JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

November 3, 2013
Joliet, IL USA
Review by Alex Kleinwachter
Photos by Ralf Lipp

Steve Vai

Funk Fusion Workout By The Master Of Disaster

Instrumental guitar music can be a tricky genre. It has always been a style that appeals to a smaller niche of rock fans who value instrumental prowess and musicianship over catchy choruses and riffs. Without the vocal hooks and sing-along melodies to rely on, it is always a challenge to maintain a crowd's interest over the course of an entire concert, even for the absolute masters of the craft.

There is little doubt that Steve Vai is one of those masters, and in addition to his prodigious guitar chops, Vai proved himself to be a consummately entertaining showman, keeping a packed house at Mojoe"s rock club in Joliet, IL engaged throughout the course of a 2 hour performance last Sunday night.

Vai and his ace band (Dave Weiner on guitar, Philip Bynoe on bass, and Jeremy Colson on drums) took the audience on a roller-coaster ride through his extensive solo catalog, featuring cuts from his latest album "The Story of Light," all the way back to his 1984 solo debut "Flex-Able," with a particular focus (no less than 5 songs) from his 1990 commercial breakthrough, "Passion and Warfare." The band ran the gamut from furious fusion rockers ("Racing the World," "Gravity Storm") to spaced out, atmospheric freakouts ("Building the Church," "Whispering a Prayer"). Each member of the band got ample time to showcase their talents, with Weiner highlighting a gorgeous solo acoustic cut entitled "The Trillium"s Launch", and Colson thrilling the crowd with a dazzling drum solo during the shows second act.

Vai worked the crowd with the savvy of a veteran rock frontman, zipping from one end of the stage to the other, bantering with the crowd, snagging a photographers camera to take goofy self-shots from the stage, and even donning a full size robot suit, complete with head-to-toe LED lighting and red lasers shooting from his fingertips, to perform "The Ultra Zone."

It wasn't all amps-to-11 either, as Vai slowed the tempo with an acoustic-flavored interlude that also featured him on his first (and only) lead vocals of the evening. Another highlight occurred near the end of the set, as the shred-master invited 3 audience members onstage to assist him in "composing" a brand new song, urging the thrilled fans to come up with a beat, bass line, and melody that the band whipped into energetic, funk-fusion workout. The show had already broken the 2-hour barrier by this point, but the enthusiasm of the crowd never wavered as Vai brought the proceedings to a close with an inspired rendition of perhaps his most recognizable song "For The Love of God", and then going 180 degrees in the opposite direction to finish with one of his most involved and complex works, "Fire Garden Suite IV - Taurus Bulba" from his ambitious 1996 outing, "Fire Garden."

So while instrumental shred guitar may have reached its commercial peak over 20 years ago, Vai and his band proved that the genre is alive and well, sending the capacity crowd home with ears ringing after a night to remember.