May 17, 2016 Generation Axe Shreds NYCB Theatre At Westbury, NY 5-6-16
Generation Axe, A Night Of Guitars is a unique concert experience. That pretty much sums up the tour of the world’s greatest guitar players, representing different eras in Rock and Metal history which have been brought together to perform shows across the United States. Steve Vai is a solo artist who made a name for himself in the early ’80s with his outstanding guitar work with Frank Zappa, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, Whitesnake, and many, others. Releasing eight solo albums to date, Vai is widely considered one of the best in the world.
With Generation Axe Vai brought together Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society, Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, Yngwie Malmsteen, a celebrated solo artist who has released over twenty albums, and Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders. Rounding out the band was Pete Griffin on bass, Keyboardist Nick Z. Marino, and Drummer J.P. Bouvet. Generation Axe, A Night of Guitars kicked off on April 5th, at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington and ended in Providence, Rhode Island on May 8th. Vai formed Generation Axe in 2016, to answer the musical question, “What happens when five immensely talented guitar players hit the road and share stages across the country ?” On this night, Friday, May 6th, in Westbury, New York, that question would be answered.
As the evening began, five shadowed figures occupied the crescent stage of the NYCB Theatre at Westbury in New York. Adding to the drama, the keyboard intro to Boston’s “Foreplay” rose in volume and, with that, the opening jam of the night saw all five guitarists lined up on stage, shoulder to shoulder as the lights exploded, revealing Generation Axe. Together, they tore into the song, each showing off their individual styles in a glimpse of what was to come. Fans stood and applauded throughout, and as the song reached its crescendo, Vai spoke to all who were gathered and said, “Welcome to Generation Axe, please enjoy Tosin Abasi!” as the four other players left the stage.
The youngest, representing a new generation of guitar god, Tosin Abasi is most well-known for his incredibly technical playing and writing with his band, Animals as Leaders. Citing Steve Vai among his favorite guitarists, Abasi talked about the honor it was to be asked to be a part of this tour, and the fact that he had never played on a round stage before. Abasi quieted the crowd with his smooth effortless playing style, performing songs from his band, including “Tempting Time,” from their self-titled debut, as well as “Air Chrysalis” and “The Woven Web,” from the 2014 album The Joy of Motion. Abasi played his uniquely shaped custom Ibanez 8 string guitar. The crowd watched and listened in silence as Abasi played a style where he structured his chords with his left hand while pressing the strings to the fret board with his right. A two-handed touch technique ala Stanley Jordan, he smiled, bobbing his head as the band kicked in, reaching the heavier part of the song.
Impressed by Abasi, the audience cheered as he disappeared into the dark before returning to the light holding a custom guitar made by Luthier Rick Toone. Named Blur, this guitar, a fascinating combination of nature and technology, was a sight to behold in the hands of its master. Abasi, once again, smiled wide as he brought out Nuno Bettencourt for “Physical Education” as they began to groove to the syncopated song, Abasi jammed on the complex rhythm as Bettencourt played the lead melody. Overall a fantastic young talent, Abasi seemed right at home among these other guitar giants.
A favorite of the ladies, the sight of Bettencourt drew screams and cheers from the crowd. Long straight dark hair, framing his good looks, the Portuguese heartthrob played Extreme’s classic, “Get the Funk Out,” before he approached the microphone and engaged the crowd with a fun monologue. In it he praised Vai and deduced that Vai probably had his first kiss very near the venue, being it is his hometown. Bettencourt went on to ask Abasi, “Where is the one?,” referring to the timing of Abasi’s music claiming to know nothing about that stuff and being a high school dropout. He continued to charm the crowd, telling them how he decided to put together the medley that they were about to hear, something about a kid on YouTube claiming this is a guitar night, “Why would you want to hear a beautiful vocal song with beautiful melodies and meaningful thoughts?”
With that, Bettencourt effortlessly played a medley of riffs and solos beginning with “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” going into “He-Man Woman Hater” and “Do You Want to Play?” before a solo into “Decadence Dance.” Flawless execution and blazing speed were combined with amazing groove as he moved from solo, to riff, to solo. It was then that Zakk Wylde could be seen peeking out from behind the stacks of Marshall amps taking pictures/video of Bettencourt and waving to the crowd before disappearing only to reappear at a different location. Continuing on, Bettencourt put the spotlight on Griffin for a bass solo before turning to Keyboardist Marino for a great solo as both showed why they were chosen for this particular tour. Bettencourt continued with “Rest in Peace” before going right into “Cupid’s Dead,” “It’s a Monster,” and lastly, “Take us Alive” to close out the medley. Inspiring and humble, Bettencourt asked the crowd to, “Give it up for the band,” as he introduced Zakk Wylde, telling them that the only thing bigger than his heart were his biceps.
A nice introduction, Zakk Wylde appeared to a thunderous applause with his signature audio Warhammer guitar over his shoulder. He and Bettencourt traded verses and solos and at times harmonized together to create a heartfelt bluesy cover of Citizen Cope’s “Sideways.” The two guitarists displayed tremendous mutual respect and a genuine enjoyment of each other’s style as they threw leads back and forth. Meanwhile, the crowd watched in amazement, culminating with Bettencourt vocalizing his guitar lead, everyone roared in approval as he left the stage and Wylde asked them to give it up for, what he called, Boston Barbarian.
Keeping the excitement level high, it was then that Wylde moved into Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” Soloing wildly throughout, Wylde strode like a Viking across the stage, occasionally leaving the platform to get closer to the people. Each time inducing a wave of fans to surge forward, cameras and phones in hand snapping pictures and recording video of the giant Rock star before Them. He then rocked into Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” included with Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand,” and ended with the last bit of “Dazed and Confused” while he soloed behind his head and with his teeth, showing the back of his guitar to cheering fans. This was all before deciding to venture further from the stage, taking to the isles and moving deeper into the crowd as spectators surrounded Wylde as he flipped his guitar behind his head once again giving those gathered around a closer look.
After making his way back to the stage, Wylde approached the microphone and introduced the band, and the next song, The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.” Making sure not to leave anyone out, Wylde, once again, moved away from the stage, moving quickly towards the aisles he had not yet visited. This movement caused a quick response by stage hands to grab his cable and flip it over microphone stands and monitors to give him unrestricted movement throughout the theater, almost as if he was wireless.
Returning to the stage, he finished his set strong, beating his chest as Bouvet added his kick drum, before Wylde held his guitar high above his head like a conquering Viking, awash in the applause and screams of the crowd. This led to the showman to introduce the next performer, calling him the greatest Viking that has ever lived, stating, “The greatest Minnesota Viking that ever played, straight from Brooklyn, New York, I give you, the one, the only, Father Yngwie Malmsteen!”
An energized introduction, Malmsteen took the stage with wild energy, shooting guitar picks into the crowd and kicking the air. Starting his set with “Spellbound,” from the 2012 by the same name album, the Swedish shredder lit up the fretboard, throwing picks and kicking them into the waiting crowd. Ending the song, spinning his guitar and tossing it into the air, fans hoped he would throw the guitar into the crowd, but Malmsteen turned to toss his guitar to his guitar tech before turning back to the crowd to salute them for their energy and passion as they cheered wildly.
Strapping on a new guitar, the maestro began “Into Valhalla,” from 2010’s Relentless, as he was engulfed in smoke. A dramatic scene, Malmsteen went to one knee and swept and hammered his guitar with incredible speed and precision. When it was over, he once again tossed his guitar to his tech and faced the microphone to tell everyone how crazy it was that they were all over the place in the round venue. He went on to say, “Yeah, I’m gonna do some new stuff and some old stuff, in June I have a brand new record coming out, but it’s not an LP or a CD, you have to push a little button to get it. But I spent two years on it so it shouldn’t be free right? A very true statement, he turned to the band to signal the beginning of “Overture,” also from Relentless. Showing his love for classical music, Malmsteen gave the crowd an extended version, which drew tremendous praise.
From there he moved into Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Badinerie,” as well as Niccolò Paganini’s “Allegro Maestoso” and “Adagio.” From Classical to Classic Metal, Malmsteen performed “Far Beyond the Sun,” from 1984’s Rising Force. He seemed faster than ever, effortlessly ripping up and down his guitar’s neck, at times flipping his guitar around his back and into playing position. Moving right along, he performed “The Star Spangled Banner” before “Trilogy Suite Op. 5” with a solo that included Malmsteen raking his guitar across monitors, amp heads, creating a unique soundscape. He continued by swinging his guitar in circles and flipping it into the air before finally tossing it backward over his head to his tech to get yet another guitar.
Changing things, with the lights faded to black, Malmsteen emerged with an acoustic guitar for a brief acoustic solo that began “Black Star.” Then, to many’s surprise, Vai leapt onto the stage to join Malmsteen, resulting in everyone rising to their feet to watch as the two legends harmonized together. Circling each other and ending up back to back, the duo locked in, they gave the audience an up close look at their friendly, age old rivalry for guitar supremacy. When it was all over, the audience stood, Malmsteen, walking off stage, pointed to Vai saying, “My brother, Steve Vai!”
With that, Mr. Steve Vai was home. Born in Carle Place, Long Island, he grew up and discovered his love for music only a few miles from the stage on which he now stood. He began his set by welcoming the crowd before going into “Now We Run.” One with his guitar, from the beginning, Vai was mesmerizing, completely filling the stage with his presence. The crowd’s eyes were fixed upon Vai as he acted out each note that he played on his guitar as the music flowing through his body then out into the atmosphere. The high energy opener was followed by “Tender Surrender,” from the 1997 album Alien Love Secrets, a track that slowed the vibe to soulful and bluesy. The virtuoso stopped to take in the crowd before speaking to them with his guitar, and the audience answered back as his guitar spoke with them. Vai’s taste and passion showed, as he finished the song rolling into “Gravity Storm,” a funky track from the 2012 album from The Story of Light which features deep bends and groans surrounded by an up-tempo groove.
When it was over, Vai approached the microphone and said, “It has been a lifetime fantasy and dream of mine to be on this stage, with these guys, and all of you here.” He described being on the road with the others, and said that it could go one of two ways, you either hate each other or you become close like brothers. He described his experience as being the latter, and added, “…but these guys are crazy !” Now holding a mirrored guitar with glowing blue fret markers, he called Abasi out to join him, telling the crowd how much he loves the talented young guitarist for the new dimension stuff that he is doing.
They rolled into “Building the Church,” from 2005’s Real Illusions: Reflections, and once again, Wylde could be seen peeking out from behind a stack of guitar amps to snap a picture, take some video, or just to listen and bear witness. Spellbinding was Vai, moving as if feeling every note in his body. This was all while Abasi was smiling as he grooved the rhythm and watched Vai and his guitar become one being. The crowd, now on their feet, cheered as Vai took it all in. Vai’s performance was almost alien in nature with his guitar an extension of his soul. Truly, Vai was transcendent, and in his performance, created an unforgettable experience.
This led into the final segment where Vai was then joined by Abasi, Bettencourt, and Wylde. The incredible mutual respect was apparent as the guitarists praised one another onstage. Vai asked Wylde what a monster sounds like, prompting Wylde to bend and pull on his strings creating a massive sound. Bettencourt and Vai jumped in and the three played in unison, combining for something truly monstrous. Fittingly, they began Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” taking turns soloing and playing off of each as the axemen seemed as though they had been playing together for ages. At one point Vai stood behind Bettencourt, reached through, and played his guitar. Trading solos the quartet eventually all soloed together, creating an amazing wall of sound.
Adding to the excitement, Bettencourt peeled off to play the timbales during the famous drum duet in the song as he and Bouvet traded drum solos before Bettencourt, flinging his sticks away, and got back to his guitar to finish the song. Finally, Malmsteen completed the picture as he returned to sing the final song. Now a quintet, the band embarked on an incredible jam with Malmsteen at the microphone, closing the show with an epic rendition of the Deep Purple classic “Highway Star.” A flawless conclusion, Malmsteen provided strong vocals and fantastic guitar playing, and at one point both Vai as well as Bettencourt took a knee to watch him work. The audience, always in awe, erupted into cheers as a final thank you for the amazing night of virtuosic music.
An unbelievable journey through time and space with guitar legends, and sure to be future guitar legends, left the packed house at Westbury speechless. The best guitarists in the world showed how talent and passion can create magic when brought together and unleashed upon the world. From Bettencourt’s amazing groove and lightning fast picking, to Wylde’s heavy Blues and incredible tremolo, to Abasi’s amazing technical prowess, Malmsteen’s blinding speed, and Vai’s otherworldly connection to his instrument, it was five very different players creating an experience never before seen. And it absolutely must be seen to be believed.