with Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi
Hard Rock Live, Orlando, Florida • December 9, 2018
by Michelle Wilson
Amidst 2018’s holiday madness I paused to take in Generation Axe, Steve Vai’s ultimate shredder show. After a successful inaugural run in 2016, the uber-talented supergroup took their thrilling show back on the road and returned to O-town to entertain a packed house of rabid rockers. Joined by Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) and Tosin Abasi (Animals As Leaders), Vai and his four guitar gods certainly gave fans their money’s worth with three and a half hours of jaw-dropping, face-melting axe perfection. Backed by bassist Pete Griffin (Dweezil Zappa, Edgar Winter), keyboardist Nick Marinovich (Yngwie Malmsteen) and drummer JP Bouvet, the non-stop rock-metal cavalcade exploded into action and never slowed down.
After a slight delay due to a late-running meet-and-greet, Vai and company all took the stage. “Good evening, Orlando! Yeah, we heard all about you! You ready for Generation Axe?” Vai asked with a sly smile, as they kicked it off with a cover of “Hocus Pocus” from Focus. It was a mind-blowing jam for sure and quite a thing to behold as these five masters held the crowd spellbound. The super-energized, testosterone-laden show was rife with fist bumping, chest thumping (both courtesy of Wylde) and multiple instrument changes. Each musician offered his own blazing set, with several special jams among the players as well as multiple brave journeys into the crowd. Abasi’s quiet but confident modesty, Bettencourt’s humor, Wylde’s and Malmsteen’s theatrics and Vai’s unique style all meshed brilliantly.
Highlights included a killer cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” from Wylde as well as a searing version of Gary Moore’s “Still Got The Blues” featuring Wylde, Vai and Bettencourt, who all went out into the audience during the song. Wylde owned the crowd and even ventured to the balcony, precariously playing his guitar over the edge and igniting the night even more than before. Wylde also brought a young fan up on stage and placed his guitar on the teen’s neck, a moment the junior rocker likely will never forget.
In other shining moments, Bettencourt tackled Extreme’s “Get The Funk Out” while Malmsteen and Vai slayed “Black Star,” one of Malmsteen’s most popular songs. It’s hard to describe experiencing a performance from Malmsteen. The Swedish-born player is one of the top rated guitarists in the world, and it’s easy to understand why. I was left breathless watching him play as he kicked guitar picks into the crowd and tossed his guitar into the air. His guitar tech definitely needs to be on the ball, that’s for sure.
As if this show wasn’t already spectacular, the encore put it right over the top with all but Malmsteen doing serious justice to Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” and then Malmsteen joining the others on stage to pay homage to Freddie Mercury and Queen with an instrumental “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I have no words to convey how amazing it was. Closing it out with Deep Purple’s “Burn,” the hot, sweaty, exhausted crowd broke into monstrous applause as the ensemble took several well-deserved bows.
Writing about this show hardly does it any justice – it needs to be experienced in the flesh. Even if you “may” not be a fan of this genre or be familiar with some of these guitarists, I guarantee that after attending a live performance you will be sold. The tour is over for now but if it comes through nearby in the future, make a point of going. You will not regret it.
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