This was the first time in a long time that I had ventured out to catch Steve Vai on stage. In fact the last time I saw him live he still had Devin Townsend up front and was confusing the hell out of an Aerosmith crowd who were running for cover, no accounting for taste! I was interested then to find out what Vai has to offer in the ‘here and now’ (wee joke for the Vai die-hards there) and whether the audience are still listening ?
It turns out that Vai still has plenty to offer and that the faithful are still turning out in droves. The Academy was all seated for this show and, whilst it wasn’t filled to the rafters, there was still a healthy crowd in the house. With no support the show was centred solely around Steve and his band who, as it turned out, were more than a match for the boss in the playing stakes.
Taking to the stage in a haze of dry ice Steve and the band launched into ‘Racing The World’ from their latest album, ‘The Story Of Light’, and it soon became clear what a class act they are. Steve is the consummate showman who loves the spotlight. His playing as always is first class, whether he is in relaxed acoustic or full-on rock mode .
It takes a virtuoso musician to keep up with Vai on stage and Steve has managed to find three amazing musicians to bring his music to life. Guitarist Dave Weiner is a talented guitarist in his own right, whilst the rhythm section of Philip Bynoe on bass and the tattooed Jeremy Colson on drums is about as good as it gets.
It is Vai’s playing though that is at the heart of the performance. Between song banter was kept to a minimum with Vai happy to let his fingers do the talking whilst he danced his way around the stage. Highlights came thick and fast through the 23 song set which was split into two halves by an acoustic section featuring Steve’s only vocal of the night on ‘Rescue Me Or Bury Me’, which did end up with a bit of jazz skat that did test even my mettle a bit.
After a bit of fooling around with Colson and a mobile drumkit, followed by a full on drum solo, the stage went black and was again flooded with dry ice from which Vai emerged, dressed as the character from ‘The Ultra Zone’ album cover with a suit covered in lights, to play the title track. This was a very effective bit of staging which added colour to a fairly sparse stage.
Another piece of staging which was entertaining was the ‘Build Me A Song’ section where, with the help of four audience members, the band wrote a new track on stage ‘to show you how easy it is’ as Steve put it. You have to have a group of talented individuals to make something like this work and the guys were well up to the task. Rounding off the set with ‘For The Love Of God’ and ‘Taurus Bulba’ the band left the stage to rapturous applause from a very vocal crowd.
A Vai performance won’t be to all tastes, it really is a an exercise in virtuoso playing, self-indulgence and massaging egos, but when you’re this talented it’s hard not to be a bit cocksure. Steve’s devotees though loved every minute.
Review and photos by David Wilson.
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Power Plays w/c 14 October (Mon-Fri)
SANGUINE Ignite (Odyssey Music)
GOODBYE JUNE Switchblade Heart (Earache)
SAINTS OF SIN Nasty Love (indie)
SCARLET REBELS Heal (indie)
FLYING COLORS The Loss Inside (Mascot)
KEYWEST C’est La Vie (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 14 October (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 DANGER ZONE Don’t Count On Heroes (Pride & Joy Music)
12:00-13:00 ECLIPSE Paradigm (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 GALLAGHER & LYLE Live at De Montfort Hall, 1977 (The Store For Music)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
ROBIN TROWER In The Line Of Fire (1990)
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