Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 1:25 pm | Fair 75º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Yngwie Malmsteen Is Still the Speed King

Guitar shredder is awe-inspiring at concert in Ventura

At the Yngwie Malmsteen concert at the Majestic Ventura Theater on Sunday night, bassist Ralph Ciavolino joked that there are two man-made objects visible from space: the Great Wall of China and the “Great Wall of Malmsteen.” The latter was a playful reference to the massive wall of guitar amps that stood behind Malmsteen, a total of 15 Marshall 4-by-12 cabinets and 26 Marshall heads.

OK, one might think that this wall of amps was a bit excessive, and it’s quite possible that many of them were there just for show.

Yngwie Malmsteen
Yngwie Malmsteen

A cynic might describe Malmsteen’s lightning fast neo-classical guitar playing in similar terms — “a bit excessive,” and much of it “just for show.” But even the cynics would have to admit that Malmsteen is one of the most technically amazing guitarists that ever put finger to fretboard. And to true believers, seeing the “Maestro” live was an awe-inspiring experience.

Malmsteen made his name as a pioneering guitar shredder in the 1980s, and is probably the person most responsible for guitarists in that decade learning about things like the Phrygian mode, diminished scales, sweep picking and the violinist Niccolò Paganini (one of Malmsteen’s influences). Malmsteen also helped make it cool, for a while at least, to practice scales and arpeggios.

Clearly a number of people in the audience were guitarists themselves, trying to learn from the master. Many of them were recording video clips of the show on their phones, presumably to study Malmsteen’s technique at home.

In addition to the high-octane Malmsteen compositions, the concert included Malmsteen’s frenzied take on the “Star-Spangled Banner,” played somewhat a la Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. There was also a cover of “Gates of Babylon” by Rainbow, whose guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was a key influence on Malmsteen.

Like Hendrix and Blackmore, Malmsteen’s weapon of choice was a Fender Stratocaster played through Marshall amps. And like Hendrix and Blackmore, Malmsteen is a guitar showman, often spinning his guitar around his body or playing above his head or with his teeth. At the end of a song, he would sometimes throw his Strat some 15 feet to his guitar tech, no doubt one of the busier people in the theater. He also played a few blazing numbers on an Ovation acoustic guitar.

Reflecting on the flurry of notes that Malmsteen played, I am reminded of the exchange between Wolfgang Mozart and Emperor Joseph II in the movie Amadeus. The Emperor said to Mozart, “Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.” Mozart replied, “Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?”

Malmsteen’s playing may seem “a bit excessive” at times, but, really, what notes would you suggest that he should leave out?

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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