As Zakk Wylde fired up his bevy of Les Pauls at the St James, a smile was implanted on the collective face of the assembled metallers. Arguably the finest guitar player of his generation, Wylde intertwines the crawl of classic Iomni riffs with a diverse lead style ranging from the aggressive tremolo attack of a Steve Morse/Al Di Meola to the chicken pickin’ of an Albert Lee. Also combine a healthy dose of Van Halen and Randy Rhoads with pinch harmonics (squeals) that would leave both Billy Gibbons and John Sykes in awe, and you’ve got one badass guitarist.
Like Sabbath on steroids, Wylde and the Black Label Society opened with the pummeling ‘The Beginning… At Last’, perhaps a backhanded apology to the ‘New Zealand Chapter’, for failing to tour the country in eight years. Nonetheless, the riffs kept crushing as ‘Suffering Overdue’ and ‘Funeral Bell’ left the weak in the slamming pit slaughtered. ‘Suicide Messiah’ and ‘Bleed For Me’ continued the onslaught, as second guitar player Nick Catanese doubled several diatonic-driven solos with Wylde.
But then, the concert headed in a different direction, as Wylde sat behind a portable keyboard and proceeded to turn the Southern acoustic number, ‘Spoke In The Wheel’ into a piano-driven epic. Two classy Black Label ballads followed, and ‘The Last Goodbye’ and ‘In This River’ were given resounding approval by the audience, the latter being a tribute to Zakk’s fallen friend, the late ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbot. Like numerous great musicians, Wylde guided himself through this more composed stage of the gig with ample vitamin B (Becks).
Wylde’s impressive and equally pentatonic/diatonic-based solo followed soon after. His dedication to his instrument obvious as he tore out (original Ozzy guitar player) Randy Rhoads’ memorable live solo to the Osbourne song, ‘Suicide Solution’. However, it was not long before the entire band resumed the hell-raising. The barnstorming ‘Concrete Jungle’ was perhaps a symbolic gesture, given the show was in Auckland. Sadly, Wylde and company delivered a predictable encore with ‘Stillborn’, though the song brilliantly illustrated Wylde’s penchant for grand chorus vocal harmonies.
Given the band’s rugged ‘biker’ image and their rants about Chapters, they certainly wouldn’t fit too well into Michael Laws’ Wanganui. However, Wylde’s legacy as a guitar player and musician is on the verge of God-like status. If it means drinking on Sunday mornings, long may it remain that way.
The St. James, Auckland, 30 September 2006