By Joel Barrios, Rock At Night Miami
Venue: Hard Rock Live-Orlando, Florida–April 21, 2016
The Generation Axe tour pulled into Orlando, Florida for a show at the Hard Rock Live on Thursday, April 21, 2016. Put together by headliner Steve Vai and backed by a rhythm section that packs a punch – Animals as Leaders drummer Matt Garstka, bassist Pete Griffin of Dweezil Zappa, Stanley Clarke, and Edgar Winter fame, and keyboardist Nick Marinovich of Yngwie Malmsteen’s band; the other stars on the tour are the neoclassical metal legend of the 80s Yngwie Malmsteen, the stomping, heavy, and reckleess ex-Ozzy axe-slinger and Black Label Society’s leader Zakk Wylde, the super talented Nuno Bettencourt lead guitarist of Extreme, and the progressive-technical-metal hero Tosin Abasi of instrumental act Animals as Leaders. “The Generation Axe show is a unique performance of five fiercely talented guitar players coming together to create a 6-string extravaganza that is sure to amaze and delight” commented Steve Vai in a press release when the whole tour was announced.
For the show, each of the players was given their own 3-4 song set, along with a “baton handoff” piece wherein they were joined by the next guitarist in line. At the beginning the five of them took the stage to share and trade solos through the intro cover of Boston’s “Foreplay” (the instrumental the precedes “Long Time” on the band’s debut album) with each one showing trademark skills and engaging in a fun way which pretty much reminded me of the revolutionary Joe Satriani’s G3 concept started around 20 years ago. There were absolutely zero breaks between the performances, and no walk-off for the encore, making the full show an event of controlled six-string chaos.
Each single player proved to be a true force of nature (not that anyone attending the show needed that to be ascertain), but the best moments of the night came from the occasional collaborations. Tosin Abasi was the first to take the stage, and throughout his set he churned out a myriad of beautifully complex “math-rock” melodies from the Animals as Leaders catalogue, frequently using his particular two-hands tapping style, despite the fact the audience did not look excessively animated. When his shredding threatened to soar beyond most listener’s ears he invited Nuno Bettencourt to stage and they together offered a very different version of Animals as Leaders’ “Physical Education”. Bettencourt brought the wild, manic energy to the stage that had been missing from Abasi’s set and also brought another element that made his set special: humor. He looked like he was having an authentic great time, constantly joking while seamlessly ripping through a fearsome set of Extreme songs, adding his own long, wild solos to each one, and ending with a frightening full speed version of “Flight of the Bumblebee”.
Zakk Wylde made his appearance on stage to join Nuno during a rendition of Citizen Cope’s ballad “Sideways”, featuring dueling vocals and solos alike. Right after Zakk attacked the all-time classic Sabbath’s tune “N.I.B.”, commencing a deadly set of his familiar style of hard rock and metal, mixed soul and searing hard rock licks. Sadly his solos became boring and excessively long (some of them hitting the 10 minutes mark), a pure exercise of soulless speed and fast picking, becoming less and less interesting to the point part of the audience started checking on their phones instead of looking at stage. At some point he climbed over the side house speakers and descended from the stage, wandering down the aisles and into the crowd, shredding away in an endless and frantic solo which failed completely to impress in my humble opinion. By the end of his presentation he provided a brief introduction for Malmsteen, who after a little delay marched onto the stage surrounded by a stormy red lights and massive waves of fog.
I am a big fan of Yngwie’s first three records, I love them. In terms of tone, technique and vibrato there weren’t many players at the time he started who could get near him, and he wrote some beautiful songs like “Icarus Dream Suite”. But times have changed and we are no longer living in the 80s. I respect the fact he wants to stay true to his nature, but his music have become overly repetitive, emotionless and completely boring through the years, and his playing has now become just about how many notes he can fit in a millisecond. He still has a great stage presence which he sprinkled with acrobatics, slinging his guitars in the air along with so many picks, that the guitar tech could barely keep him supplied throughout. Eventually, the acoustic guitar came out, and he performed “Black Star” and wrapped it all up with “Far Beyond the Sun”, during which he was joined by Steve Vai.
By the time Master Steve Vai took the stage the whole vibration in the crowd had reached a crescendo level, the cheers and applauses were deafening. Vai is a complete show on his own, radically different than any of his previous partners in crime, the stage is his element and his guitar the tool he uses to move around and unleash his unhuman brilliance, he uses every note on the guitar to express his inner personality through the instrument. Watching his fingers danced nimbly along the fretboard was like watching a magician perform his final trick, but Steve was doing his final trick throughout the complete duration of his set. Fans hung on every tapped note, every nuance that make “Gravity Storm”, “Tender Surrender” and “Building the Church” such killer instrumentals. Tosin Abasi joined him for the latter tune, in another unexpected collaboration, and the Generation Axe’s mastermind was absolutely no spotlight hog, nodding his younger partner to take the front of the stage few times during the song.
After nearly three hours, the biggest spectacle of the evening was ready for its grand finale, and Vai and Abasi were joined onstage by Wylde and Bettencourt for a scorching rendition of Edgar Winters “Frankenstein”, wrapped in a completely maniac and mind-blowing war of guitar solos. Then they were joined by Malmsteen handling vocal duties for a performance of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” (you can see a video I taped at the end of this article).
Unfortunately one unforgivable thing went bad: the sound. Over the course of the night, the guitars got steadily louder, to the point where by halfway through Ygnwie Malmsteen‘s set, the buzz from the gain was drowning out many of the actual notes being played. There were moments were the guitars drowned out the backing band limiting the backbone music to a muffled sound, and the overall sound quality was abysmal.
Overall an enjoyable experience which could have been quite more amusing if the show focused more in collaborations between the protagonist and less in the solo material which at least four of them constantly display in their individual forays.
Tosin–Tempting Time, Air Chrysalis Woven Web
Nuno–Get the Funk Out, Midnight Express, Extreme medley, Sideways (with Zakk)
Zakk–N.I.B., Whipping Post, Little Wing (with Yngwie)
Yngwie–Spellbound, Throw Guitar, Valhalla, Overture, For Beyond, Trilogy (short),
Echo…acoustic, Black Star (with Steve)
Steve–Now We Run, Tender Surrender, Gravity Storm, Building the Church/Low Flow
Frankenstein, Highway Star
His shots have graced many Rock at Night articles, as part of his press and photo coverage for music events throughout the US and big music festivals like Cruise to the Edge 2015, RosFest 2016, Morsefest 2016 and Progpower 2016 to name a few. His work has been also featured in the prestigious UK magazine Prog.