Tonight's show marks the UK live debut of rock super group The Winery Dogs. The show is a sold out one, no doubt due to the individual fanbases of Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big), Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) and Richie Kotzen (ex-Poison). The queue winds around the O2 Academy, thick with anticipation as the attendees have absolutely no idea what to expect from these musicians together live.
Sole support comes from The Sixxis, a curious and little-known trio from America (although when live, they come as a five-piece). They play a brand of hard rock with a variety of musical quirks from a range of influences such as Kings X, Alice in Chains and Muse, yet the sound is very contemporary and emotionally-fuelled in its own way. The musical abilities of the band are suited for a support act to The Winery Dogs, with a highly talented drummer, a five-string bass and riffs that present a memorable personality to the music. The vocals are very typical of the smooth kind found in the mid-nineties rock scene.
The stage presence of the band is limited by the lack of space on the stage but vocalist Vlady Ishkakov remains too static for the entire set. Although the audience's reaction is not a wildly raucous one, the great applause that studs the end of this set is enough to show that The Sixxis have certainly turned heads tonight.
Greeted with a rapturous cheer as they take the stage, The Winery Dogs are all smiles as they prepare to play their first London show. Opening with the first track off their self-titled debut, 'Elevate', the thick hard rock groove immediately translates well into the live environment, complimented by crisp sound. Kotzen appears austere behind his guitar and handling velveteen vocals harnessing hard rock power. The crowd response feels sold out as the uplifting track swans through the venue with a number of fans singing the chorus of the shiny new song.
With only one release to their name, it is not surprising that the entire album is performed tonight (although, not in order; that would be too straight-forward). The thick bass groves of 'Criminal' are a beautiful throwback to early nineties hard rock; the racy 'Not Hopeless' remains defiant and 'I'm No Angel' pours forth copious emotion. Had the album been out longer, undoubtedly a sizeable portion of the attendees would be crooning along.
In addition to original material, unsurprisingly the crowd is treated to a handful of covers. The later Poison song 'Stand' is performed by Kotzen acoustically with plenty of voices aiding him throughout. This is immediately followed by Kotzen's own 'You Can't Save Me', also attaining audience approval. Mr. Big's 'Shine' from the 'Actual Size' album is another highlight. Given the individual accomplishments of the entire line up, a bass solo from Sheehan and a drum solo from Portnoy (on his very modestly sized drum kit) are not unexpected and show the unbridled talents of the members, if there was any unfamiliarity from those in attendance.
The pop-tinged 'Regret' closes the main bulk of the set with its strong sense of finality. However, the encore begins shortly afterwards with a cover of Elvin Bishop's classic 'Fooled Around and Fell in Love' before finishing with their own 'Desire', certainly one of the strongest tracks on the album. After a round of thanks for the sold out show and a promise from Portnoy that the Dogs will indeed return to the capital, this was a great night of solid musicianship that kick starts the weekend off early.