The maestro of metal guitar rode into the Alamo City last Sunday night for the first time in five years and owned the stage like few who’ve played the Vibes Event Center. So it’s only fitting Yngwie Malmsteen was touring in support of a work entitled Blue Lightning. The Swedish sultan of the guitar, who unleashes ferocity on the Fender with jaw-dropping skill and ease despite varying degrees of difficulty, demonstrated that his speed and precision can sometimes feel as if they strike like lightning (watch ATM Facebook Live footage of “Far Beyond the Sun”).
Blue Lightning won’t go down as one of Malmsteen’s best albums if for no other reason than it’s mostly a covers album — his interpretations of Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top tunes, to name a few, with a dash of originals he sings tossed in. Not when weighing this offering against Marching Out, Trilogy, Odyssey, Fire and Ice, Facing the Animal, Alchemy, Unleash the Fury, Relentless . . . the list goes on.
Alas, fans don’t come to hear Malmsteen’s voice. So on a night Robin Trower was laying down melodic licks at the Aztec Theater, We Came As Romans and Crown the Empire were catering to the younger crowd at the Paper Tiger and Sacred Star — yes, a local tribute to Malmsteen — were also performing, the Vibes’ general-admission floor was half closed and virtually half full to those who chose the magician. While Malmsteen sang his new title track, it felt as if he was allowed to have his one vocal moment in the sun. But of course, it was his finger work on the Stratocasters that mesmerized as only he can.
New York trio Sunlord provided direct support in the vein of Motorhead. Springfield, Missouri, quartet Paralandra was fronted by the powerful larynx and stylings of singer/guitarist Casandra Carson, and Byfist had the honor of being the lone locals on the bill (see 71-photo slideshow below). They all warmed things up for Malmsteen, who wisely continued to open his show with the only true tune that should begin all of his electric conciertos — “Rising Force.”
This time, however, the man who has dedicated his life to reinventing the art of guitar playing downplayed the use of vocals overall. In addition to “Rising Force,” “Seventh Sign,” “Like an Angel (for April)” and “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget” (ATM footage below) were relegated to one or two verses being sung rather than entirely played. Of course, a Malmsteen show is more a showcase of The Man rather than of a band, which is why Malmsteen perused 95 percent of the stage while vocalist/keyboardist Nick Marino, plus Malmsteen’s bassist and drummer, were relegated to a corner. The bassist may as well have been Ian Hill of Judas Priest given that while he was the only one of the other three capable of moving, he was clamped to one place for the nearly two-hour set. At least Hill chooses to play that way.
Some in the industry would say Malmsteen is all about himself, possessing an ego even higher than his stack of Marshall amps. The fact he was selling “Blue Lightning” tour T-shirts for $45 and a $435 meet-and-greet package — but hey, it included “free T-shirt and signing” — would lend further credence to those who hold that belief. Others might say Malmsteen has earned the right to throw such mountainous cash grabs at his fans after stamping himself as the king of the metal and neoclassical mountain.
So Malmsteen kicked his leg. He hurled his guitars overhead for his tour manager to catch and change out. And on at least one occasion, he motioned to his drummer to keep his eyes on him. Ever the showman, Malmsteen looked twice at his watch while holding the signature note on the first encore, 1984 instrumental “Black Star.” It’s all a part of his schtick almost as much as is Malmsteen’s numerous Ferraris and artistry on the axe. Judge for yourself with ATM’s footage below of a solo that incorporated “Trilogy Suite: Opus 5” and “Blue.”
Paralandra, making its San Antonio debut, provided a pleasant shade of fresh air and no-holds-barred rock. Guitarist Paul Carson, bassist Sawyer Rikard and drummer Nick Gray took the stage simultaneously, jamming for a couple of minutes before Paul’s daughter Casandra and her red high heels raised a few eyebrows and put the audience on notice it was in for an ear-piercing ride.
Casandra Carson tore into the band’s Ascension EP, released last summer, with an inkling of yes, Lzzy Hale’s vocals. Carson also fashioned herself after the Halestorm frontwoman, who has endorsed the band and publicly given Casandra happy birthday wishes, in vocals, wardrobe, and one other key aspect. During a 30-minute performance highlighted by “Never Without Me” and a no fanfare, no-introduction-necessary cover of Queensryche’s “I Don’t Believe In Love,” Carson informed the fans her band is all about believing in itself despite the naysayers or critics one runs into in life while holding true to themselves.
A viable fit for the genre indeed.
Byfist, meanwhile, kicked things off on a stage where it feels at home, even after a 6 1/2-hour soundcheck by Malmsteen forced fans to be let in late and the opening acts to cut into their stage time with soundchecks completed in the blink of an eye by comparison. Leading off with “Universal Metal,” the guitar solo to which by Ernie B. in part hearkens the riff to Dokken’s “Tooth and Nail,” Byfist delivered the local goods in fine fashion along with “Guaranteed Death,” “Scattered Wits” and “In the End.”
The concert options may have been aplenty. But there’s only one Malmsteen. As such, narrowing the choices became simple to those in attendance. Sunlord, Paralandra and Byfist made the rest of the showcase gravy on a night when the menu’s main course spritzed the Vibes Event Center with scintillating guitar licks like wine that only gets better with age.