5 Stars: Scorpions - MTV Unplugged in Athens

by Kevin Wierzbicki

At first thought it might seem that the music of Scorpions would not be a good fit for one of MTV's Unplugged sessions. This live show however, recorded in Greece last September and presented here as a CD+DVD package, proves that notion to be spectacularly incorrect.

The 16-track CD features an abridged version of the concert but the DVD holds the entire show, a 25-song set that finds the guys playing the hits, unexpected oldies and five new tunes. It's obvious from opening cut "Sting in the Tail" that the night is going to be special; with mandolin picking, a bit of Cajun-style accordion and a thumping handclap rhythm enhancing acoustic guitar riffing the song takes on an understated Americana groove that still sounds very anthemic when singer Klaus Meine belts out the chorus.

With a half dozen additional sidemen on hand plus Athens-based eight-piece Strings From Heaven, the band has lots of flexibility to do things like add a bluesy harmonica part to "Pictured Life" from the 1976 Virgin Killer album, use all the players to rock out on the deceptively-titled new song "Delicate Dance" and sound (appropriately enough) distinctly Greek on the Taken By Force slow ballad "Born to Touch Your Feelings."

Other standout songs featuring guests are "In Trance" where Meine duets with female vocalist Cathe, the poignant "Wind of Change" featuring A-ha's Morten Harket and a drums interval called "Drum-Athenica" where Scorpions skins man James Kottak duels with guest percussionist Pitti Hecht.

But make no mistake; the guests are nice and put to great use but they're on hand to complement the band, not overwhelm them. There's no rock'n'roll posturing here at all; just pure music and an obvious love of playing as guitarists Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker show their proficiency with acoustic guitars (Schenker even plays sitar on "When You Came Into My Life"), Kottak and bass man Pawel Maciwoda keep a playful beat and Meine lets loose with his patented Teutonic wail.

"Rock You Like a Hurricane" comes 16-songs in and the crowd maybe thought the show was about to wrap up at this point but the big finale of "Blackout," "Still Loving You," "Big City Nights," "Wind of Change" and "No One Like You" performed back-to-back was still a few songs away. "When the Smoke is Going Down" closes the show.

Scorpions have released a lot of live efforts but none until now has been bombast-free. Yet the words "stripped down" don't apply to MTV Unplugged in Athens; there is far more here than you would get had the same set been played through a stack of Marshalls.

5 Stars: Scorpions - MTV Unplugged in Athens

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