w/Tosin Abasi, Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai
The Bomb Factory
April 17, 2016
Words by A. Lee Graham
Foreplay (Boston cover) | Tosin Abasi set: Tempting Time | Air Chrysalis | Woven Web | Physical Education | Nuno Bettencourt set: Get The Funk Out | Midnight Express | Extreme medley | Sideways | Zakk Wylde set: N.I.B. | Little Wing | Whipping Post | Yngwie Malmsteen set: Spellbound | Valhalla | Overture | Far Beyond The Sun | Black Star | Steve Vai set: Now We Run | Tender Surrender | Gravity Storm | Building The Church | Frankenstein (Edgar Winter cover) | Highway Star (Deep Purple cover)
What’s got four heads and five necks?
The six- and eight-string shredders behind Generation Axe, a guitar celebration touring the nation, dropping jaws and sending players aplenty to the practice room.
Why four heads, you ask? Because Tosin Abasi prefers headless guitars, instruments light on the headstock but low on the bottom end. Representing the new guard of guitar heroism, the Animals as Leaders virtuoso kicks off nightly Gen Axe performances rounded out by Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai.
The quintet swaps chops, performs solo sets and improvises in multiple lineups, always leaving the audience guessing what might come next.
What came first on a rainy Dallas evening were all five guitarists, rounded out by Animals as Leaders drummer Matt Garstka, Zappa Plays Zappa bass guitarist Pete Griffin and Yngwie Malmsteen keyboardist Nick Marinovich.
House lights dimmed, the musicians took the stage, and what flew from their fingers but Boston’s “Foreplay,” the instrumental the precedes “Long Time” on the band’s debut album. Grand yet accessible, the composition set the stage for things to come.
Up next was Abasi, a new name to many but familiar to fretboard fans worldwide. His two-hand tapping style mirrors that of Stanley Jordan more than Eddie Van Halen, but it’s Abasi’s orchestrations, rib-rattling chunk and explorations of “math rock” that stand out. Just when his otherworldly shredding threatened to soar beyond most listeners’ ears, Abasi welcomed Bettencourt onstage for a fresh rendition of Animals as Leaders’ “Physical Education.”
Shaking his head admiringly at Abasi’s rhythmic complexity — one worlds away from Bettencourt’s funky hard rock — Nuno said, “Just show me the one!”
Bettencourt seamlessly shifted into his own set, highlighted by “Get The Funk Out” and an Extreme medley, with “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” showcasing some frightening speed.
Whether shredding or singing, Bettencourt captured another element that made the evening special: humor. Commenting on the tour and its improbably personalities, he said, “The promoter wasn’t sure how he could pay all the egos on stage, but agreed to pay ‘em by the note. What a mistake that was going to be!”
Also no stranger to humor was Zakk Wylde, prowling the stage like a biker caveman. Whether making Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” his own or showing a gentler side with Jimi Hendrix “Little Wing,” the former Ozzy sideman and Black Label Society main man mixed soul and searing hard rock licks into the evening.
Then things got cooking, at least for this writer, for Malmsteen and Vai teamed up to showcase their considerable talent — and even more considerable note supply.
What could have devolved into a soulless exercise in speed was anything but when the Swedish virtuoso and one-time Zappa “stunt guitarist” tore into “Black Star,” among the standout tracks from Malmsteen’s debut album.
The duo could not stop smiling while harmonizing and trading licks. At one point, they held the same note seemingly forever, Yngwie looking at his watch and laughing. Dunno who was having more fun: the musicians or the audience!
When it came time for Vai’s solo set, the Gen Axe mastermind did not disappoint. Fans hung on every tapped note, every nuance that make “Gravity Storm,” “Tender Surrender” and “Building the Church” such killer instrumentals. Abasi joined in for the latter tune, yet another collaboration that made for an evening free of ego and full of fun.
Rounding out the night were scorching renditions of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” and Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” with none other than Malmstseen on lead vocals (he is a Ritchie Blackmore disciple, after all).
Dallas was fortunate to host these virtuosos in more ways than one. As Bettencourt told the crowd, the band – and its equipment – narrowly escaped injury in a tour bus accident. And a Houston date planned for the following night was canceled due to flooding concerns.
So yours truly won’t quibble about a missed opportunity – Malmsteen and Vai performing an Alcatrazz tribute set (both guitarists once played for the '80s experimental metal act). I know, I know: I’m dreaming. But that’s another Malmsteen song…