Yngwie Malmsteen’s Asteroid-Level Force Hits The National

by | Dec 10, 2021 | MUSIC

The National wasn’t exactly packed when Swedish guitar maestro Yngwie Malmsteen hit town on a recent Sunday night. But Ryan Kent was there, and he brings us back this report of stellar Stratocaster shredding.

It would’ve killed us all had it made impact.

Twenty-seven years ago in San Diego, California at the Palomar Observatory, the late American astronomer Carolyn S. Shoemaker discovered the asteroid known as 1994 WR12. Head-to-toe, the asteroid is 10 yards longer than a football field, and on November 29th it came within 3.8 million miles of colliding with our blue planet at roughly 6 miles a second. 

NASA said, had this space bomb struck Earth, it would’ve done so with the force of 77 megatons of TNT. The most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested, the Tsar Bomba, was detonated in October of 1961 and was 20 megatons less than this big fella. Imagine that.

The night before 1994 WR12 ran down the sidelines past Earth, an asteroid named Yngwie Malmsteen put a crater in the space that once occupied 708 E. Broad Street, and it didn’t seem like anyone gave a shit about that either

The metaphor here isn’t about Malmsteen being from outer space. I just don’t know what else to compare his performance to. Something a person should see at least once in their lifetime, given the opportunity. Like, if you get the chance to catch a blood supermoon or Yo-Yo Ma, you should take it. 

Just to say you did.

Standing amongst the maybe 300 people at the National, it felt like something incredible was happening forty-five feet in front of me, and not many were there to witness it. It was not a blood supermoon or Yo-Yo Ma, but it was something I’d have regretted sleeping on. If 300 people in California, from 4:30 until 5pm PT on November 29th, had pointed a telescope into space, maybe they’d have caught a glimpse of asteroid 1994 WR12 whizzing by. It won’t be back this way until 2046. Who knows when Yngwie Malmsteen will come back to Richmond? Will anyone give a shit then?

People really into astronomy must feel the same way people really into guitar players must feel. A lot of their friends probably only have a casual interest and/or familiarity, unless they’re really into guitar players and/or astronomy too. A lot of nights going stag to observe the solar system or to watch a guitar virtuoso rocket up and down a fretboard in a regional club. However, there isn’t an admission fee to space, and it doesn’t take much for someone to learn how to play space. You just have to know where to look.

Malmsteen walked through the smoke onstage wearing black leather pants and tasseled black leather boots. He had an unbuttoned black shirt, muttonchops, and the long, dark maestro hairstyle you’d imagine Ludwig Van Beethoven would’ve worn had he played Neoclassical guitar in the 1980’s. Lightly smiling to himself while holding a white Fender Stratocaster, as if he were a Flight Director in front of, like, 500 Marshall cabinets (how many of those were fake?), just prior to sending the audience into orbit. 

I have no idea what song Malmsteen lifted off with. The only song I definitely knew was “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which isn’t saying much. I wouldn’t have known what songs Malmsteen played off of what albums anyway. I was a tourist who just wanted to watch the dude shred. And my god, he shredded.

I’ve never seen anything like it, really. Yes, I’ve seen dudes play like maniacs, but not like this. Standing still in front of the sound booth like I’d been stuck in the neck by a tranquillizer dart. Feeling the etorphine seep into my bloodstream as Malmsteen broke through the stratosphere. Foam in the corners of my mouth. Glassy-eyed stare. Obviously, none of that happened, but maybe I could’ve been mistaken for a tranqed ostrich in a National Geographic article about ostrich poaching in South Africa.

Malmsteen did mention his new, largely instrumental album Parabellum. He sang on four tracks, which was a surprise since Malmsteen has worked with a lot of different singers, including Tim “Ripper” Owens, who once fronted Judas Priest and Iced Earth. Parabellum features Malmsteen’s vocals on tracks like “Wolves At The Door,” “Relentless Fury,” “Eternal Bliss,” and “Fight (The Good Fight),” and it’s in that same operatic vocal style you’ll hear in lots of power metal. The lyrics to these new songs are cornball, but I don’t think people were at the National for poetry. They wanted to see Malmsteen take off amidst the green, Martian glow of the stage lights, just the same as I did. 

Smoke machines continued to empty out on stage with Malmsteen at the center. He was accompanied by an excellent keyboard player and drummer, who were positioned off to the side. The keyboard player seamlessly matched notes with Malmsteen, almost as if there were another guitarist up there tearing away at the sonic cloth. The keyboard player also mostly handled the in-between song banter, while Malmsteen walked offstage to do whatever guitar virtuosos do when they walk offstage. Most of the time, he’d return with another white Fender Stratocaster; sometimes he’d just toss the guitar high in the air for his guitar-tech to catch and carry offstage. Pretty certain he dropped the last one. 

What I’ve described basically went on for the remainder of the show. Malmsteen finished his set by ripping the strings from his Fender to feedback and applause, after balancing it half a dozen times on one of the Marshall stacks. 

I think it kind of works out like that. 

Each time someone mentions witnessing a future celestial event, it almost always sounds like a fantastic idea at the time, but when that event pops up randomly in the beginning of the week, suddenly people couldn’t be less interested. Maybe that’s what happened here, or maybe that’s exclusively a Richmond thing. I certainly know that I’ll be in attendance should Yngwie Malmsteen’s name again appear on the National’s marquee. Maybe some things are just better to fall down the rabbit hole about on the internet instead. How do you think I found out about asteroid 1994 WR12?

Virtuosos must get that a lot.   

Photos by Ryan Kent.

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)

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