Originally intended as a celebration of one of Britain’s greatest brands and fifty years of incredible guitar music, Marshall’s 50 Years Of Loud concert took a strange turn just one month after its initial announcement. April saw the tragic passing of entrepreneur and sonic pioneer Jim Marshall. The elder Marshall changed the face of music, opening up a world of ear warping possibilities when his early amps gave artists across the world equipment capable of matching their seemingly endless ambition. Jim Marshall sits in a rare class alongside Leo Fender, Les Paul, Seth Lover and Antonio Stradivari, who not only made great music possible, but freed invention from the shackles of technological restraint.
Jubilation had to be tempered by remembrance; striking the right tone became troublesome, and tonight 50 Years Of Loud certainly appears conflicted. Taking place across seven hours, mixing convention with concert (and throwing in the odd extended sales pitch), at times the event feels like a fitting tribute, and in other moments it has the air of an ill conceived hodge-podge.
Surveying the near capacity crowd at Wembley Arena can be heart warming. Fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren beam as they embrace a shared passion for guitar playing – there’s something undeniably cool about watching the jaws of a surly hoodied teenager and his bespectacled grandfather simultaneously drop during a stunningly intricate Yngwie Malmsteem solo. Unfortunately, this refreshing sight is counter balanced by the beer queue, which, at a glance, resembles a Darwinian diagram detailing the slow development of male pattern baldness.
The concert produces a similar contrast between dazzling spectacle and well-judged sentiment on one hand, and poor planning and collective confusion on the other. The decision to go with an all-seater arena immediately makes for an uncomfortable atmosphere. No one is quite sure whether to sit or stand, and as the crowd hasn’t gathered for one definitive headline act, there is no sense of unity or collective momentum. Certain quarters are baying for the bruising grooves of Zakk Wylde while others have come to sit and marvel at Joe Satriani’s frightful legato technique. The frustration becomes palpable when the concert is firing on all cylinders: how exactly are you expected to sit still when Kerry King and Tim “Ripper” Owens are tearing through “Hell Bent For Leather”?
Thankfully, a selection of artists fully understand the occasion. Corey Taylor is all smiles and enthusiasm. He doesn’t expect the crowd to roar or mosh, but he is intent on making sure guitar fans of every stripe feel welcome. Staying well clear of both Stone Sour (mercifully) and Slipknot (surprisingly), the singer is happy to pay tribute to his heroes and belt out tunes in any key.
When Billy Duffy pulls up on stage Taylor breezes through The Cult’s “Lil’ Devil” and “Love Removal Machine” with shrewd professionalism, before the arrival of Motorhead’s Phil Campbell presents a more significant challenge. A loving cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Still In Love With You” is beautifully played with a hefty dose of added crunch. Corey can’t hope to match Phil Lynott’s wistful sighing croon, and in its own way, Taylor’s strained horse cry proves a fitting tribute to an extraordinary lost talent. The night’s first unmistakable highlight emerges when Slayer’s Kerry King joins the throng on stage to piledrive his way through “Ace Of Spades” and the pummelling grooves of Pantera’s “Mouth Of War”.
A moment that totemic is next to impossible to follow, but Zakk Wylde makes a decent fist of it. Following in Tim Owens crowd-pleasing footsteps, Wylde forgoes the typically numbing grooves of Black Label Society for some crunching Sabbath covers (complete with Ozzy’s typically needling vocal). Deafeningly loud, Wylde and King’s insistent attack is undeniably enlivening, even if their take on “Fairies Wear Boots” is too busy, lacking the deep lingering ruminations of Iommi’s original.
Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert have no problem winning over a divided crowd. Both laid back crowd pleasers use this quirky occasion to experiment. Gilbert grins as he noodles his way through a selection of ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix and Joe Walsh classics, adding dazzling improvised solos that keep Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy on his toes.
Satriani’s set is tragically short. Greeted with the hearty roar of a headliner, his everyman understatement is perfect for an occasion where not taking yourself too seriously is a must. “Always With Me, Always With You” is the finest tribute imaginable to Jim Marshall – sweet, solemn, reflective, but not remotely gushing. Gilbert soon re-emerges and, in a nerdy but lovable fashion, challenges Satch to an importune guitar battle, which he ends by classily bowing to his elder before launching into a storming rendition of Moloch’s “Going Down”.
Less impressive is Yngwie Malmsteen who is a bundle of theatrical energy when he bounds on stage. Too concerned with pandering, he shows none of his famed classical inflections as he assaults his fretboard relentlessly during a directionless reading of “Far Beyond The Sun”. It’s captivating at first, but his wild attack wears thin when he returns to join Glenn Hughes, who closes proceedings.
A bizarre choice of headliner, Hughes’ trademark wail still burrows its way into your eardrum with fearsome intensity, but he makes few concessions to an unfamiliar crowd. “Black Country” and “Rock Me Baby” bulldoze the crowd with sheer volume, but Wembley remains frosty as Hughes struggles to hold their attention post-Satch. Before too much damage can be done Al Murray, the night’s compere, pulls everyone on stage for a seismic take on Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”. The room eventually rises to its feet (after some prompting) and the evening ends on a rousing note.
The house band, led by the insatiable Brian Tichy on drums, deserve considerable praise. They were dexterous and adaptable in the extreme, rising to every challenge tonight’s eclectic ensemble could throw at them. Marshall’s 50 Years Of Loud might have been a surreal mix of once in a lifetime highs and baffling misjudged lows, but it fulfilled its fundamental promise: it was loud as all hell.
Hampered by ill health, but never ones to retire shyly, The Who continue celebrating their 50th anniversary as they contemplate retirement.
Guitar Planet grades the creative comebacks from three iconic artists who are attempting to give 2015 a much-needed injection of impetus.
Guitar Planet takes on new albums by southern stars Blackberry Smoke, nu-metal icons Papa Roach and the legendary Venom.
The music industry’s glamorous state of the union address was delivered this weekend, but what did the Grammys have to say about guitar music?
Enter Shikari renew their archly political assault while expanding their sonic horizons on The Mindsweep.