A night of dazzling fingerwork

Portuguese guitarist Nuno Bettencourt was funny and prone to making self-deprecating jokes.
Portuguese guitarist Nuno Bettencourt was funny and prone to making self-deprecating jokes.ST PHOTO: JASTER NGUI



The Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa/ Tuesday

Even before one note was played at Generation Axe, the concert's intimidating stage set-up made a huge impression on the audience: Stacks and stacks of Marshall and other amplifiers towered over the star-studded line-up of musicians at The Coliseum stage.

Was it overkill to have more than 70 amps for The Coliseum, which seats about 1,300 and takes up to a 5,000-strong standing crowd?

Yes, of course, but fans would have expected nothing less from a supergroup made up of guitarists, most of whom became famous during the heady days of rock in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Zakk Wylde all hail from a time when rock excess and flamboyance were celebrated.

And they flaunted this in the way they played their mostly electric guitars - volume turned up loud and fingers making super-fast runs across the fretboard.

Forget about subtlety and nuance - this gig was all about fun and showing off technical brilliance.

The fifth guitarist of the night, Nigerian-American Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders, belongs to a more recent generation of guitarists, having made his name in the early 2000s.

So his style is a little more experimental and avant-garde than the rest, but he showed that he was no less of a virtuoso.

Over more than three hours, the stars each had solo spots in different segments of the show, occasionally duelled with one another and came together as a quintet only in the opening and closing songs.

Bettencourt, still looking as svelte and slim as he did more than two decades ago, was the funny one prone to making self-deprecating jokes during his time in the limelight.

The Portuguese guitarist played some hits from his main band, Boston funk-rockers Extreme, and ignited a hearty sing-along among the 1,500-strong audience on the band's best-known tune, acoustic ballad More Than Words.

Wylde - who made his name as sideman to metal elder Ozzy Osbourne, before launching his own outfit Black Label Society - was the most crowd-friendly, frequently getting down from the stage to reach out to the fans.

His choice of songs by Black Sabbath (Osbourne's pioneering old band) and guitar icon Jimi Hendrix also went down well with the audience.

Unlike Bettencourt and Wylde, Vai, the mastermind behind the supergroup, did not sing, instead letting his quirky, intricate guitar- playing take the spotlight.

He also proved that he had quite a nimble stage presence, with hip- swaying moves and a charming, wordless rapport with the crowd.

Swedish guitar maestro Malmsteen was the exact opposite of the less flashy Abasi. Dressed in tight leather pants and an unbuttoned shirt, he was all consummate showman executing rapid neo-classical metal licks on his Fender Stratocaster with aplomb.

Engulfed in thick smoke from a machine, he would swing his guitar around and kick his feet in the air, hardly missing a note as he pulled off move after bombastic move.

He led the other four in a rousing rendition of Deep Purple's Highway Star to close the show and perhaps celebrate the end of their time together for now - the Singapore show was the final date in their tour.

But the good spirits and bonhomie on display among the five mean Generation Axe may not be axed for good and will live to see another tour.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2017, with the headline 'A night of dazzling fingerwork'. Print Edition | Subscribe