_report by Rachel Schaffer
Making a splash at the Altar Bar Monday night, super group The Winery Dogs managed with little effort to reignite the sparks in hundreds of men and women over the age of forty. Formed in Brooklyn in 2012, The Winery Dogs is comprised of Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater fame, Mr. Big’s bassist Billy Sheehan, and the ever talented guitarist and vocalist Richie Kotzen.
Opening for them was Pittsburgh local Sicksense, who brought with them a small but vocal crowd of fans. The lead singer was loud, boisterous, and big boned. If it weren’t for his infectious persona and frequent smile, you’d think he’d be more fitted for a Nascar race. They were followed by five-person, Atlanta based band The Sixxis, and the room which was once sparse now began to fill.
Originally expecting only 200 people, The Altar Bar kept their upstairs balcony closed. But the onslaught of people forced them to open it up before The Sixxis’ set, and the balcony quickly became packed. The crowd was abuzz in between sets, discussing which Winery Dog member was the most talented and which song was the best. Fans came from as far as Buffalo to watch the show. By the time The Winery Dogs came on, The Altar Bar was teeming with people over the age of forty—most of whom wore black shirts and leather jackets.
Opening with “Elevate,” The Winery Dogs came on strong. The clear sound made every riff and solo on Kotzen’s guitar ring out loudly while still allowing Sheehan’s bass to underscore and keep the beat. Portnoy’s ever present smile and his frequent trips to the front of the drum set made him easily accessible and always visible, and his drum solo left the crowd noticeably pumped and rejuvenated. Sheehan had his turn front and center with a bass solo that lasted three minutes while fans stood quietly stunned at the way he moves and manipulates his fingers to create incredible sounds. His solo led right into “You Saved Me,” where Sheehan continued to show his talent.
But it was Kotzen who was the real star here. Every single song featured intricate and incredibly difficult guitar riffs which Kotzen played with an air of ease and familiarity. He showcased his prowess with his solo in “You Can’t Save Me/Mine,” while the predominately male audience head banged away. His voice was clear and soft, a surprising departure from his normal loud rock voice, during his acoustic song “I’m No Angel,” and Kotzen was able to take on the keyboard during the bluesy “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” Finishing off their set with an encore, they ended the show with “Desire,” and the crowd went crazy. The Winery Dogs took their bow and proceeded to shake the hands of all those they could reach.
For a group where every member is over forty, The Winery Dogs played with the energy of twenty year olds. Their set was tight, and with hardly any talking in between songs, they were able to fit in seventeen songs and three long solos. The Winery Dogs were on top of their game, and their show proved, once again, that some bands just need to be experienced live.
All photos ©2013 Coda Photography and Pittsburgh Music Magazine