How could one better describe five guitar gods standing on the same rock-n-roll stage, each with their respective wood in hand trading licks with one another? The answer, my friends, is the unparalleled show, better known to guitar player and fanatics around the globe as GENERATION AXE.
This impressive affair of the all-star line up of guitar heroes and tour was put together by the guitar godfather Steve Vai. Grammy award winning Vai has a very impressive and colourful resume spanning decades from his early days with Frank Zappa and recording and touring with both David Lee Roth & Whitesnake. We may prattle on and on regarding the guitar pick road to the wonderful land of Vai, but I imagine you get the gist!
Now, let's get into this glamorous affair...
At the onset of the show, I can only describe my feeling as "awestruck", especially if you are a guitar enthusiast or player. When the curtain falls, you soon realise the concert in which you are in attendance is very much an ultra-zealous proceeding. There before you stand 5 legends, Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Tosin Abasi and then the roar of the amplifiers commences.
After the initial shock of guitar riff sensory overload provided by the ensemble of gifted musicians, which undoubtedly inspired this gathering of the masses comprised of mostly guitar players (as later confirmed by Nuno Bettencourt) I was about to be mesmerised by the first featured performer, Tosin Abasi.
Tosin, the eight string guitar slinger from the instrumental progressive metal band Animals as Leaders, wasted no time ripping into a twenty minute jaw-dropping display of guitar mastery. The crowd was intensely locked in, paying close attention to Tosin's unique time signatures and rhythmic/lead style of guitar playing which was nothing short of intensifying. Abasi called out fellow axeman Bettencort to the stage to help him close out his set and in all fairness, you must give Nuno credit for having the courage to go outside of his comfort zone and go toe to toe, or riff to riff, with Abasi. In an odd time signature, Tosin finds his groove and being a true professional, Bettencourt manages to pull off the duet flawlessly.
Nuno Bettencourt had "more than a few words" to share during his set as he engaged the audience with some quick-witted/adhoc humour before unleashing into a handful of classic Extreme medleys. Nuno teased the audience by only playing the first few bars of the 1991 hit single "More Than Words" but not to worry, he didn’t leave his fans disappointed!! With his acoustic guitar in tow, he had a seat on the stage and confidently honed his skills with a myriad of techniques, including legato and staccato style fingering, working them into his acoustic bliss.
Having just warmed up with these classics and an impromptu jam session, it was time to ROCK. Bettencourt "took flight", so to speak, with "Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee" and then got funky with yet another Extreme classic hit "Get the Funk Out". To close his set, Zakk Wylde graced the stage as only Wylde could do, with his magnanimous presence and pleasantly surprised the audience by performing a unique and heart-felt version of Citizen Cope's "Sideways", putting forth just as much effort on the stunning vocal harmonies as the guitar.
When Zakk Wylde takes the stage with his band Black Label Society or when playing with Ozzy Osbourne, the energy in the atmosphere instantly heightens to a whole new level. Zakk's unique style, ferocious pick attack, and signature "woo-woo-woos" (as classified by Ozzy himself), will definitely command your full attention.
Zakk took center stage and the sound of sirens suddenly filled the hall. Fear not, it's time for some Black, better yet, ZAKK Sabbath - and the classic "War Pigs" reverberated off of the walls. There is never a bad seat in the house when you are watching Zakk perform; he literally brings the show directly to YOU. Several times throughout the evening, Wylde stepped down from the stage and into the crowd, carving out his own path while shredding with incomprehensible speed, technique and accuracy. In fact, he was in the crowd performing what seemed to be a never-ending improv solo for the majority of his set. I am not implying that this was a bad thing, on the contrary, I was concerned that his hand was eventually going to cramp up on him! It was nothing short of a phenomenal performance by a consummate professional, in every way!
Wylde had the honour of passing the torch and introducing the hero of the next guitar master class, Mr. Steve Vai who wasted no time diving right into his repertoire of instrumental wizardry from his 1990 studio album, Passion and Warfare. “Passion” is a well-suited word to describe Vai's note for note execution of his classics, including one of his most notable tracks, "For the Love of God". Although his set seemed shorter than the other players, it was a true honour just to be in his presence and to see, hear, and feel every graceful note coming directly from his heart and soul. Vai closed out his set by inviting the neoclassical guitar virtuoso, Mr. Yngwie J. Malmsteen to the stage for one last guitar battle - reminiscent of the epic guitar battle with Ralph Macchio in the classic 1980's movie "Crossroads".
Say what you want about Yngwie Malmsteen, there is little argument to be had on why he was chosen to close out the show. Despite the fact that several decades had passed since the Swede first hit the LA scene with fury back in the early 1980's with bands Steeler and Alcatrazz, you would only realise you were in the present moment by the display of shimmering light, reflected off of every cellular phone in the air. Imagine daydreaming that you were able to travel back in time and wish you could have seen an artist like Yngwie back in his heyday. Let there be little doubt, watching Yngwie perform is like a time warp into the past, when he began to perform classics from his 1984 debut solo release Rising Force to instrumentals like "Trilogy Suite Op: 5" from his 1986 album Trilogy.
I am not going to attempt to dissect and breakdown all of the technical aspects of Yngwie Malmsteen and his playing - yet let this be said, he still enthralls the crowd with his stageshow antics; from throwing his guitar up in the air countless times to placing his guitar on the top of the wall of Marshall amplifiers to create the somewhat hellacious sound we all know as 'feedback'. His stage show is remarkable and timeless.
Generation Axe is an absolute mammoth of a typical "rock concert" - in a span of three hours, remarkable talent graced the stage and regardless if you play the guitar or are just a wide-eyed fan, it is an extraordinary honour to watch these timeless greats display their undisputed individual styles and one-of-a-kind swagger to your eyes and ears. There are no other shows quite like it; and the visions of guitar gods dancing in your head will remain in your memory, long after the house lights are up and the sound has gone…..
By Marisa Dymond
Instagram - @rocknrollarisa
*Special thanks to Steve Karas for this unforgettable experience. Much thanks.