Generation Axe at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids, MI

The Generation Axe Tour makes a welcome return to the US, bringing not one, not two, but five guitar virtuosos to the same stage.

It’s been two and a half years since the Generation Axe Tour graced the stage Stateside, but it’s not surprising considering what must go into organizing schedules for five of the biggest names in the industry, who all have their own tours and bands outside of this collective. It was phenomenal to think these guys could ever come together for one show in the first place, but it’s certainly a treat to get to see them come around for a second time. 

It was also a pleasure to see that the lineup has remained the same as the last tour – Tosin Abasi, Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, and the man responsible for pulling this whole thing together in the first place, Steve Vai. Vai has certainly done an excellent job of curating the best of the best for this tour. For an impressive three and a half hours, the guitarists took turns to perform their own songs, as well as coming together to play a few tunes – often involving some fantastic five-part guitar harmonies. 

The epic night began in this manner with all five performing “Hocus Pocus”. You would think that have five such heavy-hitters performing the same song together, that it would be an overload, with each trying to out-play the other while battling for the limelight. Far from it. They were each very respectful of the other, and they all brought their own unique style to the table, which is why this tour works so well.

Tosin Abasi was the first up for his solo section, as he launched into his complex rhythmic songs on his custom eight-string guitar. The fact that JP Bouvet and Pete Griffin effortlessly provide the foundation for his work also cannot go without mention. A pattern that would happen throughout the night was that you’d often see the guitarists coming out to accompany each other. The first pairing of the night came when Nuno Bettencourt accompanied Abasi, which led to a truly unique melding of styles from the duo.

This led seamlessly to Nuno’s segment, which had the Extreme fans on their feet dancing and cheering along as he ripped straight into “Get The Funk Out,” which also saw him take the role of vocalist. Bettencourt looked completely at ease on (and, at one point, off) the stage as he joked and chatted with the audience. Rather than having to choose a small selection of the songs from Extreme’s back catalog, he decided to take inspiration from something a kid had posted on YouTube, and played a medley of some of his best riffs and solos, this time cutting out the vocal parts. 

20 Monroe Live was clearly packed with a lot of Black Sabbath and Black Label Society fans who took to their feet the moment Zakk Wylde came out for his portion of the night as he performed the likes of “War Pigs,” “Into The Void” and Gary Moore’s “Still Got The Blues.” Wylde is known for taking a wander through the crowd as he plays without missing a beat, even as he plays his guitar behind his head as he walks. This time he outdid himself, as he took a number of trips out through the crowd, giving everyone the chance to see him up close and personal, even those up in the balcony. Adding a new spin on his audience walks, Bettencourt and Vai both joined him in the crowd, with the three trading solos making for a truly electrifying moment. 

Next up was the man responsible for bringing this whole extravaganza together in the first place, Steve Vai. He headed to the stage with his custom Ibanez Gem, the red lights embedded into the fretboard glowing brightly in the darkness. As is usual with Vai, every note was played with precision and purpose. There’s no real comparator for Vai, his style is truly unique. However, one thing that you can rely on is that everything is musical and nothing is wasted. Whether he’s hanging on a note, applying that fantastic vibrato or chocking out a hundred notes a second, it all feels necessary and it all serves the song. His guitar truly is his voice and, although it sounds like a cliché, whatever guitar he is holding in his hands looks like an extension of him on stage. Watching the sheer mastery had the audience transfixed on a set which unfortunately seemed to be over too soon. 

Rounding out the solo sets, Yngwie Malmsteen was the last to take to the stage, bringing yet another truly unique style to proceedings with his genre-defining neo-classical playing. Throughout his set, he could be seen kicking picks out into the crowd, juggling and almost wrestling with his guitar, all the while never missing a beat as he tore through his incredibly complex pieces. It’s fair to say that, as noted by Steve Vai in our interview with him earlier this month, nobody sweep picks like Yngwie. 

Whilst the spotlight for this show is on the guitarists, it cannot go without mention the phenomenal musicianship it takes to back up five world-class guitarists who each have their own unique and often highly complex styles. However, Pete Griffin (Zappa plays Zappa) on bass, Nick Marinovich (Yngwie Malmsteen) on keys, and JP Bouvet on drums, more than step up to the plate with their flawless performances being a critical part of the show. Being able to keep up with just one of these guitarists would be a challenge, but to be able to adapt to the varying styles of all five is a whole other matter and truly does require musicians of the absolute highest caliber. 

Throughout the night, the grins on each guitarist’s face were matched by those on the faces of the fans in the audience. While certain people in the crowd were clearly there to see their own particular guitar hero the whole audience nevertheless felt fully invested in the entire show. The musicianship on this tour is truly second to none and one you really must go and see when they come to your town. It is a unique show and there’s no guarantee something of this scale will be able to make it around again anytime soon. 

Check out our interview with Steve Vai here, where he discusses the Generation Axe tour, the upcoming live record and more.

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About Kirstine Walton 249 Articles
Kirstine moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, and has fallen in love with the city and its music scene. She enjoys combining her two biggest passions – music and photography. If there is a band with a guitar playing, chances are she’ll be there…camera in hand. Kirstine went to her first live concert at 7 years old, and hasn’t looked back since!

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