The brain child of guitar virtuoso Steve Vai (best known for his work with Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth & his appearance in the Ralph Macchio film Crossroads), Generation Axe is a night of all out guitar shredding insanity. In addition to Vai the five man ensemble is composed of fellow guitar gods Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme, Rihanna), Swedish Neoclassical guitar icon Yngwie Mamlmsteen and up and comer Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders).
Supported by bassist Pete Griffin (Zappa Plays Zappa), keyboardist Nick Marinovich (Yngwie Malmsteen) and drummer Matt Garstka (Animals as Leaders) the five guitarist took the stage backed not only by a wall of Marshall amplifiers, but also a wall of fog that obscured them all. As the fog began to settle the shredding dream team traded fiery licks in a blistering cover of Boston’s instrumental “Foreplay”, before yielding the stage to Abasi and his atmospheric two-handed 8 string guitar work. Concluding his solo set Abasi was joined by Bettencourt for a duet of Animals as Leaders “Physical Education” .
With his own solo turn in the spotlight Bettencourt took the tempo up, going straight into Extreme’s 1991 hit “Get The Funk Out” before wowing those assembled with an impressive acoustic workout of “Midnight Express”, and a slight tease of the mega hit power ballad “More Than Words”. Sticking to the Extreme material Nuno finished his set with a medley of their lesser known guitar driven tracks, before being joined on stage by Wylde for a soulful duet on Citizen Cope’s “Sideways”
Wylde like Bettencourt is not only a monster on the six string, but also a vocalist who’s set was much more song driven. Foregoing his own material, Zakk treated the loyal “Black Label Society – Madison Chapter” to ripping versions of some of his classic rock heroes best, with amped up versions of Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.”, a wah and fuzzed out “Little Wing” from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Allman Brothers classic rock radio staple “Whipping Post”. Each infused with his own hyperbolic fretwork, at times played behind the head and with the teeth. Not content to merely melt faces from the stage Wylde took his signature bullseye patterned “WARHAMMER” to the very back of the hall to play directly in the faces of the enthusiastic fans before yielding the stage to Mamlmsteen.
Yngwie, ever the rock god, strode from stage left bathed in red light and a blanket of fog, his signature black leather pants and chest bearing black silk shirt as much his trade mark as his searing classical licks and scalloped Fender Stratocaster. To the awe of the many aspiring guitarist on hand, he blazed through his six song set, each instrumental piece as much Pagnini as Ritchie Blackmore. Equal parts showman and musician, Malmsteen flung his signature model Strat high in to the air, over his shoulder to a waiting roadie or twirled it around by it’s neck between the blinding sweep picking and one and two-handed fret work. In an almost sacrificial offering he began tearing the strings from the instrument as it protested in roaring howls of feedback, before leaving it to wail atop his almost 7 foot tall Marshall stack.
Vai then joined him on stage to trade licks and laughs on Malmsteen’s “Black Star” from his 1984 Rising Force LP. Steve was all smiles as he finally took his solo turn at center stage delighting the crowd with his blend of jazz, funk, dive bombs and frenetic wah drenched fretboard gymnastics.
As he finished his solo set he was once again joined on stage by his fellow guitarist to bring down the house with Edger Winter’s “Frankenstein” and a soaring 10 minute rendition of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” with Maimsteen adding occasional vocals.
Normally I’m more of a fan of three or four minute rock songs with big choruses and catchy hooks, but the shear talented gathered on the stage Sunday night in Madison was definitely an impressive and worth wild experience to be a part of.