Concert review

Yngwie Malmsteen shreds Tel Aviv in no-holds-barred guitar spree

Iconic Swedish heavy-metal musician thrills fans with lightning-fast finger work, a reworked ‘Hava Nagila’ and hundreds of picks

Swedish guitar icon Yngwie Malmsteen performs in Tel Aviv on September 12, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Swedish guitar icon Yngwie Malmsteen performs in Tel Aviv on September 12, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

They say you should never revisit your childhood heroes. But in the case of Yngwie Malmsteen I’ll have to disagree. I well remember the 1984 release of the Swedish guitar icon’s debut solo album, “Rising Force,” which I listened to obsessively. Yet, even all these years later, his show on Wednesday night in Tel Aviv was amazing.

That first album was a tour de force (though at first it looked like just another heavy metal record) that sent guitarists the world over back to the drawing board — nobody could believe how fast he could play, and without any of that newfangled tapping technique popularized by Eddie Van Halen (who by that time was playing keyboards on pop songs like “Jump” and, though commercially successful, no longer terrified six-string slingers as he had back in 1978).

Yngwie burst onto the cover of all the guitar magazines with an unpronounceable name (rhymes with “oy vey”), lots of tight black leather and tons of jewelry, sporting a new Bach- and Paganini-inspired neo-classical sound that inspired a slew of faster-than-fright guitarists racing through harmonic minor scales and diminished seventh arpeggios up and down the guitar neck.

Of course everyone soon realized that Malmsteen was basically playing Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple and Rainbow fame) riffs, but about a million times faster and taking them to a brand new place. The obvious clue (apart from the black clothes) was that while everyone else was playing and (posing with) pointy-headed axes, Malmsteen stuck to a blond Fender Stratocaster with a scalloped fretboard — exactly the same as Blackmore had been using since about 1969.

Now, 34 years later, almost all of the neo-classical guitarists from Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records label and those they inspired have moved on to other things.

But Yngwie remains defiantly himself, and as young and fit as ever. He has continued releasing albums every year or two, and his most recent, 2016’s “World on Fire,” hardly sounds different from his first couple of solo records.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Malmsteen never found another vocalist as good as Jeff Scott Soto (who is visiting Israel later this month with the supergroup “Sons of Apollo”). So now there are a lot more instrumental tracks, and when the need for vocals arises, the black-clad Swede trades those duties with his bassist and keyboard player (the band members were never introduced during the concert — it was Malmsteen’s show).

The other difference is that now Yngwie looks as though he is enjoying himself. During the concert he kept joking with the other members of the band. He also nearly drove his guitar roadie to distraction, throwing his guitar to him after every couple of songs for a tuneup (eliciting massive cheers each time the poor man caught it) and constantly asking him to reload his mic stand with more guitar picks (Malmsteen must have thrown at least a couple hundred picks to the audience at Tel Aviv’s Reading 3 club).

Yngwie Malmsteen in Israel

Posted by Somewhere In Haim on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

It seems that the man in black (who is still clad entirely in black and draped in jewelry) no longer takes himself quite so seriously.

Sure, he did all his old tricks — playing under and over the neck, playing with one hand over his head, playing with the guitar over his head, playing with his teeth and behind his back, playing it with an amplifier and with the side of the stage. He even showed off his feedback sustain by ostentatiously looking at his watch while holding the note (Nigel Tufnel, take note). But he also laughed when the sound desk couldn’t find the volume on the acoustic guitar, and was constantly at the edge of the stage joking with the audience while riffing.

And the audience was more mixed than I had expected. Sure, there were plenty of middle-aged men reliving their youth to keep me company, but there were also everyone else from schoolkids with nu-metal T-shirts to the middle-aged woman with pink lipstick and an “Ozzy” tattoo.

Instead of a backdrop, Malmsteen has a massive “Spinal Tap”-worthy row of Marshall amplifier cabinets and heads. At one point it looked as though one of the stacks might fall on the drummer, but luckily the roadies had enough tape to hold it in place.

מאלמסטין.הבה נגילה.תודה ל Roma Briker שתיעד.

Posted by ProgStage Productions on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

As well as all his old favorites and a couple of tracks from the new album, Malmsteen played “Hava Nagila,” infusing it with Vivaldi and shred in ways that the earlier pioneers never even dreamed of. The crowd loved it.

I went along for old times’ sake. Yngwie and I go way back — via my turntable. But it was actually a great gig (and I was one of the lucky ones who caught a pick).

In many ways Malmsteen is Peter Pan — he’s never grown up or matured and is still fighting to find that elusive hook. But that’s perfect, because in many ways I’ve never grown up either.

On the inside I’m still the same teenager who worships mile-a-minute guitar heroes, who thinks shows like “The Voice” or “American Idol” are responsible for all the mediocrity in the world, and who most of all wishes he could still fit into those tight leather trousers.

The concert was put on by ProgStage Productions.

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