Concert Review: Steve Vai @ The Egg, 11/5/22

ALBANY – Steve Vai strolled onto the stage at the Hart Theatre at The Egg Saturday night looking every inch the guitar god that he is. Resplendent in a lime green jacket, leather trousers, thin as a rake – heck, even his guitar sported twinkling blue lights on every fret.

There were some wardrobe and guitar changes. But essentially this was to be a night of substance over style. Vai and his band essayed over two hours of complex instrumental music and managed to keep it interesting throughout – no mean feat. Vai’s music is a knotty mix of prog, metal, fusion, and jazz, but crucially grounded in melody. As Vai said in Don Wilcock’s excellent interview conducted for this very site on Oct. 26, “You’re gonna hear melodious guitar, beautiful melody, and also a ferocious kind of shredding.”

He was true to his word.

Ferocious shredding? Check.

Whammy bar torturing to the nth degree? Check.

Unearthly sounds beamed in from another planet somehow transmogrified and channeled through a howling preternatural electric guitar? …. Ch …well, you get the idea.

But, as noted, key to all of this was a clear sense of melody amidst the sturm und drang, heroic themes, and anthemic riffs often cutting through the dense virtuoso playing.

It helped that Vai was supported in this endeavor by a sympathetic but no less talented band; Dave Weiner on second guitar and keys., Philip Bynoe on bass, and Jeremy Colson on drums. Each took a well-received solo spot. 

Vai even uncovered a three-neck guitar of his own design, the “Hydra”, enabling him to play rhythm, lead and bass simultaneously. Which he did effortlessly on the song “Teeth of the Hydra.”

Vai’s resume is extensive, first gaining attention in Frank Zappa’s band as a “stunt guitarist.” Some of Zappa’s eclecticism and influence can be heard in some of his own compositions, with unusual chords surfacing as roller coaster time signatures veer into oblique tunnels of explorative sound.

He also played goofy sidekick to David Lee Roth, immediately post Van Halen, and was briefly a member of the 80’s version of Whitesnake as they single-handedly tried to punch another hole in the ozone layer with their use of Aqua Net.

He played Jack Butler in the movie “Crossroads,” which led to an unintentionally humorous part of the show. Vai’s character, representing the devil, faces off against hero Ralph Macchio in a guitar winner-takes-all duel. The clip of the movie ran to set up the song and… Vai’s guitar had a breakdown. He effusively praised his crew whilst the problem was fixed and the video ran again and the band thundered into “Bad Horsie.”

But instrumental fusion from his solo career has always been Vai’s love, and he now dedicates himself to it. From Wilcock’s interview again: “I don’t need to be any more famous, I don’t need any more money. I just want to play.”

And play he does. His uncanny mastery of his instrument is total.

Jaws were dropped.

Minds were boggled.

Gobs were smacked.

Vai cheerfully put on a staggering guitar masterclass that held a near-capacity Hart Theatre spellbound.

Absolutely amazing.

1 Comment
  1. Jeff Porcaro says

    I was there and I totally disagreed. I’d never seen him before, and he’s a monster of technique, no doubt. The band was good, but the sound was muddy (and, somehow boxy at the same time), and overwhelmed the room. And every song was head -> [scales / hammer-ons / whammy] -> head. No melodiousness at all – not even a little – it was insanely repetitive and “one-note”, and got old pretty quickly. I’ve watched about 50 hours of interviews with him, and I’m a huge fan of him as a person, but this show was disappointing.

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