambo, tossing drumsticks into the crowd and plunging his mic stand upward like a rocket, his maw split into devilish open-mouth smile.

Klaus Meine and the Scorpions performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sept. 14, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Klaus Meine and the Scorpions performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sept. 14, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Schenker, if possible, looked even more delighted to be there, guitar-facing and windmilling with such grand theatricality you'd think he was posing for an oil painting on every riff. You try strapping a cloud-belching smoke canister to the back if your Flying V, like Schenker did on Blackout, and see if you don't get a big old grin on your face, too.

And those riffs! When Schenker and Matthias Jabs — and later Meine and bassist Pawel Maciwoda — met at the center stage thrust for an extended shred-off on Coast to Coast, it was hard not to buy into the good times they were selling. Jabs was a wild man all evening, whether singing through his talk-boxed guitar on The Zoo or shredding out showy solos on a medley of '70s songs like Speedy's Coming and Catch Your Train. His epic solo showcase Delicate Dance was show-offy in the best way, almost Van Halenish in its self-indulgence.

Matthias Jabs and the Scorpions performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sept. 14, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

There was a melty-cheddar filling at the center of a lot of it — how can there not be on a newer song like We Built This House, a montage-y anthem that kicks off with Meine snarling, "Love is the glue that holds us together…?" The acoustic ballad Send Me an Angel is unmistakably of a bygone era, as is the whistle-powered Wind of Change. But if the songs have aged, Meine's sharp warble and (whistle!) has mostly held up, and so has the audience's capacity to sing along, with a few even swaying in their seats.

And when they split-kicked back into stadium mode on a monster like Tease Me Please Me, Blackout or No One Like You, it was like a time machine back to 1987, when rock could be ridiculous and glamorous and still capable of rattling windows in a Pizza Hut parking lot. When drummer Mikkey Dee kicked off a tribute to his old band, Motörhead, with an animalistic cover of Overkill, it even felt a tiny bit dangerous. Lemmy would be proud.

Openers Queensryche filled the stage with their grand symphonic sludge, with shaggy guitarist Michael Wilton uncorking solid solos on Jet City Woman and Eyes of a Stranger. Notably, this was a homecoming for singer Todd La Torre, who grew up in St. Petersburg, and drummer Casey Grillo, who lives in Tampa. La Torre, who joined in 2012, not only ably replaced original singer Geoff Tate's stratospheric scream, but kicked and mugged and hair-whipped like he'd been the band's frontman forever. With all this Tampa Bay blood in the band, when can we officially start claiming Queensryche away from the Emerald City?

Queensryche opened for the Scorpions performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sept. 14, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Queensryche opened for the Scorpions performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sept. 14, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Queensryche will be back someday, but the Scorpions? Harder to say. It's been eight years since their last show here; if that happens again, they'll be in their seventh decade as a band. And you thought 50 years was unlikely.

But the way they closed with Hurricane, you never know. The song saw Jabs and Schenker at their most playful, swinging their axes and throwing up windmills and clicking their heels in the air. This being the Scorps' last U.S. show of 2018, La Torre came out briefly to race around and play with Schenker and Maciwoda. The final endless note and long ovation that followed, the band milked for every last second, tossing countless picks, sticks and more into the crowd.

Optics, schmoptics. The Hurricane that hit Tampa on Friday was unconstrained fun, pure and simple. And were the Scorpions. No amount of wind is going to change that.

— Jay Cridlin

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