Yngwie Malmsteen is credited for aiding the establishment of neoclassical metal, so named because of the influence of classical music on the genre. It’s safe to say that Yngwie Malmsteen’s first album, 1984’s “Rising Force”, ensured Malmsteen’s place in the pantheon of rock guitarists. This classical music influence manifests itself in very fast, highly technical guitar playing, eventually becoming closely related to what many now refer to as “shredding”. Put another way, achieve a 1,000 note streak in “Guitar Hero 2” and you’ll win yourself the Yngwie Malmsteen award.
Malmsteen inspired a corral of guitarists, so I was super excited to have the chance to see Malmsteen perform at the brand new Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD on October 15th. The timing couldn’t have been better, as I was still dazed and dehydrated from the previous day’s whirlwind trip to New Orleans to see Buckethead (who cites Malmsteen as an influence) at the House of Blues. It was a rare opportunity to observe student, then master – Buckethead’s Luke Skywalker to Malmsteen’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Malmsteen is currently touring to promote his new album Relentless, featuring Tim Owens on vocals. Owens is currently taking a break from touring with Dio Disciples to accompany Malmsteen on tour. Tim Owens provided a nice balance to the showy Malmsteen, self-effacing and likable. Joining the men onstage were Bjorn Englen on bass, Patrick Johannson on drums and Nick Marino on keyboards – all solid musicians, all careful to allow the crowd’s attention to remain on Malmsteen . The crowd appeared evenly split: the enthusiastic stalwarts on one side of the room and, on the other side, those who appeared more curious than fanatic, who knew Malmsteen’s work and wanted to make sure they saw a metal guitar legend. I’ll admit to being in the latter camp.
I’ll be frank, and this is just one person’s opinion: the songs from “Relentless” were unremarkable; however, Tim Owens has a great metal voice and he was able to make the most of otherwise generic sounding material (although “Enemy Within” was fun). I’d be interested in seeing him sing with Dio Disciples. Aside from an unfortunate cover of “Red House” (during which I honestly wondered if Malmsteen was singing in Swedish, because nothing that came out of his mouth sounded like a language I understood), the show was most interesting to me when Malmsteen had the stage to himself to play instrumentals, such as “Overture” (from Relentless), “Trilogy Suite Op:5” (from Trilogy) and, of course “Black Star” (from Rising Force), the showstopper trotted out for the encore. These were the moments that allowed me to observe what set Malmsteen apart from other guitarists – the speed and the classical influence. He is stunning.
Malmsteen, now in his 50’s, moved with the energy of a second grader in need of Ritalin: dashing back and forth across the stage, throwing a leg on an amp, high kicking the air. After every song, he threw – threw – his guitar to a tech waiting at the side of the stage – whatever that guy is making, he needs a raise – who would switch it out for an identical cream colored Stratocaster. I’ve taken to worrying that my own Les Paul will spontaneously destruct when I’m on vacation; watching Malmsteen heap abuse on his Strats, which included throwing the instruments in the air, was distressing to watch.
Judging on Malmsteen’s appearance alone, I can now say that time travel may be possible because he looked as if he arrived in a Delorean launched from 1985. My amateur rock-photography skills were no match for Malmsteen’s hyperactivity; I snapped one photo that makes him look like he crawled out of the bowels of Dante’s Inferno: he’s red-orange, with two faces. It’s impressive, and I still have it on my camera. So close your eyes and try to envision this 1980’s guitar god, placed in suburban DC in 2011: leather-ish pants, studded up the legs, and with a lace up fly; cowboy boots; leather shirt open to the navel (something us apple-shaped Swedes should exercise caution with) and sternum length hair. Lots of chains and dangly things. He spent almost as much time playing with his hair as he spent playing his guitars. His full mouth was permanently pursed as he gazed out at the crowd, encouraging fans’ cheers and hollers while he played. It was an unevolved sight to behold. Of course, if this points to the possibility of time travel, I think this is great news, as it means I might still have a chance with Brian May.
All joking aside, did I fall in love with Malmsteen’s music as a result of this show? No. Will I start listening to Yngwie Malmsteen regularly as a result of this show? No. However, I do have an enhanced appreciation of Malmsteen and his place in annals of metal. I would have deprived myself of a spectacle had I missed this show.
Check out the epic set list
Rising Force/Never Die/Shot Across the Bow/Overture/Critical Mass/Badinerie/Far Beyond the Sun/Star Spangled Banner/Enemy Within/Red Devil/Damnation Game/Baroque & Roll/Live To Fight (Another Day)/Dreaming (Tell Me)/Gates of Babylon/Into Valhalla/Demon Driver/Trilogy Suite Op: 5/Blue/Fugue/Heaven Tonight Encore: Black Star/Cherokee Warrior/I'll See the Light Tonight