The Triumph of the Axeman!
Generation Axe 2018 Tour
On a cold and windy night in Port Chester, NY, the iconic Capitol Theatre was overrun by a legion of leather clad fans that worship the guitar gods.
Armed with locks halfway down their backs, full beards down past their chins, and enough metal to forge hundreds of weapons, the army was charged to bang their heads for 3+ hours to their favorite heroes….and their heroes did not disappoint!
One by one under a mystical blue light, the 5 Axeman took the stage: Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi joined by their backing band Pete Griffin (bass), Nick Marinovich (keys), and JP Bouve (drums).
With a 20 foot high stack of Marshall amps that about 10 feet wide as a backdrop, the first shrill notes of “Hocus Pocus” by Focus shook the theater to its’ core. The night was off with a bang
On this night, the opening song as well as the last two songs were the only times the whole ensemble was onstage together. That might sound disappointing but it was not! There were multiple mini-sets with so many different collaborations that the 3 ½ hour show went by in a blink of an eye.
Each mini-set consisted of an Axeman playing his own music as well as covers with collaborations from another Axeman or two. Abasi and Bettencourt; Vai and Wylde; Bettencourt and Wylde; Wylde Bettencourt and Vai; and list goes on. It was different, it was exciting, and the anticipation and energy in the air for what was next was palpable.
The Generation Axe idea started in 2016 by Steve Vai. He wanted to bring together a bunch of guitar legends on one stage to showcase them and be seen by the world. The quandary was how to get all these rather large egos to play nice with each other.
The solution was for them to become friends. Each guitarist had a very unique style, a legacy, and stories from the road. They shared these battles tales and found they each had similar stories. They were not enemies per se but in fact kindred spirits.
As a result, they could each have the spotlight individually and as a team. They could shred the guitar on a 4 minute solo and then provide rhythm guitar for the rest of the song.
The tour was first only going to be only a handful of show but due to the success, it has continued on with the same troupe now into its third year with no end in sight. I was very fortunate to have found heavy metal music early in my lifetime. I’ve been blessed with treasured concert memories of seeing Randy Rhodes with Ozzy on the Blizzard of Oz tour, Rush’s Moving Pictures tour, Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast opening for Judas Priest on the the Screaming for Vengeance tour at the MSG, and so many more I cannot even count…or remember. I even got to see 3 out of these 5 guitar gods play over the 1000’s of concerts I’ve seen…and believe me my ears still remember! Two decades later, the three Axeman I had seen previously have got significantly better musically as well as their stage presence… and it’s even louder now than it ever was!
Besides the volume, the lighting was amazing and lots of smoke to compliment the performers on stage. The crowd was mesmerized from the opening notes through the last notes of the encore. There are plenty of surprises during the show but I don’t want to give them away. I don’t want to give away the set list either as you will just need to attend a show to experience it all. However, one song I definitely want to talk about is “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a complex musical adventure made famous by Queen.
The movie, now in theatres bearing the same name, is absolutely amazing and a must see. The actual song is an unbelievable work of art. It manages to comprise being a ballad, opera, and a rock song all in one neat little 6 minute package. Now imagine turning that song into a guitar instrumental and you can see the challenge.
Steve Vai took on this challenge and for months worked on the arrangement. Finally, in this last leg of this year’s GexAxe tour, Bohemian Rhapsody was rolled out to the fans with much fervor and fanfare. A sing-a-long for the ages. Amazing!
About half the fans in attendance were first-timers. A handful that I talked too had been at six or more shows on this tour alone. One lucky attendee was showing me pictures on her phone hanging out with the members of Rush for the day (OMG I wish) but her real highlight was this show (her 10th) and meeting Steve Vai for the first time. Before the show, there was a VIP meet and greet like most shows.
The fans I talked to who attended where ecstatic that it wasn’t a production line but a true hang out with the the Axeman. They even signed whatever you brought to the show whether it was a picture or a full-size guitar. Kids were a plenty at the show as well…all doning ear muffs to protect their ears from the screaming guitars of the gods.
In all my years of concerts, I have never seen so many picks fly from the stage to grasping fans. Thrown like a frisbee, kicked by foot into the air, or given out by performers and stage-hands after the show, I swear they must have given out 200 pics. Really! I think Yngwie Malmsteen alone during his set sent 50 pics into the crowd.
If you want to hear a live recording of the show, Generation Axe has a PledgeMusic campaign, where you can buy an array of items like the official live CD or vinyl, a signed vinyl by all 5 Axeman, t-shirts, hats, and various bundles. There are also one of a kind signed guitars for sale too. Of course, you can also hit the merchandise table for a wide array of tour shits and other cool merch!
As the cascade of scorching guitar riffs became softer and the headbangers hair stop whirling into the air, an early calm descended on The Capitol Theatre. For over 200 minutes, the five Axeman brought the crowd to life and mesmerized them with their showmanship, intensity, and mastery of the Axe. Everyone celebrated but no one wanted to leave.
This was a victory and the triumph of the 5 Axeman.