@ Shepherds Bush Empire, London
17th June 2013
Review and photography by Graham Hilling
There’s no doubting that Joe Satriani is a guitar god!
In his formative years he taught guitar and if you look at the list of his former students it reads like a who’s who of guitar legends, with names like Vai, Hammett, Skolnick….
So, with a Satriani gig, you pretty much know what you’re going to get – some staggeringly good guitar playing from a man who can also construct songs and write music which takes its influence from a variety of different avenues but, at the same time, doesn’t stray too far from classic rock territory. However before we get to see the man himself tonight we are going to be warmed up by Matt Schofield.
Playing with his band (the rather unimaginatively named Matt Schofield Trio!), Matt is no slouch on the guitar either and while the music definitely takes the evening in a slightly different direction, you can see why this was a good choice of support. The band play a blend of jazz, soul and blues and if that doesn’t sound like it would appeal, stick with it, because they play it with a style and confidence that draws you in and makes you like it.
Simple but effective drumming from Evan Jenkins, some nice keys and bass from Jonny Henderson (playing a Hammond organ I think) and some evocative and well played guitar from Schofield himself combine to produce an enticing mix.
It’s a shortish set but very much appreciated by the growing audience and there’s no doubt that this band has a very bright future (indeed they’re already very well known in blues circles).
By the time Joe Satriani takes to the stage, the Empire is heaving. With this being billed as the Unstoppable Momentum tour, you’d be surprised if the set didn’t consist of a fair proportion of songs from the latest album of the same title. And you wouldn’t be disappointed. Of the 11 songs on the album, we’re treated to 10 from this album.
Opener “Cool #9” set the tone, slow and purposeful and sounding like something that certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a smoky jazz club, it’s a good warm up for Joe and the band with just enough latitude for adlib without sounding like a jamming session. The band with Joe tonight consist of Mike Keneally (keyboards), Marco Minnemann (drums) and Bryan Beller (bass). Throughout they put in a solid, if unremarkable, performance. But hey, the performance is really all about Joe anyway and he doesn’t let us down.
Next up is “Devils Slide” which raises the tempo and is more of a standard rock outing. As ever Satriani, in trademark glasses, is blistering on the guitar. A really nice breakdown in the middle of this song serves to lift it above standard widdly faire. “Flying in a Blue Dream” takes us back in time, the beautifully controlled intro is well crafted and well executed before the song proper gets going.
This leads nicely into the title track of the new album “Unstoppable Momentum”, which showcases some excellent, well constructed songwriting and is the ideal vehicle for Satrianis lead work. Interestingly, the song takes precedence over the lead work which is something you can’t always say about lead guitarists, this is actually true of much of his work and this album in particular. “Weight of the World” is next and I expected this to be the weakest part of the set with its’ almost Euro pop overtones. While on the CD this track sounds mediocre at best, live it takes on a new lease of life that, tbh, I’m really surprised about. Probably because the keys are not so prominent I suspect. Certainly the soloing is a little bit special.
“Ice 9” takes us back in time again and back to familiar rock territory although this doesn’t sound as good as most of the new songs. It is well received by the now heaving crowd though. The late 80′s theme continues with “The Crush of Love”. While the older material leaves the hardened fan happy, I have to say that I think the newer material is actually better, with the songs feeling more complete.
Joe muses that he is “in the mood to play his guitar today” between songs – bonus for us! Next up are 3 more songs from “Unstoppable Momentum” – “I’ll put a Stone on Your Cairn”, “A Door into Summer” and “Lies and Truths”. “A Door into Summer” is a slow, relaxed rocker that allows Joe to play some straight up solos interspersed with some blindingly fast licks. “Lies and Truths” sounds particularly good live with the drums taking centre stage and driving the song along with an urgency that it just doesn’t have in the recorded material.
“Satch Boogie” takes us back in time again and is very well received by the packed crowd.
All the while a massive video screen behind the band plays videos that actually fit really well with the songs and does actually enhance the whole experience. “Shine on American Dreamer” is accompanied by a driving video and Joe urges us to imagine we are all packed into a ’57 Cadillac driving across America!
“Jumpin’ In” and “Jumpin’ Out” are played as intended, back to back. Joe introduces them as being the story of his life and being about not being afraid to try things. By the time we get to set closer (and oldie) “Surfing with the Alien” Joe can’t put a foot wrong and has the crowd eating out of his hand. The only slight disappointment is that Joe doesn’t stray too far from his expansive peddle board throughout the set. This means the audience on stage left never get a really good look at the maestro in action.
A quick break and it’s back to finish the evening off with 3 crowd pleasers, finally closing the set with “Rubina” which makes for a fitting end to the evening. Tonight Satriani has proved he still has a lot of life and song writing in him and, more pertinently, the energy and enthusiasm to nail these songs live. Some truly beautiful guitar playing and inspirational technical prowess. And a happy crowd. Almost perfect.
Flying in a Blue Dream
The Weight of the World
The Crush of Love
I’ll Put a Stone on Your Cairn
A Door into Summer
Lies and Truths
Shine On American Dreamer
Three Sheets to the Wind
Always with Me, Always with You
Surfing with the Alien