Review by Danny Coleman + Photos by Tom Callan
Generation Axe Cuts Through Red Bank’s Count Basie Theater
May 9, 2016 | Red Bank, NJ – Generation Axe has perhaps been the best kept secret in the rock world; playing to sold out or nearly sold out venues while flying seemingly under the radar.
Comprised of five of the world’s greatest shredders,Generation Axe is the stuff one may only think possible in a fantasy music world; where Jimi Hendrix and Randy Rhoads ride pimped out Harley Davidsons and welcome you, usher you in and perform within feet of your front row seat.
Tosin Abasi, Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai makeup Generation Axe and their recent May 9 show at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theater, their last on the current tour; was epic. Mixing cover tunes with original compositions; these rockers blew the roof off of “The Basie,” first together, then individually and lastly all together again in a raucous encore that had the audience on their feet and rushing the stage front.
The time was 8:04 p.m. EST when the wizards of six strings took to the stage backed by their road tested band of Pete Griffin, Nick Marinovich and “Chickpea.” A rip roaring version of Boston’s “Foreplay” ensued and immediately brought the capacity crowd to its feet; where it stayed the entire evening.
One by one the “Axe Men” left the stage, eventually ceding the spotlight to Tosin Abasi and the night was off and running as the first wave of intense musicianship washed over the venue like a tsunami. Abasi tore through his approximate 20 minute set with precision licks, punctuated by his finger tapping, percussive style and ended by bringing his “New friend” Nuno Bettencourt out for the final offering; “Physical Ed.” Abasi challenged Bettencourt a bit with the song’s odd timing, off beat breaks and driving rhythms which led a smiling Nuno to joke, “Does Tosin ever know where the “1” is in that song?”
Nuno started his portion of the shred-fest at 8:30 p.m. by asking the band what they “Had for him” and as the rhythm section got down and dirty, Bettencourt took no prisoners as he led an onslaught of screeching highs and ear piercing mid-range licks that were both mesmerizing and intoxicating. A brief comedic moment came during the middle of the set when he sat down and told the story of how a then 15 year old Nuno and a his friend went to see Yngwie Malmsteen and how “Cool” he was. Nuno then began to play the opening bars of Extreme’s, “More Than Words,” and said, “Fuck it! Not Tonight,” as he tossed the guitar aside with a huge laugh and as he readied himself for the next volley; the band broke into a great melodic piece best described as having a Middle Eastern flair. Once again, at songs completion, Nuno took to the mic.and waxed poetic about his youth, “When I was a 13 year old kid, I prayed to the “You Tube” gods” and when he was done he brought up the man, “Whose heart is the only thing bigger than his biceps;” enter Zakk Wylde. Nuno apparently prayed for moments such as this and the You Tube gods rewarded his pleas.
Upon completion of their duet, Wylde started his set at 9:05 p.m. and gave an already frenzied crowd the best set of the evening. Saying something about making a larger impact than finding the cures for “Herpes, crabs, syphilis and gonorrhea;” he launched head first into Black Sabbath’s “N. I. B.” During this sizzling opener, Wylde repeatedly walked the stage like a caged tiger, stopping on its edges to let his fingers pulverize his fret board; even paying a slight tribute to Hendrix by playing with his guitar over his head and with his teeth and tongue. Prior to the end of this 17 minute homage to Sabbath; Wylde broke into Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” emoting a huge roar from the “Zakk Nation.” Pausing only long enough for a breath, he coaxed the first notes of “Little Wing” out of his white hot guitar and then cemented his place in the hearts of his fans by climbing down from the stage and walking the aisles as his hair covered his face; playing the first of several rides that had cell phones and cameras working overtime to capture the moment.
Stopping to relate a story about how the quintet picked their drummer; Wylde brought Yngwie into the mix by introducing him and the band and then having the bassist lead the way as they did an approximate 15 minute version of “Whipping Post,” that would’ve made the Allman Brothers Band blush. During this, Malmsteen began his unique performance, starting with him doing his patented guitar spin-o-rama move; the one where he moves the instrument completely around his body while seemingly not missing a note and then tosses it off stage to an awaiting member of the crew. Reloading, the man known as Yngwie J. Malmsteen tore up his neck in a display of skill and technique that has made him a legend among generations of guitarists worldwide. A quick little tip of the hat to Hendrix followed as “YJM” broke into the “Star Spangled Banner,” something which was very well received and after several instrument changes and multiple pick refills; Malmsteen took a moment from his dizzying tactics and invited Steve Vai to the stage.
Vai wasted no time putting his stamp on the evening and at 10:33 p.m, now a full two and one half hours into this non-stop show began a call and answer with the audience that ended with the mood slowing down into a ballad; the first time there was something other than full throttle all evening.
That didn’t last long as Vai turned up the heat with blistering lick after blistering lick and with the band following suit, he did what he does best; showed why he’s one of the best ever. Vai’s set lasted approximately an hour and was segued into the finale by tribal drum rhythms as he brought each of his tour mates back out onto the stage. Once the cast was assembled, they broke into Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” featuring Bettencourt on timbales as well as guitar.
Taking turns lighting up the stage and pushing the audience even further towards pandemonium; the united cast seemed genuinely sad that the tour was coming to an end but still had one more up their proverbial sleeves as Yngwie took charge and led the men in a version of Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star” which was rife with smiles, laughs, everyone taking turns being featured, beers being passed around with Vai bringing his camera out to take pics of the party on stage.
Then as is the case, all good things must come to an end and at 11:45 p.m. the show and the tour were over. The players in this production exchanged high-fives, hugged and then worked those who could get close enough to the stage with the same. Wylde and Bettencourt stayed and worked their faithful, chatting and thanking them for coming to the show until many had dispersed; prompting Wylde fan Michele Alfo of Edison, NJ to say, “Zakk was amazing as always; the Viking mad man! They were all amazing they really were but Zakk is my favorite, he’s such a sweetheart; look at him.”
Many of those filtering out were heard saying the same and some, like Deedee Montanero of the Jersey Shore summed it up also; “They rendered me speechless.”
For more info on Generation Axe, please visit:
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)
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