Generation Axe in Vancouver: 2.5 million notes and no wanking (except for Yngwie)

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By Steve Newton

Went to see the Generation Axe show in Vancouver last night–featuring Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi–and, as expected, there were a lotta notes.

But the term “wanking” didn’t come to mind that often, surprisingly–and usually only when flashmaster Malmsteen was practicing his scales at breakneck speed. Sure, the guy’s talented as fvck, but how can he not bore himself playing the same runs again and again?

Anyway, the performances of the other Gen Axer’s made up for the Swede’s tedious display.

I’d interviewed Joe Satriani earlier in the day–in advance of his show at the Hard Rock Casino on April 24–and told him I was going to see his good buddy Vai and the others that night. He raved about Abasi–the Animal as Leaders eight-string guitarist Satch had played with at last year’s G4 Experience guitar camp–but I didn’t get there in time for his show-opening set. The dinner-hour lure of the Lennox Pub’s scrumptious chicken fingers–breaded with coconut, pecan, and almond!–was too much.

When we arrived, stuffed, second-up Nuno Bettencourt was doing the damage. I’m not as familiar with him as I am with Yngwie, Vai, and Wylde, and really only know him as the guitarist from Extreme, which was famous for that pretty ballad and for providing Van Halen‘s least-popular frontman. But man, can that dude play! Totally inventive and wank-free. The highlight of his set was when he got Wylde and they partnered on a killer version of Citizen Cope’s gorgeous “Sideways”.

That was when I realized Generation Axe wasn’t just gonna be a contest to see who has the fastest fingers and finest tone. It would prove to be a showcase for unforgettable songs.

Wylde wasted little time seconding that emotion himself, tearing into Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.”–which I saw performed by the real deal just last month. Wylde’s version of the Allman Brothers‘ “Whipping Post” wasn’t quite as effective–a tad plodding–but well lit up by his fearsome Flying-V action.

When Malmsteen took the stage with enough dry ice to put Spinal Tap off its game the initial buzz of seeing him in all his Ritchie Blackmore finery–black outfit and white Strat–wore off pretty quick when his liquid leads turned into a stream of soulless speedmongering. During one of his lengthier excursions into Fender flatulence I tweeted a crappy iPhone pic of him and the message “Who invited the wanker?” That got favourited minutes later by local metal maestro Devin Townsend, who was also in the crowd. You know what they say: great minds think kinda the same*.

By the time Vai showed up to thank the crowd and fill their heads with the last 250,000 notes the audience had definitely got its money’s worth. This was only the second date of the Generation Axe tour–which continues until May 9–and Yngwie’s showboating aside, there was little to complain about. Who knows how great it’ll sound once the backing band–comprised of Malmsteen keyboardist Nick Marinovich, bassist Pete Griffin (Zappa Plays Zappa), and Animals as Leaders drummer Matt Garstka–gets a few more gigs under its belt.

Tell ya one thing: there was no better choice of closing-jam selection than Deep Purple‘s “Highway Star”–with a little taste of Trower thrown in.

*actually, great minds don’t always think alike. Townsend has since told me that he is a fan of Yngwie, and only liked my tweet ’cause he thought it was funny. So lay off him, all you Yngwie freaks!

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8 responses to “Generation Axe in Vancouver: 2.5 million notes and no wanking (except for Yngwie)

  1. Pathetic, Steve. I thought you were cooler than this, especially since you recently posted the interview: “Uli Jon Roth calls Yngwie Malmsteen “one of the alltime greats”, but says he’s not impressed by speed” – I think I value Uli’s opinion a lot more than yours! If Uli’s so impressed with Yngwie, but it’s not the speed that impresses him, then just what is it? I’ll tell you, at least in part: Malmsteen’s “wanking” is 100X more classically authentic than any of the others (something he shares in common with Uli!) – funny also that these other guitarists are all in AWE of Yngwie, not the other way around. To hear you tell it, he’d be watching them for clues, but nope, THEY’RE watching HIM, and it’ll always be that way. I remember seeing interviews with Satch & Vai, where they gushed like little schoolgirls over Yng’s ability to always bend perfectly in tune. “Gee, I wish I could do that” was the gist of it. Since you were raving about Tosin – here’s Tosin’s opinion about Yngwie –
    Tosin Abasi:
    “Then I remember hearing Yngwie Malmsteen and being unaware that you could even do that on the guitar, so then I got obsessed with technique and speed and the harmonic minor scale and various things like that [laughs]. That opened the door to all of these other shred guitarists, like Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Greg Howe and Frank Gambale.”
    “Eventually I started focusing on guitar players specifically, guys like Yngwie Malmsteen, Frank Gambale, Greg Howe… so that started to push my playing further.”
    “So that’s all the stuff I was playing (alternative, grunge) until I heard, like, Yngwie Malmsteen. And I was just like, Oh my God, I didn’t even know you could do that on guitar! So that started the obsessive six hour practice sessions and stuff like that.”

    How about Zakk? What’s his take on the “boring wanker”?
    Zakk Wylde:
    “…..Youve got to laugh at the thing (Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’ list), I mean, Joe Satriani isnt in there. Steve Vai isnt in there. Yngwie Malmsteen isnt in that fucking list. Slash isn’t in there. They are some of the sickest guitar players that have ever walked this planet. I mean, I’m a guitar player. Do you know how good fucking Yngwie is? Its beyond fucking sick. The fact that Yngwie isnt in it is just fucking mind-boggling to me. People can say what they want about Yngwie, but its just like naming the 10 greatest singers of all time and not putting Pavarotti in it, you know what I’m saying? Yngwie is a virtuoso…..”
    “You have good guitar players. You have great guitar players. Then you have the ones that CHANGE THE GAME. . . . it’s not just his sheer & utter mastery & command of the instrument that make him amazing. The phrasing, the vibrato, the tone, and his feel & passion, along with the overall musicality that he brings to the table, are what make him so special & unique. . . . while other guitar players play fast and say nothing, Yngwie speaks. If you’ve ever wondered what Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi & Paganini would have been capable of doing if they lived in the 21st Century, look no further…. They All Reside within one Yngwie J. Malmsteen….and They are Smiling”

    Hmmm, old Zakk doesn’t seem to agree with you & the brilliant Devin Townsend – BTW, I saw Devin play once, that was enough. Talk about boring!

    How about the guy many consider the current overall best out there, Guthrie? Let’s see what he’s got to say:
    Guthrie Govan:
    “I can also mention that seeing Yngwie Malmsteen made a real impact on me. He wasn’t this academic looking guy just standing there with his music stand. He was going crazy, running around the place, and throwing his Strat while playing a million notes per second. And when he stopped and played just one note, it sounded like a violin or an opera singer. Yngwie has an incomparable vibrato, which his detractors choose to ignore.”
    “And then Yngwie, who, to me, demonstrates that it is possible to have all these chops and play these outrageous fast things but still sound like you mean it. This may not be a popular viewpoint, but when I listen to Yngwie playing, there’s as much sincerity as there is when B.B. King is playing. He plays every note like it could be his last.”

    Wow – strange description for a boring wanking Swedish showoff! I think maybe the preceding part of the one sentence kinda says it all, Steve: “….WHICH HIS DETRACTORS CHOOSE TO IGNORE”.

    How about even the likes of Scott Henderson?
    Scott Henderson: “I mean, to me the best guy is Yngwie – I mean, Yngwie plays all that harmonic minor bullshit, but he also can play blues. He has some feel in his playing. Yeah, he’s a good guitar player. And so many of the metal guys just miss that, uh, miss that soulfulness, you know they uh, for them it’s not about phrasing
    and tone. It’s just about playing as fast as they can, and I think that’s not really, that’s not what I enjoy listening to. For me, that’s sort of like
    circus guitar…”

    Hmmm – he’s describing the OTHER shredders in similar terms that you’re trying to portray Yng – and differentiating Yng as above them! How can he be so wrong? Doesn’t he read your blog? Wise up, Scott!

    I can go on & on, with quotes from Paul Gilbert, Gus G., Michael Romeo, even FRANK ZAPPA and John McLaughlin! I think what I’ve included should suffice tho – question is, have I wasted my time typing all this? Do you have the balls to print it? We shall see…if not, you know anyway….

  2. You lost me in :
    “I’m not as familiar with him (Nuno) as I am with Yngwie, Vai, and Wylde, and really only know him as the guitarist from Extreme, which was famous for that pretty ballad and for providing Van Halen‘s least-popular frontman.”

    Get educated before you even attempt to
    bring any kind of so called valid judgement / review, of anything guitar related. Pronto.

  3. I totally agree with Mr Newton. Yngwie is a complete jerk & an arrogant narcissist. The guy believes he’s the greatest guitarist ever, and he’ll probably tell ya. Great technique, incredible speed, but thats where it ends. Don’t care for his tone, and don’t care for his showmanship. When has he ever spoken to the masses with a guitar solo? It seems he can’t help himself, he has to try & outdo the world with speed & appregio’s galore. Yea!! You are a really fast player! He will never be a Michael Schenker, Gary Moore, Robin Trower or a number of guys who play from the heart not the head. Speed Kills. But tone, feel & playing melodic (while saying something) are the true virtues of a guitar hero to me. -Marhill

  4. Congrats Steve – you had the balls to print it! Kudos for that!

    Well, many people agree with you & Marhill, and maybe Yng is a jerk. Personally I could care less about a musician’s personality and any defects thereof. There have been many geniuses throughout musical history who were arrogant & narcissistic. The only thing that counts to ME is if they deliver, and if their playing & composing moves ME. Malmsteen’s work does accomplish that in a BIG way, even if the masses are too dull to “get it”. If one reads the quotes I provided in my 1st post, apparently I’m in illustrious company, and Uli, Guthrie, Zakk, Paul & all the others also “get it”. Apparently Uli feels the emotion in Yngwie’s playing and sees a lot more value in it than merely speed & technique, because he says that the speed doesn’t impress him, yet he considers Yngwie one of the few “all-time” greats. Besides the interview with Uli that Steve conducted, here’s a further quote from the Q&A on Uli’s website:

    Uli Jon Roth:
    “My opinion of Yngwie as a player? He is one of the great guitar players of all time – and I wouldn’t put that many into that category. And, yes, we are friends. He actually has a great sense of humour and is quite different in private from his public persona.”

    It sounds like Uli is even saying that maybe Yngwie isn’t such a jerk as he’s painted to be – I met him around ’96 & talked for almost an hour, he was very cool to my friends & I. Not that it should matter…this is music, not a popularity & congeniality contest! As for him “outdoing the world with speed & arpeggios galore”, well that kinda is what he’s known for, and is his claim to fame in the 1st place. If one honestly compares him to other “shredders”, one should see that he does all that while also including far more melodic phrasing, and “shreds” with far more depth & soul than most, if not all of them. Yes, I’ve heard him play fast a lot, but I’ve also heard him bend a note & let it fall slower & more exquisitely than anyone else. I’d say that regardless of the hordes that agree with you guys, Yngwie is & will continue to be the man that holds all these major guitarists in awe & admiration. Someone’s gotta “shred”, it might as well be him! 🙂

  5. Actually, I JUST noticed your addendum about Devin Townsend, Steve – ok, sorry about that, I will lay off him and he was actually good when I saw him! Well, I guess we can add another guitarist who’s an Yngwie fan to the list! 😉

  6. Wow, nice review of your dinner loser, you missed Tosin because of the scrumptious chicken finger’s..you’re a waste of 2 ears. Pathetic music reviewer.

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