Review Summary: In a city as vast as Tokyo, Scorpions chose to record a spectacular show in 1978, for the future generations to witness what hard rock of the 70’s was all about.
While neon lights and hundreds of store signs painted the streets of Tokyo, the Scorpions were walking and pointing at us. This picture inside the booklet sets the tone, before even listening to the Tokyo Tapes. Kind of retro, kind of spinal tap before spinal tap, this powerful image combined the German hard rock heroes with an urban Asian view, giving them an aura of rock conquerors.
These blue collar rockers were always different from their American and British counterparts. They were less bombastic and flashy than Aerosmith and Kiss, far rawer than Queen and more progressive than AC/DC. The Scorpions took the rock legacy of the late sixties and gave it a good hard rocking kick in the butt. It was Uli Jon Roth’s love for Hendrix that gave the band a progressive artistic edge over others. It was Rudolf Schenker’s maturity that kept them on the ground, without losing sight of how a good solid hard rock song is written. Francis Buchholz and Herman Rarebell grooved the rhythm section in perfection, while never pointing away from the front man of the pack, Klaus Maine. Maine is a performer working the crowd like no one else, a great singer with distinctive accent, a short guy with a huge nasal voice.
Now about the live Tokyo Tapes. It absolutely grinds. It is for all hard rock fans, which prefer live volcanic versions of the studio songs over live improvising and experimenting. Go out and buy it, pleasure 100% guaranteed. The band is at its peak in 1978, being together for 5 years and having released 4 great albums. Everybody excels in Tokyo Tapes and the songs work excellent in live environment. The short rockers are played with passion and energy to our head banging pleasure, while the longer acts like the ten minute opus “Fly to the rainbow”, make you beg for more soloing. The sound is great, you can hear every note, every drum hit, every breath as if you are inside Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo.
Who is the star here: undoubtedly Uli John Roth. Tokyo Tapes, serves as the last testimony of his guitar greatness inside a band. Although Maine performs in his usual exceptional level and the rest of the crew (especially Schenker) shine in a taste of things to come, the blinding sun is Roth. I hear a band playing as tight as any, but it is almost impossible not to notice how his playing moves the songs, makes them better than ever before. Just try not to boogie along during his overextended intro of “Polar Nights”, seconds before he shreds the opening riff to the masses below. Imagine that I even like Roth’s – I am still living in the sixties, I wanna sing as bad as Hendrix- vocals!
The frenetic version of “All night long” grabs you immediately, no hellos, hi’s, we are’s. It is 1978 and Scorpions have the last lead guitarist-hero, cranking riffs live with such ease, that would make Van Halen tap away his shame. Roth makes some minor mistakes, only to add to the live feeling, though. “We’ll burn the Sky” is the absolute highlight of the album. The guitar sounds nothing like the studio version, even if the notes are almost the same. Wait, i will rephrase: the live version kicks the jams out of the studio version! All because of Roth’s warm, passionate and heartfelt playing that makes the song an unforgettable epic. On the side note, you can feel that Roth is too big to be “trapped” in a band like Scorpions. A guitar god must be free and we should be grateful that he captured some of his magic in conventional hard rock songs.
Not everything is perfect in this release though. While disc 1 flows like nothing you ’ve heard before, the second part is a far from perfect. If there was only disc 1, I would give it a perfect score and complain to RCA, the band and god himself about the short duration of the recording. Unfortunately disc 2 has 2 cover songs (Hound dog, Long Tall Sally) that mess with the overall flow and rhythm of the performance. “Kojo No Tsuki” is a special but weak offering to the Japanese audience that gave them support when no one did, which leaves “Robot Man” as the last highlight of Tokyo Tapes.
Make no mistake: Scorpions’ Tokyo Tapes is one of the best live hard rock recordings of all time. The Scorpions were in the top of their game, breathing new life in their true classics of the Seventies. This lp marks the end of an era and welcomes a new one, exciting as ever. I can’t help but daydream, though, how special those Tokyo nights really were for those that witnessed them.