By : Kenny Lockwood
A “supergroup” is defined as “a musical group whose members are already successful as solo artists or as part of other groups or well known in other musical professions”. This loose set of criteria, combined with an era that produces thousands of groups whose musicians commonly occupy multiple bands, leads to a watered down version of the term “super”. A union amongst a handful of them can be labeled as such without any regard for actual talent, chemistry, etc. At any rate, it goes without saying that most of these won’t result in A Perfect Circle or Chickenfoot, despite the lofty depiction.
This, however, does not apply to The Winery Dogs, a band that epitomizes what a supergroup should be. Made up of drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen, this power trio puts together quite the rock resume (Dream Theater, Mr. Big, Poison, etc), but are probably equally as known individually as any of the acts they’ve previously participated in. Their styles are flashy and distinctive, more than capable of solos and virtuosity, but can the pieces fit together to form a cohesive unit? A group of All-Stars doesn’t always make a winning team, and with three musicians as ridiculously talented as these, it can be a tall order to be greater than the sum of your parts.
I personally already knew the answer, but I went down to the City National Grove of Anaheim to experience it live. The opening bands King Llama and ZFG were worthy of their slots, acting as hearty, proggy appetizers before the main course.
As the time for the headliner to start drew near, the house P.A. began to resonate with a booming rendition of “Who Let the Dogs Out”, a relevant but humorous choice for a venue lined with middle-aged rock-n-rollers.
The band walked onstage, took their places, and immediately slammed into “Elevate”, the opening track of their 2013 self-titled debut album. Crunchy guitar riffs, catchy three-part vocal harmonies, a bridge allowing for the rhythm section to incorporate a dual solo, and an overall subtle relentlessness that won’t allow the listener to remain still.
Portnoy’s playing style is easily recognizable, even in a far more rock band context than his more technical metal projects. He can groove when the song requires it, which also allows him the freedom to add extra backing vocals, but he excels with time changes and speeds so he can incorporate double bass and certain accents with his signature octobans and splash cymbals, even on a more abbreviated kit than I’ve typically seen him play. He is also the most entertaining to watch live, as he flips his sticks, interacts with fans, and even stands up while continuing to play. He’ll embellish as much as possible whenever the song calls for it, an example being the break down outro to “The Other Side”.
Halfway through the set, everyone left the stage except for Billy Sheehan, who proceeded to go into a 10 minute clinic of finger wizardry. Most rock bands are devoid of bass solos, but Sheehan is a virtuoso in his own right. The precision in which he rakes with his right and hammers with his left is something to behold, and he can solo in the context of a song, such as “Time Machine”. However, as the bassist of a three piece, his role of holding down the low end is critical, and the gritty tone he is known for is a huge part of what makes their sound unique.
Then there’s Richie Kotzen, whose pick-less guitar strumming provides the necessary melodic layering over the rumble of Sheehan’s bass. He’s an accomplished guitarist, with a definitive blues rock and fusion style, and even plays keys on his own song “The Road”. His voice is reminiscent of Chris Cornell’s, and provides a soulful demeanor to the otherwise heavy nature of the songs, especially on slower tracks like “Damaged” and “The Dying”.
The set was a satisfying 90 minute mix of intense songs from their two albums with three or four mellower ballads sprinkled in. They closed with “Oblivion” as their final encore, the upbeat and extra technical opening track off of 2015’s Hot Streak. Once it had concluded and the members had taken their leave, the droves of people ushered out to into the lobby, serenaded by the sweet sounds of “Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay” (thanks a lot, guys).
Despite that, The Winery Dogs is an impressive band, blending the precision of intricate musicianship with the warm sounds of quality songwriting. They may be the most talented, three member rock group since Rush.
2. Captain Love
3. Hot Streak
4. Time Machine
6. The Lamb
7. The Other Side
8. Bass Solo
9. Ghost Town
10. The Road (Richie Kotzen song)
12. Devil You Know
13. I’m No Angel
14. The Dying