Steve Vai Live In Vancouver: April 23rd, 2005

Spread the metal:

Steve Vai
Saturday, April 23rd, 2005
The Commodore Ballroom
Vancouver, BC  Canada

***Live Review & All Photography By Lord of The Wasteland

In the span of ten days, two of the greatest guitar players of the last twenty years came through Vancouver and I was fortunate enough to see them both.  First came Joe Satriani (read review of that show here), whose six-string capabilities must be seen to be believed.  Unfortunately, Satriani?s stage presence is about as exciting as watching paint dry so I eagerly awaited seeing his one-time student, Steve Vai, live on stage.  Vai is a known performer who never met a spectacle he didn?t like and with his time in David Lee Roth?s band, Whitesnake, Alcatrazz and Frank Zappa, he certainly had some colorful characters to hang with and be influenced by.  Vai?s extensive solo work (beginning with 1984?s FLEX-ABLE) is his most experimental and challenging ranging from straight-ahead rock ?n roll, to film instrumentals, to spiritual incantations, to over-the-top wankfests.  Vai has carved quite a niche for himself not only as a musician?s musician but also as a showman and commercially-successful master of his instrument, which eludes many of his peers who are forced into obscure cult-followings or teaching guitar to make ends meet.

Besides Vai?s obvious credentials, he assembled a band for his latest tour that anyone listening to hard rock/heavy metal in the last twenty years would salivate over.  On keyboards/guitar was Tony MacAlpine, a virtuoso in his right on his ground-breaking 80s solo efforts, EDGE OF INSANITY and MAXIMUM SECURITY.  Billy Sheehan, arguably the greatest bassist to have ever picked up the four-string, kept on pace with Vai and even strapped on a guitar during the extended jam session of ?I?m The Hell Out of Here.?  New drummer Jeremy Colson and up-and-coming guitarist Dave Weiner (who played a sitar during the 25 minute acoustic set) rounded out the lineup treating the sold-out crowd at The Commodore to over two and a half hours of pomp, flash, garish displays of self-indulgence and jaw-dropping musicianship that left this writer unable to look away from the stage.

The setlist was split into three parts as well as an encore (with no intermissions) that spread out for nearly three hours.  Where Satriani?s lengthy set actually caused me to nod off at the two hour mark (a first for me at any show), Vai and his band were captivating the entire evening with the exception of an overly-long keyboard solo by MacAlpine.  He made several wardrobe changes including an Eastern-influenced cloak/do-rag ensemble, to basic silk shirt and trousers, to this headpiece and glove set that was festooned with laser lights for ?Midway Creatures? (Conversely, Satriani wore a black t-shirt, jeans and wrap-around sunglasses the entire show).  Vai?s rig of pedals and switches was mind-boggling and he brought in his own lighting system rather than employ the mediocre house lights which really accented the show, as well.  The sound was absolutely phenomenal with each musician fitting nicely into the mix.  Vai?s stage banter is quite amusing and his comment on speaking with Eminem at a music conference was especially funny (Vai mentioned his respect for Eminem as an artist while the rapper called Vai a ?pretentious twat? and made fun of his ?silly guitar faces?).  Vai?s mercifully brief forays into vocals should best be left in the shower as his out-of-tune warbling on tracks like ?Boy-Girl Song? were dreadful.  When holding that guitar, though, Vai is untouchable.  His endless mugging and acrobatics, including playing with his tongue, teeth, other band members? hands or behind his head, complement his virtuosity in such a way that he was born to play in front of an audience.  Tracks like ?The Reaper,? ?The Audience Is Listening,? ?Rescue Me or Bury Me? and ?For The Love of God? absolutely sizzle live, with Vai?s six-string histrionics fascinating the crowd.  Vai?s music can be a bit, um, ?out there? sometimes, such as the peculiar ?Red Bull,? but it is never boring and always brilliantly written and flawlessly performed.

For nearly three hours Steve Vai and his band held the audience of The Commodore Ballroom captive.  Admittedly, a few of the songs I was not familiar with but when Vai ended the show with ?Liberty? and the spellbinding ?For The Love of God,? everything felt right and I knew that what I had just witnessed was special.  At 45 years of age, Vai shows no sign of slowing down and has actually become more prolific and creative in recent years with his own label, Favored Nations, and while not exactly metal, any guitarist cannot help but bow at the feet of Vai.  As far as the juxtaposition of seeing Vai and Satriani perform a week and a half apart, it seems that the student has now become the teacher.   

Part 1 (Electric)
Intro (Dying Groove)
The Audience Is Listening
Building The Church
Crying Machine
Km?Pee Du Wee
~ Dave Weiner?s Solo ~
The Reaper
Whispering A Prayer
~ Tony MacAlpine?s Keyboard Solo ~

Part 2 (Acoustic)
Melissa?s Garden
Rescue Me or Bury Me
Boy-Girl Song
Call It Sleep
Red Bull
Pusa Rd.
~ Jeremy Colson?s Drum Solo ~

Part 3
Midway Creatures
The Suspense Is Killing Me/Bass Solo
Love Blood
I?m Becoming
Lotus Feet
I?m The Hell Out of Here


My Guitar Wants To
For The Love of God

***Thanks to Jamie at House of Blues for the press & photo passes.

Steve Vai?s Official Site
Billy Sheehan?s Official Site
Tony MacAlpine?s Official Website