Kayleigh MG heads over to Kentish Town’s 02 Forum to see what magic Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen brings to the stage.
Entering the Forum and seeing a wall of Marshall Amps stacked at the back of the stage means only one thing: Yngwie Malmsteen will soon be gracing London Town with his presence. After recent controversy (no surprises there) on social media between Malmsteen and ex vocalists, I was intrigued to see if the Viking would be taking on the vocals by himself. At first glance, it looks as if it’s going to be a complete one man band- has Yngwie really had enough of all musicians and decided to do everything on his lonesome? On closer inspection, three additional musicians can just about be seen, crammed in the left corner like caged hens. Not really surprising when you remember that Malmsteen wears his ‘diva’ tag with absolute pride.
The venue is nicely full with guitar nerds galore, all of whom balance on their tip toes as the opening synths in Odyssey’s ‘Rising Force’ gradually builds up. Yngwie isn’t even on stage yet and the room is irritatingly lit with the lights of hundreds of smartphones. Dry ice floods the stage and the lighting perfectly matches the eruption of the drum beat. Finally, the notorious riff is played by the maestro himself. Malmsteen bursts onto the stage with moves already reminiscent from the initial images of Live in Leningrad in 1989. He kicks picks off the stage and audience members scramble to catch a piece of gold dust.
Malmsteen dons a flowing silk shirt, characteristically unbuttoned exposing the well-recognised silver cross around his neck. He holds his vintage white Fender Strat in the air with his heavily chained wrists glimmering against the red tones of the room. Bassist Ralph Ciavolino does a good job taking on the vocals for the first part of ‘Rising Force’ as Malmsteen continues to fiddle the frets and work the crowd.
Yngwie sends the crowd into a daze as he shreds his way through well-known album tracks such as ‘Seventh Sign’, complex arpeggios, solos and classical covers. He showcases the speed and skill he is best known for and confirms why he is responsible for pioneering this neoclassical style of playing. Yngwie Malmsteen has always chosen esteemed, technically skilled vocalists such as Joe Lynn Turner, Jeff Scott Soto and Göran Edman, to name but a few. Tonight though, he takes on many of the vocal parts independently and thus attempts to prove his point that he doesn’t find working with vocalists “conducive to his style of writing and performing.” He does a truly astounding job, particularly when performing a blues number where he shows that he can woo the audience with his soulful tones as well as his guitar mastery.
Guitar gimmicks can really be cliché and often remind you of amateur guitarists messing up. We’ve all seen the videos of guitars flying off the backs of their players leaving them with a variety of injuries. You name the trick, Malmsteen does it- plucking with his teeth; shredding behind his head; spinning the Strat; throwing it in the air, catching and throwing back and forth to the very nervous roadie on the side of the stage- it’s all there, and it’s all done so gracefully, with absolute ease and tremendous accuracy.
There is now a fantastic surprise- the addition of Trilogy’s ‘You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget’ where Yngwie encourages the crowd to sing the chorus as he plays. Many do so enthusiastically, and others watch on in awe.
It’s time for the encore and although I’m sad the show is coming to an end, I know that a Malmsteen encore is going to be one to remember. ‘Black Star’ from his debut album is played in a unique and experimental way. People around me hum along to the familiar sounds of the solos as fanboys and air-guitarists enjoy each of the thousands of notes played. ‘I'll See the Light Tonight’ from Marching Out is partially played, leaving me craving another set, perhaps with more sing-a-long material.
As the set comes to an end, Malmsteen begins his infamous guitar demolition. He bends, throws, spins and hits a black and white fender across the stage as he himself kicks across the stage displaying a grin like a naughty school boy. He encourages the crowd to cheer and as they do, the stunning destruction goes on. Once complete a heavy breathing Malmsteen takes a noble bow as a thespian would to his audience. He returns the applause and jovially welcomes his band members on stage to complete the line-up and receive some well-deserved praise.
The media love to find a reason to talk negatively about Yngwie Malmsteen. Usually to expose the controversial, arrogant nature which he is renowned for. Tonight however, there isn’t a bad word to say about this Viking. He performed flawlessly, played his instrument in a god-like manner and put on one of the greatest live shows I have ever witnessed. A true music marvel, not to be under estimated.