The Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA
One of the most beautiful venues for any performance in Seattle, The Paramount Theatre couldn’t have been a more perfect setting for the first date of the Generation Axe north American tour.
The brainchild of world-renowned guitar god Steve Vai, Generation Axe has been dubbed “A Night of Guitars.” This shred-tastic evening features the incredible line up of Tosin Abasi, Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen and Vai himself. I had the pleasure of interviewing Vai last week to get an idea of what was in store. It still couldn’t have prepared me for the incredible night of jaw dropping amazement we were to witness.
The lights dimmed across the Marshall-stacked stage, dry ice wisping across, encompassing everything, as the five silhouettes walked in and took their respective places. All five guitarists traded lick after tasty lick back and forth in the opener, called “Foreplay.” It was a graceful passing of the baton in a guitar marathon relay race. Each of the guitarists throughout the night were backed by one band, consisting of Pete Griffin (Zappa Plays Zappa) on bass, Nick Marinovich (Yngwie Malmsteen) on keyboards, and Matt Garstka (Animals As Leaders) on drums.
As the introduction winds down, Vai takes to the mic and introduces Tosin, who takes over. Tosin Abasi is the mastermind behind instrumental progressive metal juggernauts Animals As Leaders. He is one of a new generation of shredders that if you are unfamiliar with, should definitely listen to and watch. His fretboard dexterity is something to behold. As Tosin is finishing up he brings out Bettencourt to accompany him on “Physical Education.”
Nuno Bettencourt is the guitarist of late 80’s rock band Extreme. He might be best known for the MTV hit “More Than Words” but most people familiar with Extreme know him for his guitar work. He displays his incredible fretwork while taking us through a variety of songs. Starting out with “Get The Funk Out,” Bettencourt showcases his vocal talent as well.
One of the funniest moments comes when Bettencourt tells us that “The promotor wasn’t sure how he could pay all the egos on stage, and then they agreed on paying them by the note. What a mistake that was going to be.” In what seems to be the format of the evening, Bettencourt introduces the next guitarist, “We grew up and went to high school together, well actually we didn’t. The only thing bigger than his biceps is his heart.” Out comes Wylde and they break into a cover of Citizen Cope’s “Sideways,” trading vocal duties along with dexterous duties.
From his days with Ozzy Osbourne to fronting his own band, Black Label Society, Zakk Wylde is a well-known name in the rock/metal scene. He breaks into the Black Sabbath classic “N.I.B” and just blows everyone away. At one point he decides to be one with the people, and simply walks off stage left and into the aisle, playing to those folks close enough to witness. He walks back through the front of the stage VIP section – his tech frantically keeping him plugged in – to go to the other side and play to stage right. The final song of his set is “Little Wing,” when Malmsteen comes out to join Zakk.
Yngwie Malmsteen needs no introduction. He has always carved his own path in the guitar world and turned everyone’s ears to his innovation with his lightning fingers and classical musical renditions. The consummate showman, he is a sight to behold, at several points tossing his guitar in the air and to his guitar tech. At one point he is pointing to his mic stand as it is out of guitar picks. I guess Malmsteen’s guitar tech couldn’t keep up supply with the amount of picks he tossed out to the crowd.
Malmsteen slows things down a little, playing “Black Star” acoustically before switching back to his trademark Fender Stratocaster and being joined by Vai. Trading arpeggios and single note sustains, there is a moment they both hold up imaginary watches while smiling at the time they were holding that same note. The night was already full of the most incredible playing imaginable. Four infamous guitarists and now the master comes to school them all. There are guitar players and then there is Steve Vai.
Simply put, we are all here because of his master plan, and I’m convinced Vai is an alien. The way he plays, the way he moves, the sheer emotion, the sounds he creates, and ability coming through his fingertips onto the fretboard… well it’s inspiring to me. It just makes you realize that as good as you think you are, you aren’t. Put your guitar away, and in your best Wayne’s World voice bow and repeat: “We’re not worthy!”
There are no words to properly describe Vai live. He is the Master, the consummate guitarists’ guitarist. Capable of playing anything and everything, he is the highlight for all tonight in an evening already chock full of stars.
The crowd has been on their feet since the minute Vai took the stage, cell phones raised everywhere, waiting to forever capture the experience. Every moment of the entire performance is a musician’s and music lover’s dream. To see the best of the best without the ego, sharing one stage, has made this a night to remember. Vai thanks everyone for coming out and brings all the guitarists out to cover “Frankenstein” and rolling into “Highway Star” with Malmsteen on vocals.
For the first show of this 24-date Generation Axe tour, the few sound and technical issues are simply overshadowed by the virtuosity of the guitarists. Not to forget the backing band who flawlessly played music from each artist’s catalogue. Hugs and smile from the stage as everyone took a well-deserved final bow.
Don’t miss out on a “notegasm-worthy” night of greatness. Find your tickets here.
Generation Axe Set List
Physical Education (with father Nuno)
Get The Funk Out
Sideways (with father Zakk)
Little Wing (with father Yngwie)
Black Star (with father Steve)
Now We Run
Building The Church
Highway Star (Yngwie on Vocals, all 5 guitarists)
Review and photos by Neil Lim Sang