Babysitters for miles around were kept busy Saturday night as metal vets Scorpions' farewell tour enticed 7,000 mostly 30- and 40-somethings into downtown's sleek Nokia Theatre. Over a quarter-century since they first ambushed America at San Bernardino's vast US Festival, the Teutonic quintet showed they can still fill a huge room with not just precision-honed melodic bombast, but with goodwill to boot.
Openers Cinderella, like Scorpions, have aged well because they never truly succumbed to the worst '80s cock rock clichés. Whereas Scorpions were older, (sonically) heavier and more, well, German, than most of their peers, 'Rella offered a three-dimensional, bluesy earthiness that seemed uneasy amidst that era's tinny pop metal.
At the Nokia, singer Tom Keifer — a born-to-do-this Steven Tyler / Prince mongrel — dabbled with lap steel, saxophone and piano, and his semi-strangled timbre was as important as the songs themselves. With their original lineup intact and augmented with keyboards, Cinderella sacrificed melody for muscle on Camaro-blarers like “Gypsy Road” and “Falling Apart at the Seams”, but their prom-approved ballads – “Don't Know What You Got (Till it's Gone)”, “Nobody's Fool” – suggested that only grunge robbed them of further success back when.
With sensory-overload multi-screens, made-for-the-stage anthems and age-defying energy, Scorpions gave the Nokia a thoroughly professional pummeling. As elfin singer Klaus Meine was never a truly flamboyant frontman, Scorpions long ago elevated bottle-blonde guitarist Rudolf Schenker to a cartoon metal god and later recruited absurdly frenetic (to the point of distraction) drummer James Kottak. Schenker, 62, ruled the Nokia's stage lip with an electrified glee and incongruous mannequin physique, while fellow axman Matthias Jabs squeezed off succulent solos with delighted nonchalance.
Meine's career-making, nasal and accented warble struggled with the sludge-thick guitars of sleeveless t-shirt soundtracks “The Zoo” and
“Bad Boys on the Run” “Bad Boys Running Wild,” but soared on Atari-era weepies like “Still Loving You” and “Holiday”. An impressive audience sing-along on “The Best Is Yet To Come” (from new album Sting in the Tail) suggested that, for some at least, Scorpions also live in the here and now.
Their songcraft might have transcended borders and eras, and their love for what they do is utterly infectious, but there's something lacking – perhaps a sense of spontaneity or some intangible soul – that stalls Scorpions just this side of legendary.