Lightning fast fingers and classical licks were the order of the day when Yngwie J. Malmsteen and his Rising Force invaded the shores of Baltimore. Orange Sky prepared the audience with more than adequate talent and style. Then Yngwie shredded the night away, showing the East Coast a new way to warm their fingers on a cold winter night!
Yngwie J. Malmsteen
By Mike Pursley
"Yngwie who?" "Yngwie fucking Malmsteen that?s who." I saw the shirt several times as I milled about the crowd in anticipation of Mr. Yngwie J. Malmsteen, a name synonymous with over the top guitar virtuosity. I was at Ram?s Head Live, a clean and moderately sized club in Baltimore?s Inner Harbor. Coming in out of the wintry chill, I gradually warmed up and noticed the horde of metal heads and guitar dudes, as well as the eight Marshall stacks lining the stage.
There are few musicians that divide people?s opinions like Malmsteen. He is seen by fans as a guitar god, whose lightning quick six string wizardry is unparalleled. Critics claim he is nothing but an asshole with soulless technique and tremendous ego. There is no question that Malmsteen?s neoclassical star has fallen since his 80?s heyday, but he continues to record and perform, this time touring in support of his latest offering,
Unleash the Fury.
I was uncertain if the audience would consist of hardcore fans or just people who were curious to see him, and I was happy to see that that nearly everyone was serious about it. These folks, the majority of them guitar players I would assume, were all about Malmsteen, and no amount of cheesy lyrics or ego were going to get in their way. On this night, mere guitar mortals were hoping to catch a glimpse of musical divinity.
The crowd was treated well by the opening act Orange Sky. This friendly five-piece from the island of Trinidad rocked hard. With heavy riffs and tight grooves, they moved many members of the audience. The vocal harmonies were nice, and the singer?s guitar work was wasn?t bad either. Guitar geeks might appreciate that he crossed his arms during fret board tapping, so that his right hand was holding the note and this left hand did the work.
Anticipation was high as Orange Sky broke down their equipment. People thumb wrestled to pass the time. I got into an interesting discussion with the guy next to me about fractals. Then the lights dimmed and mad guitar soloing blasted through the PA. Many trembled with delight. The soloing continued until, blam, the lights came up, the smoke machines hissed, and through the dazzling mix of smoke color and sound Yngwie and his band appeared.
Malmsteen was tremendously dynamic and magnetic as he hit the stage. With his flowing hair, black leather pants, and gold jewelry he seemed like a strange amalgamation between a biker and a demented European composer of yore. The theatrics were present from the beginning. Malmsteen kicked the air, spun, flipped, and twirled his guitar. He struck various
"guitar hero" poses and prowled the stage from side to side, much to the glee of fans he approached. It honestly took less than five minutes for me to be won over by him.
I was most impressed with the connection Malmsteen made with his audience. One might imagine that he would be aloof, but he worked very hard to make a relationship with his fans. He fed off the crowd and gave back with equal measure, acknowledging the cheers and the pumping fists with smiles, nods, and eye contact. I would almost call it gentlemanly. He also threw out numerous guitar picks and it was fun to watch people frantically search for them.
"Fractal guy" got a pick and showed it to me. I was surprised that Yngwie could play so clean and fast with such a heavy guitar pick.
I had been listening to Unleash the Fury to prepare for the show and recognized many of the new songs such as
"Locked and Loaded," "Cracking the Whip," "Winds of War," and "Exile." His backing band, Rising Force, looked a little like Spinal Tap but sounded great. Vocalist Dougie White belted it out and graciously walked to the side of the stage during guitar solos to let Yngwie enjoy the spotlight.
Several times during the night, Yngwie treated the fans to extended guitar solos, each one demonstrating different aspects of his lethal guitar technique. The first featured delay and deft use of his Stratocaster?s volume knob, creating beautiful harmonies and volume swells. He played some acoustic classical pieces with brutally fast picking as well. One of his later guitar solos following a spirited cover of
"Red House," sung by Yngwie himself, was a Hendrix inspired guitar freak-out. Malmsteen worked to a cacophonous climax where he slammed his guitar into his cabinets, swung it around, punished it until the strings gave, and then threw it behind his back without looking to a roadie. Very impressive.
For his encore, Malmsteen did some more acoustic work and then had the whole band out for a few more songs. Then they bowed, gave some high fives and were off. It was a great performance. The band sounded terrific and Malmsteen?s combined virtuosity and stage presence stole the show. They played for nearly two and a half hours, which was a little too long for me, but not surprising when all things Malmsteen are over the top. He played and performed brilliantly and I bet all the guitar guys at the show woke up the next day and began practicing their chops.
J. MALMSTEEN ONLINE
Ram's Head Live
Photo Credits: Unknown