The Gramercy Theater was the perfect setting for the second round of the "Back to the Roots" tour, where former Accept vocalist Udo Dirkschneider paid homage to the legendary music of one of heavy metal's most important bands. Last year, part one of the tour came through New York City at Stage 48. This year, the band sees a new addition in guitarist Bill Hudson (Circle II Circle/Jon Oliva's Pain/T.S.O.) and a modified setlist that reaches deeper into the Accept catalog.
It was a raw, rainy evening in New York - but the dreary setting would soon be replaced with a stellar night of metal from a legend. Adorned on the elevated VIP section of the club was a telling sign: "Dirkschneider returns to U.D.O. - new album coming August 2018." In as much as I adore Accept (the second metal album your author ever bought was "Metal Heart" back in 1985), U.D.O. has amassed a catalog just as vast and features classics just as deep. I hope the groundwork laid by these two phases of "Back to the Roots" will lead the way for North American U.D.O. tours that will feature such classics as: "Lay Down the Law," "Warrior," "Don't Look Back," "Blitz of Lightning," "Metal Eater," "The Punisher," "Raise the Crown," "Thunder in the Tower," "Like A Lion," "The Magic Mirror" and so many more.
The night started with New York's own Metalfier, who incidentally, opened for Accept back on September 26, 2017 in nearby Irving Plaza. The band has been kicking around since 2007, having released two self-released EP's "There's A Devil Inside My Head" (2013) and "Into the Unknown" issued back in May 2017.
The band put on its usual energetic performance packing a pure metallic punch as it plowed through songs like "There's A Devil Inside My Head," "Into the Unknown" and "Heavy Metal Life" along with the oft covered Judas Priest classic "Breakin' the Law." Sounding tight and professional, these New York veterans were the perfect local addition to for the tour stop.
What a great break for Australia's Elm Street to be the main direct support for Dirkschneider. Here is a band that I would have never thought to have the opportunity to see, but they were next. Having been intrigued by the 2011 debut "Barbed Wire Metal," this young speed metal/heavy metal upstart was the perfect warm up for some Accept tunes.
The serrated tone of Ben Batres' voice as the band laid waste to the Gramercy Theater crowd with songs like "Face the Reaper," "Heavy Metal Power," "Heartracer" and "Metal is the Way" (dedicated to Ronnie James Dio and Lemmy Kilmister). Inserted was the cover of Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head," that really revved up the crowd. The band played with passion and might and a lot of new fans were made that night, which I hope continues throughout the tour.
As Arthur Brown's "Fire" blasted through the venue, it was time for Dirkschneider's set. As I scanned over the setlist at guitarist Andrey Smirnov's mic stand, tears started to roll down my face - something appeared out of the mist that I've waited over 30 years to witness - "Aiming High" and "Russian Roulette" (cleverly disguised as 'Wargames'). For decades, Accept ignored the oft shunned the album that truly put Accept into my metal heart, only recently bringing back "T.V. War" and "Monsterman" to live performances (via both Accept and Dirkschneider). However, now - finally some of the album's best tracks are back and that brought the tears ("Stand Tight" would have had your author wailing, if included).
The band came out performing "The Beast Inside," and Udo sang the first verse off stage before entering to the roar of the crowd. Here is a man that is seemingly ageless, kicking the scene with no end in sight just like Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and Biff Byford. At 65 (April 6th will mark his 66th birthday), Dirkschneider may not run around the stage like Dickinson, but he sure sounds brilliant. Screams I haven't heard in years came back for songs like "Fast as a Shark" and "Fight It Back." Having his 24 year old son Sven playing phenomenal drums behind him is so cool. I often closed my eyes (raging headbanging with camera flailing at my side) and pictured Stefan Kaufmann and couldn't tell the difference in style.
With faithful long time writing companion Fitty Weinhold at his side, Dirkschneider presented the newest addition to the band, Mr. Bill Hudson. Hudson brings more youth into the band, seasoned and in the prime of his career. This is a guy who can take a song he never heard before and play it flawlessly almost immediately after his first listen. He is an extraordinary talent that will only benefit U.D.O. with the best guitar team (along side Smirnov) since Mathias Deith and Peter Szigeti.
Churning through the deep part of the catalog, Udo fished out some material that hadn't been played in ages: "Can't Stand the Night," "Aiming High" and "Russian Roulette" to name a few. This coupled with Accept mainstays "London Leatherboys," "Living for Tonite," "Screaming for a Love Bite," "Metal Heart," "Fast as a Shark" and "Balls to the Wall." First night of the tour, the band was at its freshest - sounding tight and incredible. Everything was on point and the crowd ate it up with "Udo" chants and loudly harmonizing the melody lines of "Princess of the Dawn" and "Metal Heart."
It was a crowd I was proud to be a part of. All hail Accept....all hail New York...all hail the man of the evening - Udo Dirkschneider.