The Winery Dogs

October 6, 2013
The Coach House
San Juan Capistrano, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Dash Riprock

Who let the dogs out! The Winery Dogs, that is — one group you need to cut the leash with because when they get loose, you best stand back and marvel at the musicianship of this energetic power trio, cast in the classic rock mold of Cream, Mountain and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I saw it with my own eyes, up close and in my eardrums at the tail-end of their west coast tour. Guitarist / vocalist Richie Kotzen, drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Billy Sheehan are three great reasons why the Winery Dogs have an irresistible bite on stage.

For their gig at the Coach House, they had local bands Points North and Pet Shark open. The crowd warmed up, it was a little after nine when Kotzen, Portnoy and Sheehan efficiently took their places and shot right into “Elevation,” the punchy first song from their self-titled debut. They were instantly tight — Sheehan slapping and tapping, Kotzen confidently switch-hitting between his guitar and the vocals, and Portnoy, his blue beard and sticks at the ready, driving the tempo and filling in the trenches.

The groove intensified on “Criminal” with Kotzen introducing strains of boogie and soul into the hard rockin’ framework. A melodic blend of swagger and swing comprised many of songs tonight. ‘We Are One,” “Time Machine” and “One More Time” kept the pace relentless, while the easy flow of “Damaged” provided another dimension of what many could, on the surface, construe as a three-headed monster. As Portnoy’s short and quick drum solo (part of it done while standing) gave way to “The Other Side,” you sense that the collective strength of the Winery Dogs is of more value than the supersonic virtuosity of its parts. That comes with experience.

Kotzen has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in rock. He certainly rises to the occasion with the Winery Dogs and its muscle-bound rhythm section. He’s a strong singer with a distinctive whine, and he can slip and slide over the fretboard with relative ease. When he wants to burn, like he did on “Desire,” you definitely feel the heat. When he wants to embellish his tone and add varying textures of sound, like he did before and into “You Saved Me,” it’s clear why the man’s prolific solo career has a strong and dedicated following. When he jumped behind a Fender Rhoads and delicately sweetened the deck with the mournful "Regret," I waited patiently to see what other surprises he had up his sleeve.

By the time they encored with Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” it looked as if Sheehan, Portnoy and Kotzen were having the time of their lives on the Coach House’s intimate stage. Keeping it simple, powerful and no-nonsense is the whole idea behind this band. Let’s face it: a second album — a mighty task when you consider all the other activities each of the Winery Dogs are involved with — is really in order to see just how far they can take it. That and another show at the Coach House.


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