By Mark Gromen
Early April temps hitting uncharacteristic (in some cases, record) highs, yet black shirted masses descend on the lower end of Manhattan, to the Gramercy Theater. Lots has changed in the metal world during the twelve years since Udo Dirkschneider last toured the US. Most notably, his former bandmates in ACCEPT have regrouped and released a killer pair of Udo-less albums and lit up stages around the globe. Now, without longtime friend/drummer-turned guitarist Stefan Kaufmann, U.D.O. are once again solely a Dirkschneider vehicle. As such, he might warrant a second opinion, especially when it comes to song selection.
After a decade of seeing the diminutive blond singer at least once a year, I've come to expect ample amounts of ACCEPT within the U.D.O. repertoire. Why not? There are some great songs Herr Dirkschneider helped make famous and, let's be honest, it's been a long while since the last "good" U.D.O. platter. However, with Kaufmann gone and the need to break in new members, the band has virtually ditched Udo's glorious past, airing just five ACCEPT tracks, a trio of which closed the show! Even more shocking, there were a pair of (short) guitar solos, while offering nothing off the soon to be issued Steelhammer CD.
Earlier, Finnish guitarist Kasperi Heikkinen and fellow six-string newcomer, Russian-born Andrey Smirnov, showed up at Dukes (the unofficial NYC pre-game watering hole for Gramercy shows). At the concert, they kicked off with 'Rev Raptor' and 'Thunderball', same as witnessed in December, 2011, in Germany. 'They Want War' followed, while 'Leatherhead' came crashing back Earth. We began to get the idea Udo doesn't understand what the fans (especially the long suffering ones in North America) want to hear. Definitely needs to ratchet up the old school quotient. After a rousing, green lit '24/7,' 'Screaming For A Love Bite', the first ACCEPT tune, none too surprisingly, met with the biggest ovation to that point: sixth in a 16 song set.
The frontman puffing out his jowls as he stalked the stage, trading black tee and matching button-down dress shirt for customary (stereotypical?) military fatigues. 'Vendetta' appears to be another favorite, but nowhere near as massive as 'Head Over Heels'. Red lights and the familiar bass line heralds this mighty number from yesteryear, which eventually sees the stage bathed in a greenish-yellow tinge. As the song winds down, it heads directly into a short solo from Heikkinen, although some took the moment to head for the bar and retrieve a beverage similar to his surname. First surprise: the appropriately entitled (for the 80+/ 28 degrees C temps that afternoon) 'Burning Heat', off tremendously overlooked Timebomb album. Apparently years of complaining have been heard, as said title cut would close the proper set, just a few songs later.
White lights illuminating the crowd and cannonading drums introduced the staccato metered 'Man And Machine', the stringed musicos swaying in synchronization, beneath Christmas colored lighting. Another surprise, although not nearly as endearing: a second guitar solo, during which Smirnov (bar-hoppers also ordering drinks laced with a homophone of his last name) adapting Bach's well known 'Toccata & Fugue In D Minor' into the histrionics. After such a protracted absence, they would have been better served dropping the two brief, individualized showcases, in favor of another gem. Like 'Break The Rules', which turned into one big, cheerful sing-along.
Obviously, by now, having heard just two ACCEPT tracks within the baker's dozen, the crowd was a little restless (& wild? No, sadly never materialized, onstage or off), but 'Metal Heart' opening the encore allayed many fears. The only question was how many golden oldies would be coming our way, especially since my previous encounters had nearly half the show padded with ACCEPTable material. Unfortunately, it was just two more, 'Balls To The Wall', which thankfully proved not to be the finale. That was reserved for 'Fast As A Shark'. Can't remember any show with Udo Dirkschneider at the helm where he didn't sing 'Princess Of The Dawn'. Maybe next time. Just hope it's not too long a wait!
More photos from New York can be seen here