Generation Axe, a Guitar Shredder’s Paradise

in SF Concert Reviews by

The 32-string music sensation known as Generation Axe made its way to the Fox Theater last night and schooled everyone on how to properly play an electric guitar. The band comprised of Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi, came out one by one and performed what could only be described as a guitar-filled opus, by some of the best guitar players in the world.

Nuno Bettencourt joked early on in the performance, “they’re paying us to play as many notes as possible.” Well, the bills must’ve gotten paid that night as each virtuoso took the stage individually and showed the world why they truly are legends, one electrifying lick at a time. And while the show did feel at times like an Epiphone-sponsored Guitar Center clinic, the sheer talent present in the house turned it into so much more.

Tosin Abasi, a relative newcomer to the limelight, was captivating. Labeled the new generation of guitar players by some, he played on a stunning wooden 8 string guitar, which proved challenging but an elegant exercise in finger dexterity. After playing a few songs from his band Animals as Leaders, he closed things off with a memorable duet with Nuno Bettencourt, who was next in line.

Bettencourt looked great, and although he jokingly referred to himself as an old man that needed to take a seat at one point, in reality, he hasn’t aged one bit. With his perfect jet-black locks and svelte physique,  he played songs that consisted mostly of covers from his 80s band, Extreme. The song selection showcased not only his guitar skills, but his vocal talents as well, and after teasing us all with an intro to “More Than Words,” he ultimately decided against it. Tonight was about guitar playing he said, not just regurgitating the hits.

Zakk Wylde was next and hit the stage with his trademark long blonde locks and Black Label Society denim jacket. He probably received the strongest audience reaction as metalheads rushed the scene with their trademark horn hands held high. He returned the love by walking into the audience, and surrounded by adoring fans and their cell phones played effortlessly a solo that would have us, mere mortals, struggling to just get through. It got crazier when he ran up to the balcony and soloed over the audience members below. Wylde truly is a wild man!

Vai killed it with his brand of instrumental space-age guitar rock. Not only was the music exciting but his stage presence commanding. It’s no wonder he’s considered The Godfather of the electric guitar.

But it was Yngwie J. Malmsteen who probably had the best stage presence, as he flung his guitars around his neck and karate kicked his way across the stage. His command of the instrument is simply genius. That coupled with the fact that he rarely plays the Bay Area, is what made his part of the show a real treat.

The final song of the night included all performers on stage for a cover of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” It brought out Yngwie on vocals and a flurry of endless guitar solos. What was a fantastic way to close out this opening night of the tour, one that will take these axemen all across the land. Be sure to check them out as they come to your town. You don’t hear sounds like these on the radio anymore, so that alone is worth the price of admission.

Photos by Louis Raphael

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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