It was a truly extravagant affair when world-renowned guitar virtuoso YNGWIE MALMSTEEN brought his Masterclass tour to Australia. The Melbourne clinic was held on Wednesday evening at George Wood Performing Arts Centre and fans clamoured into the theatre, their excitement evident. Many were donned in the infamous Yngwie Who? t-shirt, some were shaking from the trepidation of seeing one of the world’s greatest musicians merely feet away, and when the Swedish icon took to the stage, it was to a standing ovation, deafening cheers and applause.
It was a magical as well as an intimate affair, the celebrated composer spending one-and-a-half hours on stage, answering questions from the audience in-between performing some of his most famous masterpieces including ‘Spellbound’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Baroque & Roll’ to name a few. He ended the evening with an awe-inspiring performance of ‘Far Beyond The Sun’.
Malmsteen effortlessly showcased his astounding technical ability and phenomenal speed, and many in the crowd were transfixed, watching in awe the man Time Magazine hailed as one of the ten greatest electric guitarists of all time. Malmsteen’s face was the epitome of utmost passion as he played an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach on the guitar, paying homage to one of the great composers that have inspired him throughout his career.
“How does one go from playing guitar in their bedroom to becoming a rock idol?” one fan wanted to know. “One word,” replied Malmsteen: “Relentless” – referring to his memoir published earlier this year. “That will explain everything,” Malmsteen added, and indeed it does. The biography, which Malmsteen spent seven years writing, chronicles his rise to stardom and is a must read for any fan. For those who haven’t read the book yet however, Malmsteen said that it was his sheer determination and not allowing anyone to stop him from achieving his goals that enabled him to reach international acclaim and super stardom. Reflecting that he had come from a country where what he dreamed of achieving had been perceived as impossible, he offered this advice: “You have to believe in yourself, don’t compromise and don’t give up.”
One fan wanted to know if Malmsteen still gets excited playing guitar, and how does he continually find creativity and inspiration, to which he responded that improvisation was everything, saying he keeps it fresh by not playing the same thing over and over again. “I never give myself the comfort of knowing that I’m just playing what I already know,” he said, “there’s no risk in that. And because of that, it never becomes old. It’s exciting and always challenging and there’s always that danger factor. That’s why I never practice. I just play.”
Being raised in a family where everyone from his siblings to his aunts and uncles were musicians, Malmsteen said he was encouraged from a very young age to “play something” but found himself not being particularly drawn to any instrument despite taking flute, trumpet, piano and drum lessons: “then I saw Jimi Hendrix play a guitar and burn it, and I said ‘that looks cool,’” he said, and at that very moment, decided he wanted to be a guitarist.
Another fan asked how does Malmsteen put so much emotion into his fast playing and shredding, to which he answered: “I’ve always been very adamant about making each note count,” quoting the classical violinist that has been a major source of inspiration: “PAGANINI said ‘One must feel strongly to make others feel strongly.’” Asked of his biggest classical influences, he replied: “BACH, Paganini of course, TCHAIKOVSKY, MOZART, VIVALDI – between Bach and Vivaldi – there’s so much beauty there, really. Never get tired of that. It’s always there.”
There were also plenty of laughs, Malmsteen showcasing his sense of humour which the crowd clearly enjoyed. One member of the audience asked that when he plays live these days, does he feel like he is in competition with anyone? “No,” he replied simply, to resounding cheers, “maybe I’m in competition with myself,” he added, laughing. And the last guitar he purchased? “Oh, I haven’t bought a guitar in a long time,” he chuckled, “I spend all my money on Ferraris.” If he had to sell his Ferraris (of which he owns five) and keep just one, which one would he keep? “Oh my God. That’s not right man,” he laughed, adding, “I’d keep the red one.” Would he ever consider playing a Les Paul guitar, live? “Not live, no,” Malmsteen said, “it’s like bringing out a piece of furniture.” Malmsteen referred to his Fender Stratocaster as a “true weapon” recalling that when he was approached by Fender to have his own signature guitar it was “the most amazing thing.”
There were plenty of technical questions asked by aspiring guitarists and answered in detail by the virtuoso, some regarding tuning, scales, notes and pickups, and asked of how one should go about practicing speed and accuracy in their picking, Malmsteen offered the following advice: “Just play with your ears, make sure it sounds good. And never play above your ability – whatever your ability is, stay a little bit below it until it sounds good – then as you play more and more, your ability will rise.”
As to how the maestro continues to keep things interesting, the trick is he says, “to never really play the same thing. Every day when you pick up that guitar, there should be something new coming out without you even thinking about it. It’s like a built–in challenge.” And when is he coming back to Australia with a band, one fan asked eagerly: “What do you mean?” he laughed, “this is it!” And indeed it was. Malmsteen providing an entire concert experience, proving why he is one the true greats of our era.
Photos of Yngwie Malmsteen in Melbourne by Jonathan Carruthers, Thump Music