GENERATION AXE Swings in Tokyo (Concert Review)

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Generation AxeIt was a hot and smoky room as we filed into the Zepp Tokyo theater. Not to be confused with the Zepp DiverCity Tokyo theater just 1/2 a mile away, this one can be found under the giant Ferris Wheel on Tokyo Bay. The room was packed to the rafters – 800+ strong – and we all stood in anticipation. Suddenly there was a helpful announcement from the front – “This is a 3-hour show. Please consider using the bathroom now.” The Japanese are so thoughtful. Once the lights went down, and the air conditioning came on (thankfully), the onslaught began.

In front of stacks of Marshall amps stood Tosin Abasi, Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen as they blasted through “Foreplay” by Boston, which somehow felt appropriate both as an intro and due to the recent passing of Sib Hashian, the original drummer for the band. The song, 2:25 on the album lasted at least twice that as everyone got warmed up. Vai then said a few words as everyone exited and we listened to our first guitarist for the evening.

Generation AxeTosin was up first, introducing himself in Japanese – always a nice touch. I had never heard of him, but he is originally from instrumental progressive metal band Animals As Leaders and interestingly of Nigerian descent. The music, all from his band, was somehow atmospheric, but with plenty of shredding. He played futuristic looking guitars, and the backing keyboardist, one Derek Sherinian of Black Country Communion and Dream Theater fame, provided all kinds of electronic noises. For the finale, a song called “Physical Education”, he brought out Nuno, who said he’s always nervous playing that song and called Abasi the future of guitar – not a bad endorsement!

Generation AxeNuno stayed onstage for his turn, saying that he was here to simplify things a little, after the complicated songs that Tosin played. We finally got to hear some singing, as he opened with a rousing version of Extreme‘s “Get the Funk Out”. Funny that he used Funk in the song because the F-word was used many, many times in the between song banter. Luckily he kept the talking to a minimum before he went into an acoustic teaser of “More Than Words” – and then quickly stopped with a “not tonight” and played an instrumental version of “Midnight Express”, mixing in some Zeppelin riffs for good measure. After some more banter, he warned us that he was about to play a medley of Extreme songs, but only the guitar parts (“He-Man Woman Hater”, “Play With Me”, “Rest In Peace”, “Cupid’s Dead”, “Take Us Alive”). This rolled right into a blues song called “Save My Soul” (or at least I assume so from the lyrics – it wasn’t a song I had ever heard before). Nuno too brought out a special guest for the finale – a cover of the Citizen Cope song “Sideways”, with Zakk Wylde on lead guitar and vocals. It was a very successful set and my favorite of the night.

Generation AxeZakk stayed on to do a (very) extended version of Sabbath‘s “N.I.B”, then another (very) extended version of “Little Wing” (covered by everybody but originally written by Jimi Hendrix), before he introduced the rest of the band – bass player Pete Griffin (Edgar Winter Band), drummer JP Bouvet (a young guy and drum instructor), and Shirinian. The final song of the set was “Whipping Post” (Allman Brothers Band). Now I’m a fan of Zakk‘s work with Ozzy and BLS (especially the more recent albums), but I was a little disappointed that he didn’t play another song or two. Especially since that was the end of the singing for the next 85 minutes (I timed it, knowing what was on tap). His guitar solos were blistering as always, and after the well combed Nuno, a rather haggard sight on stage – very enjoyable, but left me wanting more.

Generation AxeZakk switched places with Steve Vai, and the guitar pyrotechnics continued. Vai played a guitar with an LED-lit fretboard on his first song, the instrumental “Bad Horsie”, his distinctive solo style clearly coming through. He did “Racing the World” and “Tender Surrender”, which were a little spacy, but in between songs he made the guitar sound like a human voice (anyone familiar with “Yankee Rose” will know what I mean). “Gravity Storm” was a little bluesy and my favorite song from this set. I can’t say I’d ever heard any of these songs before, but of course, the musicianship was amazing and his clean cut look clearly contrasted with his co-guitarist on the final song, Yngwie‘s “Black Star”.

Yngwie lumbered out on stage like a mountain man – not having changed much visually since we first saw him in the ’80s. Well maybe a little more weight and a little more hair, but didn’t we all! After “Black Star”, Yngwie stayed on and blasted the stage with smoke and guitar notes – lots of them. His fingers were doing acrobatics on the strings as he went through “Spellbound” and “Into Valhalla”. He spoke (finally) an intro to “Overture” and then played “From a Thousand Cuts” and “Arpeggios from Hell”. By now I was having trouble telling the songs apart, the sheer number of notes dulling my senses, but then Yngwie saved me, breaking out a classical piece by Paganini titled “Adagio”.

Generation AxeA couple more instrumentals, “Far Beyond the Sun” and the fugue from his “Trilogy Suite Op. 5”. I have to say, thankfully he didn’t play the whole thing. He couldn’t anyway since he pulled the strings out of his guitar while the last note was carrying, changing it into pure feedback. He played a little acoustic on a new guitar until bringing back out Steve Vai to finish off “Black Star”. He had the longest set of the night – nearly 40 minutes, and while I’m sure it was brilliant, I can honestly say it was just beyond my grasp.

Yngwie went to take a break, and Vai brought out Nuno, Zakk, and Tosin again for a group version of “Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group, with Zakk taking the vocals. Then for the final song, Yngwie came back and Zakk sang “Highway Star” (Deep Purple) to take us out. It seemed like they didn’t want to leave, as all 5 of them traded solos like it was a jazz band. No question they were having fun, but man – I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

Review by Dave Glynn
Pics by Masahiro Kawakami

Official Generation Website

Tosin Abasi: Twitter

Nuno Bettencourt: Twitter / Facebook

Zakk Wylde: Twitter / Facebook

Steve Vai: Twitter / Facebook

Yngwie Malmsteen: Twitter / Facebook

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