@ Mandella Hall, Belfast
August 29th, 2013
Review by Jonathan Traynor
Photography by Paul Verner
FOR some, Steve Vai is just simply a fantastically fast and talented guitar player – but there is sometimes among the few who have not witnessed him live are those who doubt that he can deliver a coherent live rock show.
Until this Mandella Hall date I was one of those – of course I admire his recorded output, but could I really put up with two and a half hours of widdly, widdly guitar worship?
Thankfully I could.
Vai is a master musician and a master entertainer; costume changes, ridiculous lighted suits, interacting visually with the audience, awful impressions of the Northern Irish accent, and a seemingly genuine affection for all in attendance.
Opening with an outstanding flourish of fretboard work, fingers flying and twirling round to look at as many people in the hall as possible he, as usual assembled a phemomenal supporting cast that has barely a cigarette paper between them on stage.
If Vai is the focus, then it is the musical foundations of those in the on stage band that prevents it from being just about fast fingers.
And, it is also about songs. Not songs in the traditional rock manner or verse, chorus, verse, chorus, but songs where the lyricism is through a note held, a fourish with the trem bar, or controlled feedback; where the run through down the neck is a sentence of prose to the ears.
Using Dave Weiner as his guitar counterfoil and to establish his rhythm provided Vai with the essential support necessary when playing such intricate pieces.
Philip Bynoe’s bass was understated, yet essential in anchoring the sound; while Jeremy Colson’s drums were subtle, despite the pounding beats from all elements of his kit.
At times he mix crowded too much with Bynoe’s bass and Colson’s kick drum providing too much bottom end; but that was the only fault in the set.
What was a surprise was Weiner’s acoustic playing; given his chance to play his own song excelled in a display of playing that even saw sweep picking among his bag of tricks.
Vai used downtime during his six-string accomplices section for another costume change, as he did during the drum solo; but these must also have been a welcome break from the intense heat in the Mandella Hall.
I, and many others, found the temperature almost unbearable at times with plenty of people seeking the sanctuary of the neighbouring bar in the complex or the outdoor smoking area.
Highlight for many fans were tracks from Passion and Warfare, his breakthrough album; and one with which he broke through to the mainstream as a solo artists rather than a sidekick to the likes of Roth and Coverdale.
During The Audience is Listening the tape of the ‘teacher’ introducing was almost drowned out by parts of the crowd reciting the vocal parts as Vai twirled and vocalised through his guitar.
In a nice twist the axe slinger brought two members of the audience – introduced as Christoph and Kay – and had them hum random rythms, beats and harmonies which the band then took up as a jam. The pair were then invited to sit stageside for the rest of the show.
Ending with For The Love of God this was a concert I was pleasantly surprised not just by the superb musicianship of Vai, but the coherence of the band in making up the set was sheer excellence.
The test, of course, is would I (a) recommend the show to others and (b) would I go again?
The answer to both questions is a simple straightforward ‘yes!’