UFO sighting in Sayreville, New Jersey!
by Dave Iozzia Photos by Phil Laskowski

I'm just a rock and roller, and I attended schools of higher education, the school of the streets, and the school of hard knocks. I don't know what to believe about alien sightings and abductions, flying saucers, crop circles, the Jersey devil, or the Loch Ness Monster. But I did see a U.F.O. land in the parking lot of Sayreville, New Jersey's Starland Ballroom. A shiny, cylindrical object closely resembling a tour bus rolled into that parking lot mid-afternoon. By nightfall, the humanoids inside the vehicle took the stage and performed with musical instruments to the delight of the hundreds of people there for the spectacle.

Before any ghost chasers, paranormal experts, X Files enthusiasts, or top-secret U.S. military departments and their agents get the wrong idea and flock to New Jersey, I'd better come clean and tell the real story. It was the British hard rock band UFO that landed at Starland Ballroom for a triumphant return to that concert venue.

Touring North America once again, Phil Mogg and his band ripped through a couple of songs from their latest record, "The Monkey Puzzle" and most of their classic material, including "Doctor, Doctor," "Rock Bottom," and "Only You Can Rock Me." My two favorite UFO cuts stood out as the best songs of the concert: "Mother Mary" and "Too Hot to Handle." If you don't believe me, too bad. It's my website and my story about the band after all. LOL.

UFO's current touring lineup joining vocalist Phil Mogg includes guitarists Vinnie Moore and Paul Raymond, drummer Andy Parker, and bass guitarist Rob DeLuca. Vinnie Moore, an American shredder, has been with the band since its 2004 record "You Are Here." Vinnie's performance with UFO never disappoints, despite the fact that the band gives him very little space to solo or improvise. His partner in the rhythm section Rob DeLuca, who plays in Spread Eagle and with Sebastian Bach's band, is aboard for the 2008 North American tour. Once again, the band's original bass guitarist Pete Way had visa problems and could not tour in the United States. Drummer Andy Parker is a UFO founding member, yet he's been on hiatus for a few years. Andy's back in the fold after drummer Jason Bonham kept his seat warm on a few previous tours on this side of the pond. It was a thrill to see Andy back where he belongs, powering the band through one classic song to another. Paul Raymond, a band member since 1976, plays second guitar and all of the keyboard parts. What could any journalist say about lead vocalist Phil Mogg? He just turned 60, he looks 30, and sounds just like he did when the band started. Phil's a great singer and frontman, with a very personable side that kept the audience entertained throughout the night as he poked fun at a few minor wardrobe malfunctions.

UFO has influenced so many bands and musicians yet they remain under-rated and they're often overlooked. They've been called a transitional band who kept the fire burning between the time of early hard rock metal and the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal." I've often felt that the band's many lineup changes and internal bickering held back the band and kept them from reaching the superstar status that many a lesser band achieved. After the Sayreville show, I welcomed Andy back to the band and back to the United States. He replied that "I actually live in Texas close to Fort Worth. I've been back with UFO since November 2005 and I'm loving it. I was welcomed back into the band by UFO fans with open arms. It's been a long time since I toured here in America. The last time was in 1982." Regarding UFO's lack of commercial success, Andy stated that "we never made the transition into being really commercial and I'm glad we didn't. We would have had to sell out to accomplish that. UFO has always stayed true to ourselves, and we write and play from the heart. We never thought about trying to write hit songs."

UFO and the American rock band Tesla have shared the stage on more than one occasion. I mentioned that Tesla covering "Rock Bottom" on their latest CD "Real to Reel" was a testament to UFO's influence on countless bands. Andy agreed and added that "It's amazing to hear the stories about how we influenced people. I recently heard one where back in the day, Pete Way smashed a bass guitar up onstage. A very young Nikki Sixx, long before Motley Crue, fought with guys for a piece of that guitar and it's up on his wall to this day."

The last two tours that I saw UFO play in the United States had Jason Bonham drumming and Barry Sparks on bass guitar. They were an incredible rhythm section, but it was great watching Andy again behind the drum kit. I asked him about the circumstances that led to his return, and I mentioned my thoughts on how the constant lineup changes may have hampered UFO. According to Andy, "The reasons I'm not with the band don't exist anymore but to be honest, I wasn't thinking about rejoining. When Paul Raymond phoned to say Jason Bonham was leaving to play with Foreigner full-time, everything fell into place. With Vinnie Moore playing lead guitar, there's a different vibe and stability. The tension left once Michael Schenker left. Don't get me wrong, I love Michael and I respect him as a musician. It's very sad that Pete Way couldn't join us for this tour. I love him to death, and I miss him but he has problems of his own. Fortunately we found Rob, who stepped right in totally prepared since we only had two days to rehearse. But I can't enjoy touring without stability or if I'm constantly distracted by the fear of what will happen next. The lineup is very happy up on stage, and I think the audience can tell. I think the only lineup change that worked against us was when Michael Schenker left the band. We were coming off the back of three very successful albums. But you can't look back. You have to move forward and get on with it."

UFO's setlist changed quite a bit since the last two North American tours that I attended. Like any veteran band, balancing the setlist is always a challenge. Andy agreed, stating "it's very difficult for a band with an extensive back catalog like UFO. You can't please everybody. We added 'Long Gone' back into the set because people always ask for songs from the Paul Chapman era. We always read the feedback received from our fans at the band's website. We also added 'Ain't No Baby' from 'Obsession,' 'Push to the Limit' from 'Walk on Water' and 'Heavenly Body' and one other from our latest record 'The Monkey Puzzle,' which we had to represent."

Starland Ballroom is always a great venue to see a concert, and it was Andy's first appearance there. Before he started packing up his gear, I jokingly mentioned that many unidentified flying objects have often been spotted by military bases. Andy and his UFO bandmates were playing a mile from Old Bridge, New Jersey, where the U.S government had a NIKE missile base between 1955 and 1968. Andy was intrigued and mentioned that "my wife and I are avid believers in UFOs. I've never actually touched one, I may have seen one, but you'd have to be pretty stupid to not believe there's something else out there. Look at our crazy planet. Let's be honest, how can we be the smartest ones in the universe? There are more stars out there in the sky than grains of sand on all of our beaches. How can we be the only spot with intelligent life? I hope that they are friendly when they come to visit because if they're not, we are in trouble."

As we walked together toward the tour bus, I wished Andy and the band good luck for the rest of the tour and asked what was next for UFO. He said that "2009 is our 40th anniversary, and we're talking about doing something special tour-wise to take advantage. We need to write and record another album. It's not feasible to do a new record every year but we have to follow-up on 2006's 'The Monkey Puzzle,' my favorite UFO record other than 'Strangers in the Night.' I've always felt UFO was a better live act than a studio act. The old days were fun, but there was a lot of stress trying to come up with a new album every year and with constant touring. These days, there's a lot less pressure, and being in the band is much more fun."

I'm glad to hear that UFO is having fun because the fans attending the New Jersey concert certainly had a great time. UFO is still a musical force to be reckoned with. Seeing is believing. Be sure to check them out the next time UFO is spotted in a town near you.

Vinnie Moore.

Paul Raymond.

Phil Mogg and Vinnie Moore.

Andy Parker.