The Winery Dogs

August 3, 2013
B.B. King Blues Club & Grill
New York, NY

Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.

As I expected, the Winery Dogs — guitarist and vocalist Richie Kotzen, drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Billy Sheehan’s new band — were nothing less than brilliant when they played B.B. King Blues Club & Grill for their very first appearance in the States.

New York-based band Jolly — heavy at times and equally kinda cool keyboard slinky — opened and That Metal Show’s Eddie Trunk was the evening MC (he has close connection to the band, having suggested Kotzen to Portnoy in the first place). When the Winery Dogs hit the stage, we were on our way to two hours of blistering, radio-friendly hard rock.

I expected amazing proficiency from these guys, but what I didn’t expect was the sheer fun they all seemed to be having. Many times during the set, I caught Portnoy grinning from ear to ear as he managed some amazing syncopated moments with Sheehan. Kotzen was obviously thrilled to be working his finger-picking electric guitar magic with players that he is really suited to. Even the song selection — notably the first encore song, which I’ll get to in a minute — seemed to fit these guys to a tee.

I realized I was going to hear lots of songs from the band’s debut album and we got it in spades — the straight-ahead rocking opener “Elevate” with Portnoy simply on fire and some great backing vocals from both he and Sheehan behind Kotzen during very singable choruses. They also dipped into that screw-everybody down-and-dirty chunk of “We Are One” and an even groovier, Foghat-sounding “One More Time.”

I really loved the slightly off-paced jam at the end of “Six Feet Under,” complete with a slamming Portnoy drum solo that didn’t overextend itself. Sheehan’s solo spot, where he basically played the bass with his full body, managed harmonics off the strings, then began some amazingly melodic double hand-tapping on another highlight of the night, the wonderful “You Saved Me,” a semi-ballad featuring an inspiring vocal from Kotzen.

I was surprised to see the guitarist use his solo spot for an acoustic cover of Poison’s “Stand” (remember back when he was in Poison for half a minute?), along with the amazing “I’m No Angel.” He switched over to piano for the last song of the regular set, a perfectly poised “Regret,” which I think was the best song of the night.

For their encore, the Winery Dogs pulled out Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” a classic 70s tune that Kotzen sings every bit as good (albeit, heavier) than original singer Mickey Thomas. Standing on my chair at this point, I could Portnoy was having a wonderful time replicating the stop-and-go drum pattern of the song. At the end of the night, the sold out crowd was pretty much exhausted by the playing and camaraderie of the Winery Dogs for their first ever U.S. concert.

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