© George Pennock
Photos by George Pennock
Live Gig Review by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Steve Vai is widely regarded by guitar aficionados as a legend.From his early days playing with Frank Zappa, through Alcatrazz ,as a part of high profile rock bands with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake and each innovative and virtuoso solo release. Always seeking to push musical boundaries and explore new musical directions.
It was in the eighties through his work with Roth, and Whitesnake that Steve Vai first appeared on my musical radar. I had the chance to catch him live with both those acts in addition to a support slot to Aerosmith when promoting his Passion and Warfare solo release. Recently I haven’t continued to follow his musical direction,to myself as a non musician it seemed so technical and didn’t maintain my interest. Last week however Steve Vai played a solo gig as his debut in N.Ireland. After hearing glowing reports of his guitar clinic the night before I decided to attend his Belfast gig. I was fortunate to be able to have a few words with the man himself just prior to his sound check.He expressed his huge enjoyment of the guitar clinic, and indicated his natural excitement at playing his very first N.Ireland show. He also came across as a genial and very friendly guy. Humble and meek regarding his talent, and chatted freely regarding the range of releases that I had brought along with me.
Social media gossip in the run up to the show itself had been a mix of anticipation and cynicism. However on entering the Mandela hall it soon became clear that the naysayers must have stayed at home.The hall was packed to capacity. Several rumors had abounded regarding start times and if a full show of Vai without a support could maintain audience attention over a two and half hour set.
Appearing just after eight pm ,in a flash of technical prowess, Vai instantly demanded attention.Open mouthed amazement already and the show had only just begun.I could already hear the distant voices of many watching local musicians declaring musical”retirement”. Vai’s backing band consisted of names that were largely unfamiliar to me personally. Dave Weiner on second guitar, Philip Bynoe on bass and Jeremy Coulson on drums. All able and more than solidly competent backing to the star of the show Mr Vai himself. Indeed Dave Weiner was even granted a solo spot of his own in the set, and proved to be no slouch himself on his instrument. There was also a drum solo,which generally have me running to the bar. However this maintained my full interest, as primarily it was short and sweet.
Vai also provided a visual as well as an auditory experience. It is unusual to experience several costume changes as part of a rock gig in a small sweaty club. However rather than be dismissed, and viewed in a negative light-these offered an array of “light”suits and guitars that were enhancing the show rather than detracting from it. Tracks that grabbed my attention were largely taken from his “Passion and Warfare” release. This was the only solo album by a guitarist in my collection and I particularly enjoyed the live version of “The Audience is Listening” from that.
To many of the audience watching the part of the set where he invites two audience members onstage to create music was a particular highlight. Though I was aware that this was a standard and not a spontaneous act, it did appear entertaining.
I was actually surprised that my interest was fully maintained for the two and a half hour plus set. Technically sublime and emotive it traversed all my previous misgivings regarding the show. Quite a magical display of musical talent, diversity and mastery of his musical instrument. I would definitely recommend going to see this Guitar master and genius at work. I do feel however that his true genius and talent is more accurately viewed in the live spectrum rather than transferable across the grooves of vinyl or on a cd.