There’s no question that Yngwie Malmsteen is one of the greatest, fastest and most excessive rock guitarists of all time. But you don’t really get an appreciation for just how good he is until you experience it in person. Yngwie just continues to get better and better, which is no mean feat when you consider how great he was right out of the gate. So, having missed his last Australian tour and his clinic tour, I was really excited to catch Yngwie this time around.
Initially this show was plagued with technical problems: what sounded like a microphonic tube during line-test didn’t seem to be resolved by the time the show started (about 15 minutes late), and the persistent squealing distracted considerably from the first song, the Odyssey classic “Rising Force.” After some stern words with his tech and a quick switch to a backup amp – which really should have been done before the show started, right? – the set was quickly back on track.
The set list offered a good mix of old and new, with acoustic and classical interludes amongst the vocal and instrumental tracks. Personal highlights for me were the three cuts from Odyssey (the other two were “Dreaming (Tell Me)” and “Heaven Tonight”) and “Seventh Sign” from the album of the same name, just because those albums were big ones for me growing up, but newer material like “Spellbound” and “Arpeggios From Hell” fit in very comfortably with established classics like “Trilogy Suite Op: 5,” “Far Beyond The Sun” and “Black Star.” And I always love hearing Yngwie’s take on blues-based playing, which we heard in the customary “Red House.”
Yngwie’s stage setup these days pushes the drums, bass and keys over to one side, giving Yngwie free reign to prowl the stage. I like this setup: as talented as Yngwie’s bands are, nobody is under any illusion as to who they’re there to see, and Yngwie is at his best when he has space to roam free. It was all there: the guitar spins, picking the strings with his teeth, playing behind his head, fretting over the top of the neck, shredding one-handed while flinging pickups out to the audience with the other, drop-kicking picks clear across the room. But my favourite little performance moment was Yngwie on his knees tearing each string right off the guitar except for the low E, downtuning it to Loch Ness Monster pitch then making freaky sci-fi noises with an oscillating delay pedal before flipping the guitar backwards over his head a few metres across the stage to his waiting tech.
The point is Yngwie’s music and performance are self-indulgent, but that’s what you expect when you walk through the door so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to see utterly over-the-top showmanship and impossible-for-mere-mortals guitar work. You probably already figured out from the first sentence of this review whether an Yngwie concert is for you. But here’s the thing: it’s not. Yngwie seems totally unconcerned with going out of his way to do what would make fans happy, and he’s secure enough in himself and the style he’s refined and perfected to know that if he simply does what he wants to do, to the extremes that he wants to do it at, the audience will have a great time. In that sense, this concert is for Yngwie. People have accused Yngwie of having a huge ego but having spoken to the guy a fair bit over the years I don’t think that’s true: he has a strong sense of self and a high standard that he holds himself to, completely independent of what anyone else thinks. And even with the technical problems early on in the set, this show was a two-hour representation of Yngwie doing exactly what he’s always promised: be completely relentless in his pursuit of unrestrained expression.