OCTOBER 5th 2012

Review by Anka
Photos by Peter Ruttan

Let me start by saying I have heard many things about Steve Vai’s shows before attending the one at the Commodore on October 5th,  somehow it was a bit embarrassing to realize I was one of few people that had never seen him live before. Friends were generous with descriptions of his previous shows and my expectations varied. I can say this show was all that I expected plus much more.  Before you think you have to be a guitar geek and know how to play guitar fairly well in order to enjoy this show, rest assured this is not the case, you’d be able to enjoy it just as much as anyone else as long as you love good music. This is a SHOW like you rarely have the chance to see, and please notice the emphasis on the word ‘show’.

The opening act Beverly McClellan was a great, fail-proof choice.  After reading more about her I actually remember seeing her on the T.V. show ‘The Voice’ more than a year ago, and being quite impressed and supportive because she was ‘way too cool’ and different compared to the bunch of glittery screaming contestants there.  I never watched the show until the end but I am happy I got to hear her again and she was incredibly good. Strong voice, impressive blues tone, precise execution, and that’s how she doesn’t even need a backup band. Accompanied by her acoustic guitar and the keyboards, she delivered a short but engaging set and impressed even the skeptics with her talent and the obvious love for what she’s doing. She is a genuine performer, funny, honest and humble. I particularly loved her duet with Steve Vai’s electric harpist. Harp? Oh yes.
After Beverly McClellan’s warm-up, Steve Vai went on stage at 9:30 as scheduled.  With a hat and sunglasses on, his guitar as loud as the Commodore Ballroom could take, this resembled a true rock star entrance that made me hold my breath for a second. Well, Steve Vai is far from being an obnoxious megalomaniac rock star, he’s a very down to earth musician … I would say ‘human’ but his skills might not have much in common with the human condition. His confidence, musicianship and passion emanate charisma all around. And this is by no means a one man show – he’s backed by an amazing band composed of exceptional musicians that could very well play their own solo shows anytime.
Most of the musicians have worked and toured with Vai before: Jeremy Colson on drums, Philip Bynoe on bass/double-bass, Dave Weiner on guitar plus the new and charming addition Deborah Henson Conant on electric harp and keyboards.

What did Steve Vai have to offer us? Almost 3 hours of beautiful music and virtuosity spiced up with a bit of good humor and playfulness. He started the set with a few songs off his new album ‘The Story of Light’ then played a couple of older tracks received with enthusiasm by the entire crowd. He later continued with more new songs, altogether probably playing half of the entire new album. I’ve seen people playing air guitar, people dancing, and people watching in awe. Even when you know the songs, witnessing the virtuoso live is a totally different story. The second half of the show was an entire highlight for me, as I heard older songs from the 90’s era and this is when Steve Vai also offered an acoustic moment of about 4 songs.

You can almost expect anything from Steve Vai, and nothing is unusual. I loved to watch him playing, his facial expressions, the dancing, the gestures, the frolics - just like there are no boundaries in his music, there will be none in his performance. He’s got an amazing stage presence, great energy and maintains constant dialog, be it musical or spoken, that won’t stall the show.  

This was a dynamic performance with an exciting succession of songs and solos, all musicians had their own solo moment within the show. The harp is probably the most unexpected instrument to hear blended with rock music, but if you are somewhat familiar with European old rock, doom or black metal you probably had the chance to hear harp with heavy music before. Personally I find harp and guitar to be an amazing combination and I couldn’t be happier to hear the ‘electric’ version of the two together in this show.

A very special moment of the entire show happened towards the end of the set when Steve Vai proceeded to write a new song – but it was not just one of those usual improvisation moments, this time he picked two girls from the audience to join him on stage and asked them to suggest song leads for everyone in the band, from the rhythm section to guitars and harp. I would assume it’s not easy to join Steve Vai on stage and tell him what to play, but the girls did a good job and the band an even better job at taking their suggestions and transforming them into a nice song under the command of the maestro. If I hadn’t seen that happening before my eyes, I wouldn’t have believed that was a new, unrehearsed song they were playing.

In conclusion, you can have so much in just one Steve Vai show. I assume it would also be quite exciting to see him as part of a G3 tour together with other legendary guitarists but you should definitely see his own show as well – this is where you can witness his talent at its best.