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1978, Scorpions did 5 stunning albums by that time, the last one truly extraordinary, and their lead guitarist, Mr. Roth was decided to leave. It was the right time to put out a live recording to represent the end of an era, and satisfy the fans who had been demanding an official concert release for long. Japan was the chosen place, where the German metallers had always been acclaimed and admired. Since Deep Purple’s “Made In Japan”, the Asian country had become a special location to perform rock shows, some had some kind of fetish with it. So, the band was ready to introduce in front of a huge devoted Japanese crowd the “Taken By Force” album new tracks and also perform some of the previous classics, a bunch of them. In the end, they needed 2 LPs to record the whole thing.
The gig starts pretty intense, with casual melodic tracks like “Backstage Queen” or “Pictured Life”, which sound way different from the studio versions. When I say “different” I mean their presence, energy and strength increase tremendously, attacking much harder and rough. I’m not surprised the crowd already got so excited after 3 numbers, asking for more and more. Right after, Scorpions play some romantic ones, like the classic ballad from their 3rd record “In Trance”, with the whole audience getting involved on it, singing the lyrics and replying to Meine’s vocals. Pure magic captured for our enjoyment. Still affected by the emotional charms and sweet melody of that love song, the band give us more reasons to shiver and shake with delight, performing the most progressive lenghty epic tunes of the whole set-list: “Fly To The Rainbow” and “We’ll Burn The Sky”. Both refusing to follow their original studio structures, featuring a totally re-newed sound and surprising changes. Plenty of improvised endless pickin’ parts with Roth unleashed, making his guitar scream, increasing the speed of his solos considerably compared to what he did in the studio, also having fun with his whammy-bar and playing a bunch of outrageous dive-bombs (just like Kirk Hammett use to do on “For Whom The Bell Tolls” finale live, where did he get that idea from, ah?). Instrumentally perfect, impressive, complex, is what these guys music became on stage. Although, the heavy artillery is yet to come: “He’s A Woman - She’s A Man”, “Dark Lady” or “Speedy’s Coming” are absolutely brutal, pure aggression and speed, on which Rudolf and Uli’s fierce riffing becomes so damn harsh, relentless, like nobody else did by that time. Each of these compositions becomes certainly superior, much more passionate, loose, violent and solid than anything Scorpions did before. This is where their true potential and talent can be found: in concert. You won’t ever know what they are really able to do, until you won’t see them live, or listen a CD like this.
It’s easy to notice this was made back in the 70’s. Still we can find here a lot of extended improvised jams, alternative arrangements, that make this stuff have no similarities with the studio patterns, and endless unpredictable variations in the song structures. For instance, compare the incendiary version of “Robot Man” here with its original, or “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, here totally stripped-down, much more emotional. Scorpions are clearly focused on offering something completely different to the fans, not just the same they heard on the studio records before. Something admirable that required a good planning, because here there’s a lot of improvisation and spontaneity, but also absolute control and precision. Their schemes worked definitely fine, reaching a higher level of brilliance, magnificence and virtuosism, with the vital contribution of each member. Particularly, Roth is very motivated, giving us a free lesson of advanced guitar technique we can admire. A huge list of abilities and techniques, like his impossible arpeggios, classical harmonies, vicious shredding pickin’ parts and the omnipresent massive riffing, which are something out of this world, unique, innovative. Some say it was Van Halen on his debut who changed the art of playing guitar more than anyone before, but people like Roth himself as you can check on this album, or Blackmore already had a big impact and influence with their incredible skills. Uli is properly supported during the whole show by Rudolf, whose guitar lines are overwhelming and outstandingly consistent. Klaus’ vocals deserve a big appreciation as well. Heavenly, flawless and sometimes raw. He screams so wild on the “Steamrock Fever” ending and sings so mellow on “荒城の月”, making the whole crowd tremble, proving his admirable versatility. His charisma contributes to make the fans’ reaction more passionate, they interact with the band in a completely special climax. And we shouldn’t forget about Francis’ crude bass lines, and Herman’s cool skilled drum solo on the immense “Top Of The Bill”. With a line-up of that level, this could be nothing but a masterpiece.
One of the greatest live albums ever recorded, no doubt about it. Very heavy for that year, including memorable moments, like one of the earliest double bass-drum speed metal rhythms on the final part of “We’ll Burn The Sky”, and a primitive blast-beat on Rarebell’s drum solo. Don’t forget how thrashy and fast “He’s A Woman - She’s A Man” sounds, another living proof of Scorpions’ pioneer ways. Total catharsis is achieved here, in particular, there’s a moment in the show when people just can’t help themselves and go wild, screaming, clapping, making terrific noise a singing along, louder than the instruments themselves. I assure you, that is going to be your reaction once you push play and let the magic of this historic concert reach your ears. This is unadulterated old school heavy metal at its best.
Much like Motorhead would soon celebrate a string of venerated albums with their legendary No Sleep Til Hammersmith opus, the Scorpions did much the same thing to commemorate a duo of high profile Japanese gigs. So far in the band’s career, few folks seemed hip (especially in America) to just how revolutionary and evolutionary the band’s work had recently been, as classic albums like In Trance, Virgin Killer, and especially Taken By Force were all crucial documents in the process of metal shedding the excesses of it’s seventies skin and becoming a sharper, more articulate beast. Notably, this was also the last time Uli Jon Roth would adorn the band’s music with his Hendrix-like guitar prowess.
All of which means Tokyo Tapes is not only a consolidation but also a clear dividing line in the band’s sound. From here their style would become sharply harder, more compact and tight, which would earn them the major commercial success they’d thus far been denied. The good news is in their earlier guise, the band still had major music to offer, much of the best of it appearing here in the always higher intensity concert environment. “All Night Long,“ a previously unrecorded and damn good number opens matters, which include such seminal cuts as “In Trance,” “We’ll Burn The Sky” (awesome tune, man, one of the band’s greatest slow building epics) “Dark lady,” “Steamrock Fever,” and the clearly forward looking aggressive riffing of “He’s A Woman, She’s A Man.” Even a proggy and misty oldie like “Fly To The Rainbow” sounds great here, and the pairing of the band’s tight playing and Roth’s loose, acidic guitar style is a wonderful thing to behold. The only real downside is the few songs Roth sings. As I’ve noted before, he possesses one of the world’s most irritating and toneless styles in history (notice how his guitar work “Polar Nights” is amazing, and how things change the second he opens his off-key yap). That aside, Tokyo Tapes is a fun and historically valid album that proves an important point. As far as metal was concerned both the Scorpions as players and the Japanese as fans were all way ahead of their time.
This album dates back to 1978, quite some time ago. I originally purchased it on LP and literally wore the record out.
Tokyo Tapes is one terrific slab of metal made before the Scorpions went huge in the USA with a slicker, more commercial sound. Featuring the legendary Ulrich Roth, his playing is incendiary throughout. I was blown away by the live renditions of these classic Scorps tunes because Uli added so much to the lead breaks, compared to the studio versions. His playing on "Robot Man" in particular is mind blowing. The sounds that come out of his guitar are truly amazing.
There is not a weak moment on this CD, although I personally would have loved hearing "Catch Your Train" performed live, because that song features perhaps Ulrich's greatest Scorps lead solo ever, (a precursor to the playing of Randy Rhodes), as opposed to the two Elvis tunes on the CD. But again, talk about a complete album with no weak spots. It's all here, "Pictured Life", "We'll Burn the Sky", "Speedy's Coming", "Backstage Queen", "He's A Woman, She's A Man", 18 songs in total on my CD, and "Polar Nights" is included on the two disc version I own.
While the band's style changed considerably on all the albums that came after Tokyo Tapes, one must acknowledge that over a near 35 year career, there are bound to be changes. Tokyo Tapes shows the Scorps at their peak form, playing a very European style of metal at the conclusion of the first phase of their glorious career.