Concert review: Guitar gods at Generation Axe offer a contrast in styles

US guitarist Steve Vai playing with Generation Axe – A Night of Guitars at Star Hall in Hong Kong on April 12, 2017.
US guitarist Steve Vai playing with Generation Axe – A Night of Guitars at Star Hall in Hong Kong on April 12, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

Generation Axe - A Night Of Guitars Asia Tour 2017

The Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa/Tuesday (April 25)

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, 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, the Nigerian-American Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders, belongs to a more recent generation of guitarists, having first made his name in the early 2000s. So his style is a little more experimental and avant-garde than the rest, but he showed 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 only came together as a quintet 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 singalong from 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, didn't sing, instead letting his quirky, intricate guitar-playing take the spotlight.

He also proved 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 neoclassical 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 current 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.