GIG REVIEW: The Generation Axe Tour Live at Massey Hall, Toronto
Steve Vai was really on to something when he decided to put together the Generation Axe Tour. Five legendary guitar players, with five different musical styles, uniting an array of fans under one roof to witness the magic unfold. Along with Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi, Vai mystified the crowd at Massey Hall in Toronto this past Wednesday, all five guitarists coming out at once to open the show with a bang. Plus, with a band comprised of Pete Griffin on bass, Nick Marinovich on keys, and drummer JP Bouvet, you really can’t go wrong.
As the cheers died down, Tosin Abasi was left alone to shine. Originally, Animals As Leaders bandmate Matt Garstka had been the Gen Axe drummer, but due to recent injury, had to be replaced by Bouvet. As a fan of Garstka, I was very disappointed to hear the news, but Bouvet quickly proved that he deserved to be up there just as much. Abasi performed a short set of Animals As Leaders songs, most of which were from their 2014 album, ‘The Joy Of Motion’. During one of my favourites, “The Woven Web”, bassist Griffin let loose as both he and Abasi slapped their way through the groove. His final song was “Physical Education”, which Nuno Bettencourt came out to be a part of. He made the sign of the cross before starting, as Abasi thanked him for learning the main part so well. It was a great collaboration to see, and I didn’t want it to end.
Then, it was Bettencourt’s turn in the spotlight. He began by asking the crowd if anyone knew where the downbeat was during his performance with Abasi, joking that no one would be lost in his 4/4 songs. He then launched into a whole set of covers of his band in the late 80s, Extreme. He showcased not only his guitar skills, but his vocal talents on “Get the Funk Out”, and then switched over to his semi acoustic. He brought the energy down, starting to play his hit, “More Than Words”, but as the cheers ceased, he stopped, waved his finger and said “not tonight”. After an astounding performance of “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”, he started talking about a “kid on YouTube” who had put together an amalgamation of riffs and solos, saying he loved the idea so that was what he was going to do, not wanting to bore the audience with “meaningful lyrics and beautiful melodies”. Following his Extreme medley, he called Zakk Wylde out to help him perform Citizen Cope’s “Sideways”, which they sang very well together.
As Bettencourt left the stage, the crowd went crazy for Zakk Wylde, Black Label Society shirts and jean vests everywhere I looked. He instantly broke into Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.”, which, like everything he plays, turned into a shred fest. I’m pretty sure he does it in his sleep. Aside from that, he had fantastic pitch whenever he stopped shredding long enough to sing. At one point during his set, he jumped down into the aisles and soloed in the middle of his wild-eyed fans. As the pattern would suggest, I expected Wylde to call out Yngwie Malmsteen to join him for his final song, but for whatever reason, that was not the case. Perhaps it would’ve been an overload of notes. In any case, tumultuous applause ensued as he left the stage, and Malmsteen entered the picture.
I’ll get it out of the way and say that Yngwie J. Malmsteen does not change one bit, no matter how much time passes. The hair, the glamorous pirate outfit, the attitude… it’s all so Yngwie. The other members of the Generation Axe lineup had mentioned how much he changed the way they approach playing guitar, and he’s certainly not shy about flaunting it. He definitely had the best stage show of that night (or any night), throwing his identical Fenders around making his poor roadie run out to catch them. Not to mention how often he kicks picks into the crowd, and the moment when he ripped the strings right off of one of his guitars. I have to admit, though, I do really enjoy his classical style, especially on something like “Into Valhalla”. The keyboards and background tracks make his ridiculously fast solos even more epic, and the cello-like effect that he often has on his guitar alone would make me a fan. His use of his more Spanish sounding Ovation Viper was beautiful, and I could’ve just listened to that all night.
Toward the end of Malmsteen’s set, he brought out the legendary Steve Vai to do an insane duet of “Black Star”. Once he was alone on stage, he immediately declared his love for the gorgeous Massey Hall, saying that it really is his favourite place to play. That lead into stories of living on the road with the lineup he put together for this tour, and how it really brought them all closer. He played “Now We Run”, and “Gravity Storm”, all the while spasming throughout his impressive solos. For his last song, “Building the Church”, he brought Abasi out for backup, then proceeded to welcome some of the others back on stage.
Bettencourt came out with a bottle of red wine, and when he offered Vai a swig, Vai replied with, “you don’t want to see a drunk Steve Vai”. Hilarity really ensued as he called Zakk Wylde back; Vai started talking about all of the “big things” about Wylde, starting with his arms, his hair, his beard… it was clearly a prepared speech that happens every night, as he said “but the biggest thing about this man is his -”, Bettencourt cutting him off, waving his finger. Just as you thought he was going to say “heart”, he yelled, “cock!”, and the entire band roared with laughter. Vai shrugged and said, “I’m tired of saying the same joke every time!” Then everyone (minus Yngwie) performed “Frankenstein” by The Edgar Winter Group.
The final song of the night included all five legends: Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”, featuring Yngwie on vocals, and many, many guitar solos. It was interesting to see Abasi slap some of the riffs that the others played straight, like the backbone of the lineup. They all appeared to be having the time of their lives, and the audience certainly seemed to do the same. It was a magical evening that I highly recommend for anyone to witness if you can get to one of the final dates of The Generation Axe tour.