By Dave Pehling
BERKELEY (CBS SF) — One of the most influential rock guitarists since Eddie Van Halen, neo-classical rock hero Yngwie Malmsteen returns to the Bay Area for this show at the UC Theatre Saturday night.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden to a musical family Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck showed little interest in playing an instrument until he saw Jimi Hendrix perform on television when he was seven years old. He immersed himself in guitar and was playing in his first band by the age of 10. While initially inspired by the rock pyrotechnics of Hendrix, the young musician who changed his name to Yngwie J. Malmsteen before he reached his teens would be fascinated both by rock guitar heroes like Richie Blackmore and the Scorpions’ Uli Roth and classical figures such as Bach, Vivaldi and particularly 19th century Italian violin virtuoso Niccoli Paganini.
By the time he was 18, the incendiary playing heard on Malmsteen’s demos earned him a trip to Los Angeles bankrolled by record producer and label owner Mike Varney. The guitarist would briefly become a member of singer Ron Keel’s metal band Steeler (long enough to play on their sole eponymous album released in 1983) before moving on to join former Blackmore’s Rainbow/Michael Schenker Group singer Graham Bonnet in his band Alcatrazz.
While that partnership would also only last long enough to produce two records (No Parole For Rock and Roll, also issued in 1983, the concert document Live Sentence the following year), those efforts were enough to establish Malmsteen as a force to be reckoned with on the guitar. He signed a solo deal with Polydor and recorded his proper debut Rising Force with backing from Jethro Tull drummer Barriemore Barlow and Swedish keyboard phenom Jens Johansson and appearances by singer Jeff Scott Soto. Instrumental tracks like “Black Star” and “Icarus’ Dream Suite Op. 4” set a new bar for rock guitar virtuosity with Malmsteen’s blinding speed and classical flourishes.
With his band now billed as Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, the guitarist quickly followed up with his second effort Marching Out, that featured more vocal tracks with fantasy and viking focused lyrics. But it was Yngwie’s blistering instrumental prowess that launched a veritable cottage industry of copycat shredders with a neo-classical metal bent. Malmsteen developed a reputation as a volatile bandleader, churning quickly through band members as the ’80s progressed. Still, he managed his biggest chart success yet after bring another former Blackmore’s Rainbow singer into the fold in vocalist Joe Lynn Turner.
That combination produced Odyssey in 1988, a collection that was geared more towards rock radio airplay with the inclusion of the single “Heaven Tonight” (which proved a hit on MTV and the radio airwaves). While that marked Malmsteen’s biggest commercial success, he has maintained a loyal following of fans in the decades since with a steady output of recordings, with some embracing his classical leanings. He has recorded and performed live with full orchestra, most notably on Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar And Orchestra, which was released as a DVD featuring the guitarist in concert with the New Japan Philharmonic.
For this concert at the UC Theatre in Berkeley, Malmsteen brings his current band to play classic tunes and songs from his most recent album, World on Fire issued on his own Rising Force imprint. Opening the show will be veteran Bay Area instrumental power trio Points North, who have provided support for an array of hard rock acts including UFO, King’s X and Y&T as well as the late British guitar great Allan Holdsworth and jazz-fusion legend Al Di Meola.
Saturday, May 27, 8 p.m. $36-$42