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Ax and We Will Receive

Tony MacAlpine
Strong Premonition: Guitarist Tony MacAlpine gets heavy at the Edge on Aug. 15.

Tony MacAlpine's got live metal if you want it

By Nicky Baxter

PROGRESSIVE HEAVY METAL--the phrase comes up as guitarist Tony MacAlpine launches into a spirited defense of the critically maligned metal genre. It's a term that, it so happens, aptly describes what MacAlpine plays. An unswerving adherent to the art-guitar school pick-started by virtuosi such as Uli Roth and Yngwie Malmsteen, MacAlpine even signed with the same label, Schrapnel, that originally brought Malmsteen to the United States from Sweden. (Yngwie has since moved on, first up to the majors, then back down to the indies.)

Not only has commercial success eluded MacAlpine, but, judging by the paucity of ink spilled in his direction, so too has critical notoriety. Rarely if ever is MacAlpine's name mentioned in the same breath as the Joe Satrianis, the Steve Vais--despite a satchel full of releases and more than a decade of touring. Premonition and the more recent Evolution will have some metal aficionados wondering where this handsome brown-eyed man has been all their lives. Of the two releases, the former is to these ears the phattest.

In his album notes for Premonition, Tony MacAlpine says he "spent a lifetime recording, playing and writing music that is truthful and from my heart." It shows. For the most part, the album shreds like Jack the Ripper. Bookended by drummer Deen Castanovo (Bad English, Paul Rodgers) and bassist Tony Franklin, both longtime associates, MacAlpine's ax busts moves like nobody's business. Clearly, he has studied--and studied well--the European classical tradition. If titles like "Rondeau Partita #2" sound a bit off-putting, don't judge these tunes until after listening to them. A handful--"The Violin Song" springs most quickly to mind--are quite accessible, rockin', even.

As a counterweight to the hegemony of his electric guitar, MacAlpine shows off his piano chops on a few cuts. The tracks won't have Andre Previn peering over MacAlpine's shoulder, but they do offer some of the album's most stirring moments. Elsewhere, Jens Johansson sits behind the keyboards, with MacAlpine switching back to guitar. The pairing adds a missing dynamic to the music, the dialectic of give and take--color the latter jazz-rock. Especially swift is Tony Franklin's Jaco Pastorius­inspired fretless bass work.

Progressive metal--maybe what Tony MacAlpine wants to convey is that there's a subsector of metal that targets the head, allowing the pelvic region a rest.

Tony MacAlpine plays at 9pm Thu., Aug. 15 at The Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto. Also on the bill: Mischief, Tear Magnets and Boneback. Tickets are $7. (415/324-EDGE)

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From the August 15-21, 1996 issue of Metro

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