Uli Jon Roth's Ultimate Guitar Experience gets Vancouver fret freaks in a tizzy

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      Masterful rock guitarist Uli Jon Roth made his Vancouver debut last night, and for local fret freaks, it was well worth the wait.

      Scrape Records and the Invisible Orange brought Uli Jon Roth’s Ultimate Guitar Experience to Venue, and the German axeman displayed his stunning virtuosity on a bill that also included American guitar greats Andy Timmons and Jennifer Batten.

      When we got there Timmons had already completed his opening set, and Batten was in the midst of hers, which included a version of “Nadia”, the gorgeous Nitin Sawhney composition from Jeff Beck s 2001 You Had it Coming album, which she played on.

      Batten performed alone, with the help of drum programming, backing tapes, and guitar synth, I’m guessing. The latter proved essential when she transformed her six-string to a fretless bass for a stunning tribute to Jaco Pastorius.

      At one point somebody hollered “Free Bird” while Batten was introducing a song inspired by her cat, which was kinda funny, considering the whole feathered friend/feline dichotomy.

      Before finishing up, Batten mentioned how many guitar players–aka “guitar geeks” and “guitar nerds”–were likely in the house, and how she had pondered which song in history would prove most pleasing to that crowd. Then she ended with a medley that included snippets of guitar licks from songs by the Shadows, the Ventures, Dick Dale, Rick Derringer, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, the Allman Brothers, Robin Trower, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Steely Dan, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Aerosmith, and–as if to satiate the previously mentioned “Free Bird” fanatic–Lynyrd Skynyrd.

      Roth took the stage with his trusty invention, the 30-fret Sky guitar, and a six-piece band that included a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, lead vocalist, and–in keeping with the Ultimate Guitar Experience promise–two more pickers armed with white and blue Strats. He opened the show with the fretburning setpiece “The Sails of Charon”, one of the most-loved tracks from the four studio albums he recorded with Scorpions between 1974 and ’77.

      “When we play the old Scorpions classics,” Roth told me recently, “a lot of people get very happy.” There were also plenty of smiles at Venue when his band ripped through the Scorps gem “We’ll Burn the Sky”, which was based on a poem written by Monika Danneman, the last girlfriend of Jimi Hendrix, who later became Roth’s wife.

      Roth had also told me that he was psyched about playing Vancouver for the first time partially because of “the Jimi Hendrix connection“–the history of Hendrix visiting the city from his nearby home in Seattle. So it was only fitting that he ended the night with Hendrix’s mindblowing version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, followed by “Little Wing”.

      Dates on the Ultimate Guitar Experience tour normally end with Roth, Batten, and Timmons jamming together, but last night Batten didn’t join in, apparently because of a sore back. “Andy has promised to play twice as fast and twice as loud,” to make up for it, Roth announced, and man–did he ever come through. Maybe Timmons was also playing twice as good, because his solo on “Little Wing” had to be one of the most outstanding guitar performances I’ve ever witnessed in the flesh.

      And I saw Stevie Ray four times.