LIVE: Al Di Meola @ The Egg, 6/29/18

Review by Mark Alexander Hudson

Al Di Meola is not happy. “Marone,” he mutters audibly into the microphone. His show has been plagued with sound issues from the start. Now at the beginning of his acoustic set he cannot hear himself through his monitor. He gesticulates at the sound crew and his guitar tech, who seems to have spent as much time on the stage, melodramatically stomping around, as the members of Di Meola’s band.

Oh yes, the band.

“Where’s my piano player?” Di Meola demands, looking around for Phil Magallones. They had been playing a quite beautiful duet of “Ava’s Dream Sequence” before more sound problems ensued, and Magallones left the stage.

“We haven’t finished the song,” says Di Meola testily. Then to the audience, “If you think this is bad, you should have seen the other night.”

Magallones shuffles back on with all the enthusiasm of a schoolkid sent to the principal’s office, and the acoustic set is quickly curtailed after a duet with violinist Evan Garr.

You can bet that the backstage band meeting after the show was interesting…

Both Al Di Meola’s notoriously spiky temperament and his blistering guitar technique were in full evidence at last month’s Friday night stop on his Notorious-Opus Electric Tour at The Egg’s Hart Theatre.

Another reason for Di Meola’s sour mood may have been the size of the crowd, a gathering that would not have come close to filling The Egg’s smaller, 450-seat Swyer Theatre, let alone this 982-seat venue.

Strange, as Di Meola is a bona fide superstar of the jazz fusion genre. Since he burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old hotshot with Return to Forever, one of the defining bands of the movement, and then followed by a series of hit albums as a leader, his reputation as a fusion guitar hero is secure.

Interestingly, in an interview he gave in 2000, he seemed to swear off the manic “speed kills” style of his early solo albums and was exploring world music, flamenco and an obsession with Astor Piazzolla’s tango music.
“Hearing it now is exciting. But trying to do that now at my age. I’d have a heart attack,” he said at the time.

Well, here we are nearly 20 years later, and Di Meola is indeed revisiting those days and that music, all rapid fire guitar runs, hell for leather riffage and time signatures that would give a physics professor a headache.

Rounding out his band are the rhythm section of bassist Elias Tona (sadly almost inaudible in the mix), drummer Luis Alicea and long serving percussionist Gumbi Ortiz. Ortiz was the one member who looked like he was enjoying himself, interacting with the crowd and taking center stage for a triangle solo (?!?). The others continually looked nervously over to their leader throughout the evening.

Maybe another reason for the absence of real inspiration was the no-show of support band Brand X, leading Di Meola to extend his set. A little of this music does go a long way,and at times the solos and repetitive riffs did seem to outstay their welcome.

Di Meola looked fit and healthy though, in his signature white shirt and black vest, almost unchanged by the years. Happily no heart attack, but not much heart either.

And oh, to be a fly on the wall after the show!

One Night Last June
Senor Mouse
Broken Heart
Midnight Tango
Acoustic set (featuring Ava’s Dream Sequence and a duet with violin)
Flight Over Rio
Egyptian Danza
Race with Devil on Spanish Highway

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