The Winery Dogs have embarked on the “Who Let The Dogs Out” Tour and they made the Minneapolis Night Club, First Avenue, their own personal dog pound. The band has two records thus far, 2013’s self-titled record and its follow up in 2015 called ‘Hot Streak.’ I know the rabid fan base is drooling for more material but getting a headline set from this super-trio was extremely exciting. Opening the show was Damon Johnson who provided a fantastic set of music and was a real pleasure to see.
Damon Johnson started hit the stage first to an enthusiastic crowd. My introduction to him was with the band Brother Cane, but his musical credits branch out into many directions such as Slave To The System, Red Halo, Alice Cooper, and the Black Star Riders. His musical history is long and diverse and his talent rolled right off the stage. Songs that made the set were “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed” from Thin Lizzy and some of Brother Cane’s hits like “And Fools Shine On” and “Got No Shame.” He released a great new album in 2019 called “Memoirs Of An Uprising” and played a couple great tracks off it that included “Dallas Coulda Been A Beatdown” and “Shivering Shivering.” A really fun show and check out that new record, as it’s a good one.
In today’s world of music, the term supergroup, has become commonplace. Throw a bunch of big names together, put out a record, and then watch the band and the album disappear into the ether weeks later. When The Winery Dogs formed that very much seemed to be the case. Vocalist and guitarist Richie Kotzen, bassist Billy Sheehan, and drummer Mike Portnoy certainly fit the term supergroup but unlike the norm, they are a fully vested functioning band. The fact that we have two records and a tour shows the willingness of this trio to grow musically and as a band. Judging by the crowd and the reaction when they took the stage, the future seems bright for The Winery Dogs.
The band came out blazing with “Elevate,” “Captain Love,” and “Hot Streak.” I can’t think of a better way to start the show and three songs that embody what they are all about. The menu that The Winery Dogs offer includes classic rock, pop, hard rock, blues, a pinch of prog, funk, and jazz. All of this is served up in a countless number of recipes that gives the band a bit of unpredictability in direction of any given song. The fourth song played, “Time Machine,” is a personal favorite with the main riff being crushingly heavy and addicting while the bass line dances around it. Another catchy song that came across in superb fashion was “The Other Side.” The savory chorus kept its presence in my head long after the song was played.
Truth be told, there are few musicians that demand your presence for an instrumental solo. There are some, but I’d rather have two or three more songs than a drawn out explosion of notes. Billy Sheehan, however, is one of those guys that I’d stand in line to watch any day of the week. Nobody attacks the bass with the precision, flare, and style like Sheehan. His signature sound has propelled bands like Talas, the David Lee Roth Band, Mr. Big, and Sons Of Apollo. Watching him play is truly special and seeing those fingers move up and the down the fret board during the solo was nothing short of incredible.
The other half of the rhythm section, drummer Mike Portnoy, needed no introduction to the crowd. Perhaps best known for his Dream Theater days, Portnoy has spread his wings into many projects such as Flying Colors and Sons OfApollo but has maintained The Winery Dogs are his priority. His brilliance behind the kit is well documented and his personality is felt through his playing.
Guitarist and lead vocalist Richie Kotzen may not be as recognizable as his bandmates but his talents, like Sheehan and Portnoy, are off the charts. He embodies the soul of this band. His ability to touch people musically comes from the delivery of the unspoken words from his guitar and his voice that flavors whatever delivery the song needs. Perhaps the highlight of the night was watching Kotzen jam on the guitar. Seems strange as I just stated my feelings on overdrawn solos or extensions of songs but I didn’t want him to stop. His guitar playing memorized the crowd. It was one those moments where you turned to the guy next to you, even if you didn’t know him, and just say “wow.” Portnoy had stated that Kotzen was a big Prince fan and being in the house that he built was special to him. You could hear Prince’s influence with the emotion and passion in every note he played. First Avenue has seen some of the best musicians and bands grace its stage and Kotzen left a little piece of himself that will be forever imprinted upon the clubs hallowed walls. Yes, his playing was really that good. One tune off his solo records made the set, “The Road,” and between that and the soulful gem “I’m No Angel,” gave proof that his voice resonated with the crowd as much as his guitar playing did.
The set wound down with some rockers like “Devil You Know” and the awesome “Oblivion” which both appeared on the ‘Hot Streak’ record. The encore included the cover of Elvin Bishop’s ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love” before closing the night off with “Desire.”
What a great night of music at First Avenue. Damon Johnson was fantastic and his catalog of music and his presentation of it was superb. The Winery Dogs are truly a band that features musicians that have mastered their craft. They have continued to grow together as a band and hopefully that translates to more music and tours. For now, we got a great show that allowed us to celebrate their music and take home some lasting memories and that’s what live music is all about.