By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most influential British hard-rock bands of the ’70s, veteran quintet UFO brings their 50th anniversary ‘Last Orders’ tour marking their final U.S. jaunt with lead singer Phil Mogg to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco Wednesday.
Formed in 1969, the group has been setting the bar high with its heavy, hook-laden anthems and fiery live performances for the past half century. Founded as a quartet in 1969 by singer Mogg, drummer Andy Parker, bassist Pete Way and guitarist Mick Bolton, the band took it’s name from the popular psychedelic nightclub in London and initially explored an unusual mix of epic space rock and gutsy, blues-based boogie.
While those early albums found an audience in Germany and Japan, it wasn’t until after Bolton’s exit and the arrival of German guitar wunderkind Michael Schenker that the band began pursuing the more concise style of catchy hard rock that became their signature. Starting with the 1974 album Phenomenon, Mogg and Schenker teamed to pen such classic songs as “Doctor Doctor,” “Rock Bottom,” “Lights Out” and “Too Hot to Handle” that filled a string of successful albums and helped make UFO a successful concert attraction on both sides of the Atlantic.
Albums like Force It, Lights Out and Obsession would help shape the sound of everyone from radio-ready hard rockers like Def Leppard to metal icons Iron Maiden (who have been playing “Doctor Doctor” right before taking the stage for years) as well as later, heavier thrash metal bands Metallica, Slayer and Testament.
The band’s dogged touring help make their 1979 double live recording Strangers in the Night one of the great concert documents of the era, but escalating tensions between Mogg and Schenker would lead to the guitarist sudden and acrimonious departure. UFO would enlist a variety of guitarists as it struggled during the ’80s with several break-ups and key members Parker, Way and guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond all leaving the group. Only the initial post-Schenker recordings with replacement Paul Chapman truly maintained the band’s high standards.
By the early ’90s, Mogg and a returning Way managed to pull together the band’s classic line-up with Schenker to record Walk On Water in 1993, but the reunion was short lived, with Schenker walking out on the band mid set at a concert in Palo Alto. The group would reconcile with Schenker two more times over the next decade, but continuing difficulties with the troubled guitarist led to the permanent hiring of current six-stringer Vinnie Moore in 2003.
One of the more talented American players to emerge from the post-Yngwie Malmsteen wave of neo-classical shredders in the mid-1980s, Moore played lead guitar on the first album by Bay Area metal band Vicious Rumors, toured and recorded with Alice Cooper and established a nearly two-decade career as a solo instrumental star prior to joining UFO.
He became Mogg’s main songwriting partner and has recorded five studio albums with the band during his tenure (now the longest of any guitarist to play with UFO), including the band’s more recent efforts, 2015’s hard-hitting Conspiracy of Stars and The Salentino Cuts, a wildly varied collection of cover songs featuring tunes by artists ranging from early influences (The Yardbirds, The Animals and the Doors) to ’70s contemporaries (ZZ Top, Robin Trower and Montrose) and beyond (soul singer Bill Withers, heartland rocker John Mellencamp and ’90s supergroup Mad Season).
Moore has helped the current line-up with Mogg, fellow founding member Parker, Raymond and bassist Rob De Luca (who replaced Way in 2008) maintain the band’s reputation as a stellar live act. Earlier this year, the band announced its ‘Last Orders’ tour of the U.K. and the States to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary as well as UFO’s last extensive run of shows prior to Mogg retiring from live performance with the band. Sadly, in April the group was dealt a serious blow with the sudden death of Raymond from a fatal heart attack at age 73. While still in mourning over the loss, UFO confirmed it would continue with the announced tour, bringing on early ’80s era keyboard player and guitarist Neil Carter to fill out the band. UFO makes its final sold-out appearance in San Francisco with Mogg fronting the quintet at the Great American Music Hall this Wednesday night. The band is joined by Armored Saint, the veteran Los Angeles metal band fronted by onetime Anthrax lead singer John Bush.
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m. $35 (sold out)
Great American Music Hall