Generation Axe

Generation Axe at The Wiltern. Words and photos by Steve Rose

Five, Fleet-fingered Fretboard Wizards Showcase Their Virtuosity as the Generation Axe Tour Wraps in LA

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

Generation Axe at The Wiltern. Words and photos by Steve Rose

Steve Vai’s brainchild, the Generation Axe tour, brings a great group of celebrated guitarists together for a night of unparalleled musicianship. This group of consists of Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi. The format for the evening was all five guitarists played Focus’ Hocus Pocus, to kick things off and then each did a solo set for about 20 minutes before having the next in line join them for a song before the next set.

Tosin Abasi kicked things off with his signature, non-traditional time signatures and rhythmic style of guitar playing. Playing his custom designed eight string guitars, Abasi slapped, tapped, and corralled notes all over his extremely wide fretboard with seemingly effortless ability. It speaks to the dedication to his craft to be able to pull off these complex poly-rhythms so easily. Highlights from the set were CAFO and Physical Education with Nuno Bettencourt.

Next up was Nuno Bettencourt and he took the momentum and energy that Tosin had built and brought it to another level. Working each side the stage while notes seemed to fly off his fingers, he did a great job getting the crowd into the show and keeping their interest at a peak level. He performed a medley of Extreme songs and closed with a great duet with Zakk Wylde of the song Sideways, but the highlight for me was when the acoustic guitar came out and he played Midnight Express. The speed and technical accuracy needed to perform that song on acoustic guitar was highly impressive.

Zakk Wylde took the stage and from the opening notes to Pantera’s I’m Broken the crowd was his and their attention was unyielding. During most of his set, he would meander through the crowd and often play with the guitar behind his head. The crowd all had their cell phones out recording this guitar hero while their jaws were firmly planted to the ground. He even went upstairs to the balcony and played the solo to Black Sabbath’s War Pigs while his guitar was dangling over the balcony. Though each musician put on a phenomenal performance, Zakk’s set was my favorite of the night. His last song was Gary Moore’s Still Got The Blues and was joined initially by Nuno and later Steve Vai appeared in the back of the theater and joined the two on the song’s final solo.

The highlight of any Steve Vai performance is when he plays For the Love of God and this night was no exception. This song has become a fan favorite ever since it was released over thirty years ago on Passion & Warfare. Vai’s playing is so fluid it makes many feel like they can just pick up a guitar and mimic the master, but as many have found, not just anyone can replicate or even come close to this guitar hero’s amazing talent. Whether he’s wielding his familiar white Ibanez Jem or the eye-catching mirrored one with light up LED inlays, Vai is a showman through and through; connecting with those in the front, while tossing out picks just after completing an unbelievable solo.

The closer for the evening was the incomparable Yngwie Malmsteen. This Swedish guitar wiz has been highly regarded as one of the best guitar players ever since he arrived on the scene in the early eighties with his style of neoclassical metal. His sweep picking style affords him the ability to play many notes with unbelievable technical precision. Armed with seventies Strat and a wall of Marshalls, Malmsteen blazed through some great songs including Baroque & Roll, Far Beyond the Sun, and Black Star with Steve Vai. The fog machines were constant during his set. Wearing leather pants and a frilly shirt like a mythical guitar pirate, Malmsteen would emerge from the haze, play a flurry of notes, kick his pick at an audience member, and disappear back into the smoke.

The audience was treated one last time with all five musicians on stage trading solos and five part guitar harmonies on Frankenstein, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Deep Purple’s Burn. This “night of a million notes” was a fantastic evening for those who not only appreciate the guitar or these fine musicians, but also music and the ability to create such complicated and dazzling songs. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another two years for this great tour to come back to Los Angeles.