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Ace Of Spades, Sacramento, California
April 18th 2015

tony conley
Tony Conley

zakk wylde

Zakk Wylde brought a special show to town last night with his Black Label Society and their Unblackened Tour is a magnificent semi-acoustic resume for the ex-Osbourne guitar star. My mind is still reeling at the whole thing.

The Sacramento Chapter of the Black Label Society showed up en mass to Ace Of Spaces, and if anything, the club was oversold - though it mattered little to the Country Sheriffs who were hanging out at the mouth of the club and the merch table all night. It's my opinion that they're paid to keep things in order, but they were more interested in checking out the music than giving anyone the business. And you couldn't blame them as the music was superb.

Unblackened is a not quite an unplugged tour but it is a very definite toning down of the Black Label sound and to call it a mass is no exaggeration. This is the softer side of Zakk Wylde, but it lacked nothing in terms of energy and excitement. The best way I could describe it would be to say that it was like hearing a band play their greatest hits for history - I hope they are filming some of these shows because it really must been seen and heard to appreciate.

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Whether he was stage front and center with a multitude of Gibson Custom Shop beauties, or from behind the piano, Zakk Wylde, with the aid of a remarkably sensitive group of accompanists, put on one of the most powerful displays of sheer musicianship that I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot.

At times the band would wind their way out of a song and into a musical interlude that would evoke bands of rock's long history - when Wylde and co-lead guitarist Dario Lorina (who is a stunning talent) started weaving some harmonies and spontaneous jamming it was very Allman-esque, without ever quoting anything directly, they simply captured the vibe. More than a few times I heard moments that displayed Wylde's respect and love for such guitarists as Al DiMeola, Michael Schenker, and Uli Jon Roth to name but a few.

Mind you, Zakk makes everything he plays his own, and his long solos were some of the night's highlights. As dazzling as these solos were, it was the musical content that kept drawing me back in and never allowing my attention to drift, and it could have easily drifted as bassist John "JD" DeServio put on his own display of virtuosity and taste just a few feet away. Then, after a mind blowing solo section, again and again the band would segue back into the tune, and the war was waged to see which was better, the tunes or the displays of jaw dropping instrumental interplay - at the end of the night, it was called a draw.

I was shocked at just how many moments brought to mind a pop mind set closer to the The Beatles than Black Sabbath - especially when Wylde found himself behind the piano. The band negotiated every curve and never stalled under the strain of a setlist filled with challenging arrangements. I was stoked to see that Zakk gave Dario Lorina absolute carte blanche to play to his heart's content, and his style is a nice departure from his bosses' and took some of the heat off of having to supply all the heavy lifting off of Wylde, who enthusiastically encouraged his band at every turn.

Unblackened is a tour that Wylde has wanted to present ever since the band released a live CD of the same name in September 2013 that was recorded at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles, and he's only now been able to schedule it into his always busy schedule, but there's no question but that the crowd was seriously, seriously ready for it. It looked like a biker convention, and these people know their rock - I've a sneaking suspicion that ninety percent of this audience has been riding with Zakk for a long while, and it goes the curiosity of seeing a guy who used to play for Ozzy - this was Zakk's crowd, and they adore his every note.

I had never seen a guitarist playing behind his head and with his teeth while sitting down, but Wylde pulled it off as smoothly as he did everything on this night - especially cool was the band's use of prerecorded sound bites which they use to segue from set change to set change - if there was a matter of Wylde going from his seat out front to behind the piano with the mics switched out, there was always a sense of easing in and out, and never an uncomfortable moment as changes were made - it was all seamless.

2015 has been a year of great shows all ready, but Zakk Wylde set the bar pretty damned high tonight, and it'll be a blast seeing who can even come close to this show. The crowd couldn't have been better (well, there may have been an incident or two of fisticuffs, but you'll have that when the drinks are flowing, and the crowd is packed in tight), the band was incredible, and Zakk Wylde made the case for his being one of the most well rounded musicians of his generation. We tend to think of his as a guitarist, but his fans certainly know better - he's an all round excellent music maker.

1. Losin' Your Mind
2. Suicide Messiah
3. Road Back Home
4. Spoke In The Wheel
5. House Of Doom
6. Machine Gun Man
7. Sold My Soul
8. Angel Of Mercy
9. In This River
10. Scars
11. Empty Promises
12. Throwin' It All Away
13. The Blessed Hellride
14. My Dying Time
15. Overlord
16. Stillborn

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MetalTalk recently sat down with Wacken founder and owner Thomas Jensen and that interview will be online next week and it's a fascinating insight into how Wacken originated from nothing to become the world's premiere Heavy Metal event.


Wacken 2018 takes place from 2nd to 4th August 20218 and as with Wacken Winter Nights, if you have never experienced all it has to offer, then you owe it to yourself to remedy that.

Already announced for Wacken 2018 are Judas Priest, Nightwish, Running Wild (exclusive), Arch Enemy, Dirkschneider, Doro (Special Anniversary Show), In Extremo, Sepultura, Amorphis, Amaranthe, Firewind, W.A.R., Belphegor, Mantar, Knorkator, Deserted Fear, Watain, Night Demon, Epica, Knorkator, Belphegor, Firewind, Deserted Fear and many more and we'll have more Wacken 2018 announcements during December.

As well as being the greatest Heavy Metal festival in the world, it is without a doubt the Mecca of Metal and the one thing that every single person who loves our music should have on their bucket list.

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