Ace of Spades, Sacramento
September 7, 2023
Photos by Paul Piazza
There was a buoyant spirit in the air at Ace of Spades in Sacramento when Yngwie Malmsteem came to play recently. The crowd, which was made up of a variety of guitar enthusiasts, metal heads, and plain old music lovers, seemed to enjoy a shared titillation leading up to the renown Swedish neoclassical guitar virtuoso’s performance. Maybe the spirits were high because everyone was out on a night so close to the weekend, but it was also apparent most everyone was geeking out as they prepared to witness a guitarist who has carved out a unique place for himself in the pantheon of guitar.
The crowd was a mix of young and old. Some of the younger ones had cultivated a young Malmsteen circa the 80s, complete with the hairspray and the padded shoulder jackets. There were also some in the crowd who reminisced about seeing Malmsteen’s first big regional solo performance in 1985 at Day on the Green in Oakland. He performed early in the day on the bill at that landmark show that featured a breakout stadium performance by Metallica as well. At the time, Malmsteen was already onto his second record “Marching Out” and the first Rising Force record was already considered a modern guitar classic by many. He made a lot of jaws dropped on the warm late summer day.
So here we were, almost forty years later, waiting to see where he had evolved to at this later point in his career. The answer was that he was in excellent form at the age of 60, full of radiant energy with a great band blasting through recent numbers as well as the undeniable classics.
Not too long after his third album Trilogy was released in ’87, Malmsteen had a very bad car crash in his Jaguar E Class that left him in a coma for a week. When he emerged he had nerve damage in his playing hand. During that same period of time, his mom, who was his main inspiration, passed away after a bout with cancer.
Those were not good times. After all of this, he somehow willed himself back to health and has been performing ever since. The guitarist has released over twenty studio records altogether at this point and many are studied closely by guitarists around the world. He has also gained a reputation as having a bit of a strong personality that may occasionally rub people the wrong way. Such is the price of musical genius one may suppose.
On this Thursday night, Malmsteen played nearly twenty five songs that were quite enthusiastically received by the eager crowd on hand. He played classics like “Now Your Ships Are Burned” and “Far Beyond the Sun” as well as more recent material. He also covered Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix (Ritchie Blackmore and Hendrix are influences) as well as “Badinerie” by Johann Sebastian Bach, which really showcased his astounding vibrato technique.
It was a nonstop performance that was built towards crowd engagement and the Swedish guitarist seemed to never run out of energy as his hands seemed to effortlessly fly up and down the Stratocaster fretboard. One of the most distinctive parts of his playing style is the unification of classical themes and metal. He also chucked and tossed countless signature picks into the crowd at random intervals during and after songs.
The opener for the show were the Steve Ramone Band, who were a hard-driving rocking bar band with roots in punk. Not the typical band one would expect for a Malmsteen gig, but they went over pretty well. Many of the shows on this tour had featured legendary bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes opening, but that was not the case on this night. However there was one recognizable figure on the bass in the Ramos Band-Chip Z’Nuff of Enuff Z’Nuff. After exchanging some pleasantries with Z’Nuff after the show, he said he had something for me. Anticipating a business card or some sort of promotional material, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a guitar pick.
“This is for you, it’s an Yngwie Malmsteen guitar pick,” he said with a smirk. And that was as good as a takeaway from this show as any.
That and the crowds chants of “Yngwie! Yngwie! Yngwie!” still ringing in my ears.