The Winery Dogs | April 6, 2023 | Brooklyn Bowl | Nashville, TN – Concert Review & Photo Gallery

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Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Clint Searcy

When it comes to hard rock with a shot of rhythm and blues, there are plenty of choices. Add a little funk into the equation, and you narrow the playing field. Top it all off with grade-A musicianship, and you get The Winery Dogs. It helps to have players with colorful backstories all their own — and The Winery Dogs has that and more. What makes this power trio even more unique is a balanced chemistry that keeps everyone’s role in check and in the groove. That’s important — especially when the rhythm section comprises two of rock’s most imposing figures.

The care and respect that super bassist Billy Sheehan and mega drummer Mike Portnoy give to Richie Kotzen — whose own mad skills as a guitarist and keyboardist are perfectly aligned with an alluring, soulful vocal delivery — is really at the heart of where The Winery Dogs sit on the spectrum. That was easy to pick up on when they came to Nashville to finish up the initial leg of their 2023 U.S. tour, their first in nearly four years.

On the road behind their third album, III, The Winery Dogs managed to fill the 1,200-person capacity venue, with most opting for the open floor. After a high-energy, 30-minute set from Nashville-based fivesome Ace Monroe, the crowd was primed for the main attraction. Once the cape came off Portnoy’s drum set and the roar of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” blasted over the PA, it was showtime for the supergroup.

Despite the legacies of each musician, the songs on tonight’s setlist were strictly from the group’s three albums. They settled in and gunned it hard off the starting line with “Gaslight” and “Xanadu” from III, a couple of slap-you-in-the-face tumblers that firmly locked in the pace and vibe for the rest of the night. There’s no question that III is a strong effort, crafted with a take no-prisoners craving you rarely see in a band of seasoned veterans. Hearing it live punctuated its primal surgency with rife accuracy and precision.

“Captain Love,” from the group’s second release, 2015’s Hot Streak, was a little more subdued and calculated, propelled by an amorous AC/DC-driven hook. Kotzen’s clean and cutting leads and bends squirmed through the breaks like an escaped convict with reckless abandon, never looking back. The snap of “Hot Streak,” which followed, had more than one head bopping in agreement.

This much into the show it was hard not to notice Portnoy’s tech, constantly at the ready to swing the boss’s microphone into action when needed. The drummer moves around so much, even standing to play at times, that having a mic permanently parked overhead, much less to the side or anywhere else within striking distance, just isn’t possible. As discreet as he tried to remain, you couldn’t help but admire how much on point Portnoy’s guy was.

Meanwhile, Sheehan pretty much owned stage right, his bass rig outfitted with an arsenal of gizmos, filters, compressors, suppressors, gates, and other such enhancers to help boost his attack. At times, he was as loud, if not louder, than Kotzen, without impeding on the guitarist, whose light touch never seemed to get trampled in the stampede. “Stars,” perhaps the deepest, most exploratory number from III, gave Kotzen ample opportunity to assert his range within a melodic centrifuge of salience and purpose. Where the heart meets the sea and everywhere in between.

The prodigious talents of Sheehan, Portnoy and Kotzen weren’t about to dodge the solo spotlight, so ample space was allotted for each to stretch out and dazzle. Actually, Sheehan was the only who had any alone time with the audience. His sleight-of-hand antics on the bass are pretty much expected — open up and say “yikes!” — so he tapped and slapped his instrument for about as long as his band mates needed to recharge. Soon enough, Portnoy, his tech in tow, was right back at it, as Kotzen entered from stage left.

So why didn’t the drummer and guitar player shimmy under the sun? Portnoy is obviously here for the songs. He’s got other projects for showboating. And Kotzen? He’s really the focal point as the vocalist, guitarist, and, during the encore, keyboardist. His cool demeanor reveals little, but you know he has to feel good and confident having Team Portnoy and Sheehan working the engine room. Only the members of Sons of Apollo, the other band where the two play together, know what that’s like.

To cover the entire catalog, the set finished up with “The Red Wine,” “I’m No Angel” and “Oblivion.” A short break, and an outpouring of appreciation drew the members of The Winery Dogs back to the Brooklyn Bowl stage. Kotzen parked himself behind a piano and took the audience on a stroll through his thoughts on “Regret,” cooing lyrics about sorrow and redemption. Once he switched over to guitar and dug in his heels, he had the whole room in his grip, aching for more. You would have thought that was enough, but the mood suddenly brightened and the unit pulled in their wings for a blast of “Elevate,” the first song from their 2013 self-titled debut album.

Tonight’s audience got everything they came for — three superb musicians brought together by three albums recorded over 10 years, whenever their schedules allowed it. For nearly two hours, they packed it all into one fun-filled evening of high-caliber rock and roll.

If the virtuosity alone didn’t blow your mind, you were at the wrong show. Add the material to make sense of it all, and from where this reviewer was sitting, there’s little to complain about as long as the house stays electric, the fans are buzzing, and the bartender keeps the ice cold.

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