Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Concert Review: Steve Vai at the Pageant in St. Louis December 7, 2016 - words and pictures by Danny Nichols

Steve Vai is perhaps the most iconic axe man from the bygone era of the guitar hero.  No time in music has been more closely associated with the prodigy guitarist than were the eighties, and no album more standard bearing and proof of this than Vai’s Passion and Warfare.  After making a name for himself in band’s such as Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, Vai began releasing instrumental albums showcasing his immense talents.  

Vai greets the crowd by shooting lasers at them.
The inherent musical genius which existed in legends of old such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven occasionally is born into a member of later generation who chooses to direct this talent towards rock music rather than classical.  Steve Vai is probably an example of this.  
The mastery of Vai
Despite containing the masterwork of this undisputed prodigy, Passion and Warfare was an instrumental album, and instrumental albums rarely go Gold.  The fact this album did is a testament to the era in which it was released.  It was the right album from the right guitarist at the right time.  The exact same album released today, probably remains completely under the radar.
Guitarist Dave Weiner and Vai
It was released in September 1990, at the twilight of the guitar hero age and right around the same time I started playing guitar.  I remember being fascinated by its existence as much as its content, and set about to one day record something of similar scope.  Unfortunately, the spirit of Mozart was not born into me and my efforts at guitar mastery have fallen considerably short, but I was not alone in considering this album a required companion for any fledgling rocker.  
Via finds another use for the whammy bar
To further state the argument for it being a perfectly timed album, I never bought another Vai solo album after this, even though many more of similar quality have been released.  I already had the quintessential guitar album (although Joe Satriani’s Flying in a Blue Dream and a few Yngwie Malmsteen albums could make a similar claim), and needed none further.
Vai in full shred mode
Although I had met Steve Vai once in October of 1999, I had never seen him play.  Therefore, I greeted the news of his pending tour with excitement. The bonus revelation he would be playing Passion and Warfare in its entirety sealed the deal. 
Bassist Philip Bynoe
Vai’s playing was unfathomable.  After ever song the room was filled with slack jawed observers exchanging looks of disbelief.  It is difficult to appreciate his virtuosity by listening to his recordings alone.  The excitement came in observing how these sounds are created.  Every crazy effect, wail and arpeggio found on the album was created with a guitar, and never as I previously suspected, some sort of synthesizer.   
Drummer Jeremy Colson
The guitar was bent and abused.  His fingers dashed across the fretboard in a flurry of motion, creating chords I had never seen before, nor even imagined existed.  The whammy bar was used judiciously and violently.  He played with a pic, he played with his teeth, he even finished one solo by playing the last few notes with his tongue. 
The legend at his craft
At one point while soloing with his left hand, he used his right hand to form an inverted chord closer to the head, so when he pulled his left hand away the lingering notes would blend seamlessly into this lower noted harmonic chord.  I probably have not explained this technique correctly, but I had not seen such a thing before, so this is my best guess.  My appreciation of Steve Vai is greater now than ever before.  This mastery of an instrument is hard to comprehend.  
The audience truly was listening
Not to be ignored, Vai’s band consists of fellow virtuoso guitarist Dave Weiner, drummer Jeremy Colson and bassist Philip Bynoe, whose skill on the six-string bass rivaled the main attraction.
The Steve Vai band

The concert was regularly  interrupted by videos of various legends congratulating Vai on his continued success and offering to join him in a jam.  Via this method, the audience was treated to either archival footage or pseudo-skype  jams with Brian May, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci , Tommy Emmanuel and Frank Zappa.
Vai skype jams with Joe Satriani
During his encore performance the guitar god chose to descend to the mortal plane, as Vai came down from the stage and played portions of the final song from within the audience.  Even though I had stood next to him briefly once many years before, and had just spent the preceding two hours watching him play on the stage, there was still a seriality to having this pedestalled performer executing his craft at ground level a few feet away.

Vai enters the audience to play among us
When I got home from the show I was overcome with a desire to get my guitar out.  Not to play it, but rather to apologize to it.  Or maybe to set it on fire.  I am not worthy of its capabilities as shown to me by the great Steve Vai.
Colson, Weiner, Vai and Bynoe


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I was there. I agree with every word. Transcendent is not a word I usually use to describe a show..but this was Steve Vai.