170 Russell, Melbourne
10 June 2015
Review by Daniel Tucceri
Photo by Peter Coates
Say what you want about Yngwie Malmsteen, there’s no denying he’s a maestro. Well, that is according to his faithful and hapless bottom-feeder Ralph Ciavolino. With more virgins in the room than Bin Laden’s version of paradise, the sausage fest better known as Yngwie’s fan club was never in any doubt as to who the star of the show was. Where Malmsteen saw no need for a lesser band to introduce him, the sight of fanboys fawning for the fretboard firebrand was entertainment enough.
“So, it’s just Yngwie tonight?” a pal asked me.
“Just Yngwie?” I respond with mock-consternation and a raised eyebrow.
At that exact moment, a fanboy old enough to be my father runs to the bar with black t-shirt held aloft. He’d just paid forty five dollars to spell out the white capital letters, which adorned his choice of sacred garment. “Yngwie who? Yngwie f***ing Malmsteen, that’s who!” he beamed to a male chorus of guffaws.
Seriously, there are moments in life, which fall together so perfectly they seem scripted. On the other hand, Yngwie’s concert was quite the opposite. From the very moment the clueless barmaid had no idea what my friend was talking about when he asked for a ‘neat’ scotch, the evening was one plagued by unexpected problems. Most disappointingly, Yngwie did not react with a trademark tantrum, as he is notorious for.
Where brief sound checks are part and parcel of the concert experience, occasionally gremlins get the better of even the most seasoned sound guy. Yngwie, as a self-proclaimed maestro, has no excuse, however. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk; it was a good half hour over time before the Swedish shredder did.
In that time, the faithful struggled to salivate as shrill feedback pierced their eardrums. Despite being covered in tacky Ferrari stickers (one can only surmise whether Yngwie’s Ferrari has a few Fender stickers on the dash), Malmsteen’s bumbling guitar tech couldn’t get it to work fast enough. With no less than a metric tonne of Marshall-brand monoliths behind him, it was baffling as to why it took until the second song of the set before the problem was alleviated by simply changing amps. For the remainder of the evening, Yngwie’s wrong-hand man would be a persistently irritating presence running back and forth across the stage.
Equally persistent were Ciavolino’s crap jokes. After dropping one lead balloon after another, the bassist beseeched the audience to show their appreciation for the man he affectionately called ‘the Maestro’. Whilst I was personally frustrated by the wait, the acolytes remained unwavering in their adoration of Yngwie.
Finally, things clicked into gear and the band was as flawless as I’d anticipated. Often, bands, which pride themselves on virtuosity, place technicality before feeling. Nothing could be more boring than watching a grown adult violate an instrument onstage and expect us to think volumes of them for inducing sleep through self-indulgence. Well, Yngwie admittedly did violate his acoustic and electric guitars, loves a bit of self-indulgence and clearly wants us to think he’s as awesome as he does. However, he definitely wasn’t sleep inducing. Between sweep-picked arpeggios and blistering hemi-demi-semi-quaver passages, he thought little of twirling his guitar in mid-air like King Kong toying with a helpless ballerina.
Clearly, the show is about one person, though that needn’t detract from the best efforts of his bandmates. Nick Marino was equally virtuosic, taking on the greater challenge of perfectly executed vocal passages with melodies matching Yngwie’s guitar. In any other format, the harpsichord sounds like two skeletons making love on a tin roof. Malmsteen’s compositions exhibit a side to the instrument that can often be heard with the faint whirring sound of J.S Bach spinning in his grave. Or, doing windmills six feet under for all we know. Unfortunately, the sound guy ensured Marino’s excellent playing was generally overwhelmed by the star of the show.
Nonetheless, there wasn’t a vaguely disinteresting moment to be had. Inclusions of Hendrix’s ‘Red House’, guitar standard ‘Far Beyond the Sun’ with ‘Adagio’ made the setlist as eclectic as one would hope. With such an expansive and diverse repertoire, it must be remarked that Yngwie’s set fell well short at ninety minutes. Not bothering to encore was a bit of a slap in the face to patient fans that paid a dollar for each minute they waited as soon as 170 Russell opened its doors.
At the very least, he could have entertained us by chucking a wobbly. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Yngwie as an eighteen year old in throes of guitar worship. Dissatisfied with the lighting, the Swede could be heard from ten rows back bellowing above his fully amplified bandmates. While he’s lost none of his energy, perhaps Yngwie has indeed mellowed with age. It might also be that he doesn’t quite give a f*** any more.