Can Zakk Wylde Get out from the Shadows, and on to the Black Label?

Photo by Ryan Johnson
Photo by Ryan Johnson

Guitar great Zakk Wylde brought his Book of Shadows II Tour to Vancouver’s own Commodore Ballroom Thursday night, in what is the last leg of tour that saw Europe prior to its North American stop-offs. Stopping off at the famous Granville Street venue for the better part of the evening, Wylde made an impact on the first song of the night in the form of an almost absurdly long guitar solo. Kicking the night off with ‘Sold My Soul”, the bowler hat wearing Wylde injected the surprisingly not sold out Commodore Ballroom with a palpable raw energy that swept the Black Label Society (BLS) and Zakk Wylde solo fans up and pushed them to front of house akin to the famous experiment with Pavlov and his dog.

Having the first tune of the night match a lot of opening acts’ entire set length along with Wylde essentially utilizing all of his guitar tricks and gimmicks within just one, albeit long song, the common sentiment around the building was that most had received what they came to witness. Alas, there were many more poses to witness and a couple of hours of Southern Rock yet still left in the hopper.

For as long and meticulously laid out as the show was Thursday night, there was not a lot banter or speaking to the crowd between songs out of the New Jersey born musician. Instead as is so often the case with guitar lead projects, Wylde let his playing do much of the talking for him.

For anyone who has seen Wylde live or even looked at pictures of the legend, one of his many distinct characteristics is his rather imposing stature, most notably his biceps. Assuming everyday is curls day for Wylde it is rare that we see someone with that level of commitment to lifting weights remain that nibble and show that level of finesse in the finer more dexterity requiring aspects of art; like guitar playing. (Sidenote: Whichever lift gloves Zakk Wylde uses should market the fact that with their product one can maintain hand softness & be dedicated to increasing muscle mass) To proclaim that Wylde is one of the best guitar players to have ever picked up a hammer is not going to start any controversy; the jury has reached a verdict on that long ago. For any outliers or people blinded by prejudice with regards to Wylde’s position on the Mount Rushmore for guitars, the Ex-Ozzy Osbourne standout and virtuoso will have silenced even them with his invite to play alongside Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen and Nuno Bettencourt in the 2016 Generation Axe Tour. The Generation Axe tour’s obvious comparison in both participation and overlying theme or appeal to guitar nerds alike is to the Joe Satriani orchestrated G3 tours that took place almost annually from 1996-2007 in North America, and 1996-2012 in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Thursday’s Zakk Wylde: Book of Shadows II Tour was not just a clever name, but actually singled Wylde’s extensive body of work, an impressive 21 studio albums down to just two, The Book of Shadows I and The Book of Shadows II.

With the two solo albums of Wylde’s coming two decades apart it allowed Wylde Audio CEO to get back to some of the places emotionally that he had not visited in some time. The other thing that releasing his first solo album since his first hiatus from Osbourne in the 90’s did was challenge the BLS founder to write music and tour without any additional juice for promotion, aside from the recognition garnered from his now famous name.

With a very healthy contingent of folks donning biker cuts adorned with the three-piece BLS patches Thursday night, it is safe to say that the band that started out as a travelling drinking club (due to Wylde’s propensity to drink many beers nightly coupled with his non-stop tour-ethic) was there at least in part, to support their president at The Commodore Ballroom. What we didn’t see, and what appears to have been spotty throughout much of the North American stretch of the Book of Shadows II Tour is the standing room only, sold out, scalpers outside crawling over each other, turnout like you have to imagine Zakk anticipates at this point. Not for reasons of conceit or self grandeur would Wylde assume an overflowing attendance, but let’s face it, if at the age of 20 one became Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitar player, then went on to play with Osbourne (off and on) for 19 years (including 8 albums), as well as founded a band with the cross-over appeal and success that BLS has proven to have (15 years running, 13 albums deep), throw in a Pride & Glory resurrection attempt LP and two Book of Shadows solo efforts, then eyeballing an overworked ticket-taker on show day is about as common as seeing a sandwich at lunchtime.   

Regardless, with the combination of Wylde soloing behind his head and picking the guitar strings with his teeth, as well as gesticulating and posing most everywhere visible to a camera and all during the first track felt like a tortoise and hare scenario. Taking into account that the Book of Shadows catalogue is not very eclectic and is certainly not varying enough to sustain the type of energy Wylde initiated from the jump, it was not Wylde who lost steam but a lot of the crowd at large.

Of course with seven years sober and a motivated Zakk Wylde at the helm some of the most mind bending guitar work ever witnessed took place the other night, and when combined with the photogenically fascinating aesthetic that is a Thor looking hulk of a man in full biker garb, thick black leather wrist accoutrements, long flowing blonde hair, and enough facial hair to make Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) consider testosterone replacement Therapy (TRT), there are always plenty of reasons to stay for the duration of the show.

Crowd energy did wain however, as the audience slowly begin to trickle out after “Between Heaven and Hell” which marked the halfway point of Wylde’s set.

Perhaps the late start to the already planned late weekday start-time (as far as Wylde’s portion of the night) and the material not being the heavy BLS style nor impressively emotional and stripped down acoustic sound so beautifully executed by Wylde both played roles in the lower numbers. When factoring in the sheer amount of opportunity a constantly touring musician affords his/her fanbase to catch them again within’ a year with the non-committal music genre Wylde’s solo efforts land on, it’s possible that all aspects played contributing factor as to why numbers were still strong, just not Herculean Zakk Wylde strong;  like we in the BLSmc have come to expect.

Zakk Wylde Set List

Sold My Soul  I

Autumn Changes II

Tears of December II

Lay Me Down II

Road Back Home I

Yesterday’s Tears II

Between Heaven & Hell I

Darkest Hour II

Throwin’ It All Away I

Dead As Yesterday I

Eyes of Burden II

Way Beyond Empty I

The King II

Lost Prayer II

Sleeping Dogs II

*I = Book of Shadows I

*II = Book of Shadows II