G3 2007: Joe Satriani / John Petrucci / Paul Gilbert

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G3 2007: Joe Satriani / John Petrucci / Paul Gilbert
Friday, April 6, 2007
Orpheum Theatre
Boston, MA USA

Review By Mortuai


Flash back to 1992 as a fresh-out-of-college young man is hanging out at a local pub with some of his friends, just shooting the breeze.  The topic turns to guitars and guitarists and the rumored and hinted-at possible collaboration between six-string legends Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.  “Yeah,” the young man jokes, thinking of his three favorite guitarists, “wouldn’t be something if Satriani, Vai, and Eric Johnson would tour together?”  And everybody at the table, while agreeing it would be one hell of a show, laughs at the absurdity of the notion.

Four years later, that very tour happened, and the tradition of G3 was born.  G3 is the brainchild of the aforementioned Mr. Satriani and is a recurring worldwide tour which always features three prominent guitarists, each of whom performs a set of his own material.  After all three sets are finished, the three players…sometimes with even more as special guests…all get together onstage and jam on some classic rock tunes.  Feel free to call it self-indulgent wankery if you want to, but G3 is a celebration of the guitar as both a science and a passion, displaying sometimes inhuman-seeming technical skill married with a very human love for music and the sheer enjoyment of playing it.

Jump forward to April 6, 2007 and to the fifth incarnation of G3 to reach Boston, Massachusetts.  This is the first version of the tour to come to this part of the U.S. that does not feature “Little Stevie” Vai (what a NICE little boy!) in the lineup, instead offering the trio of Paul Gilbert (Racer X, ex-Mr. Big, solo artist), John Petrucci (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment), and of course the tour’s ever-present founder. 

The venue for the evening was the historical landmark known as the Orpheum Theatre.  The Orpheum has a long and rich musical history dating back to its construction in 1852 when it was simply known as the Music Hall and served as the original home of the New England Conservatory.  It is also notable as the debut venue for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the debut venue of composer Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto in 1881.  Understandably, it’s a little run-down in spots and is definitely showing its age, but it has a certain nostalgic charm…a ghost of past performances, perhaps…that adds to the appeal of any great musical act who takes the stage.  The acoustics admittantly aren’t exactly the best in the world, but there isn’t a single seat with an obstructed view in the house.

The Orpheum, fortunately enough, also has staff intelligent enough to open the doors and let people in a reasonable amount of time ahead of the show, which is a damn good thing because apparently somebody forgot to inform the northeast part of the U.S. that it’s supposed to be SPRING.  The place wasn’t packed to the rafters, certainly, but there was a good-sized crowd ranging in ages from seven to sixty-plus.

Amazingly, the show not only started on time, it started AHEAD of scheduled time by a couple minutes with Paul Gilbert bursting out onstage with his white double-neck Ibanez PGM, headphones on his head, and a huge grin on his face.  Joined quickly by his touring bandmates, Paul immediately launched into the insane title track of his latest solo album, GET OUT OF MY YARD.  An explosion of arpeggiated notes that requires a second person to act as a “human capo,” it was the perfect way to start off the night.  Especially since the second person wasn’t just anybody, it was Paul’s former partner-in-shred from the original incarnation of Racer X, Bruce Bouillet!  The rest of the band was made up of Mike Szuter (bass, vocals), Jeff Bowders (drums), and Paul’s wife, Emi Gilbert (keyboards), and the sound mix was nearly perfect.  Every instrument was clear in the mix, every note was distinguishable – which was good, because there were a hell of a lot of notes, as one might expect.

Gilbert, in full over-the-top rock-star mode with tongue firmly planted in cheek as always, rampaged his way through several selections from GET OUT OF MY YARD, trading off blazing lead lines and harmonizing dual-guitar leads with Bouillet like they’d never stopped playing together.  The highlight of those solo-album tracks was definitely “Rusty Old Boat,” a quirky, catchy, groove-driven fusion of funk-rock featuring a great little keyboard solo from Emi – she ain’t just there for looks, the lady can play!

The audience, I think, could sense what was going to happen next when Paul finished a track and announced Bruce.  Before he could get another word out, at least five people in the audience simultaneously screamed “RACER X!”  And PG and company delivered exactly what was called for, dusting off two string-melting instrumentals from the SECOND HEAT and LIVE:EXTREME VOLUME days.  Szuter and Bowders paid perfect tribute to the original backup unit of Alderete and Travis during their “solo spots” on those songs.  For an old die-hard Shrapnel Records fan like me, it was a great nostalgic moment and a blast to see live.

Jumping back to his solo material, Paul launched into total goofball mode with the three-chords-and-an-attitude punk swagger of “I Like Rock” from his BURNING ORGAN album, playing most of the solo behind his back and belting out the lyrics simultaneously with Szuter.  The remaining songs of his set were also vocal tracks from his various solo albums, though he did get a cheer and a few chuckles out of the audience at the end of “Space Ship One” when he picked out the little acoustic lead for Mr. Big’s eminently cheesy radio hit “To Be With You.”

All in all, it was exactly what I was hoping for – a good solid mix of rock and shred metal, a solid, very enjoyable 45 minutes with no filler.

Paul Gilbert Set List (45 minutes)
Get Out Of My Yard
Hurry Up
Rusty Old Boat
Scit Scat Wah
I Like Rock
Space Ship One
Down To Mexico

The stagehands performed admirably, breaking down Gilbert’s set and getting the next act’s equipment up and ready in an absurdly short 15 minutes.  Granted, it must’ve been a bit easier for the second set, as there were only three musicians, but still, it was pretty damn efficient work on their part. 

8:30 on the dot rolled around and the house lights went out again just as a hum swelled to a heavy-distortion roar and the crowd erupted as John Petrucci strode out onto the stage.  Dream Theater are relatively big here in Massachusetts, especially since Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, and John Myung were students at the nearby Berklee College of Music back in the mid-80’s.  Speaking of Mr. Portnoy, he was behind the drumkit for Petrucci’s set and did his usual fantastic job of laying down the rhythm and blasting out explosive fills and runs.  Dave LaRue (ex-Dixie Dregs) handled bass duties.

Petrucci sure looks like he’s been hitting the gym a lot lately, and has let his hair grow back out so he looks appropriately “METAL” again.  The set he played was culled entirely from tracks on his solo album, SUSPENDED ANIMATION…some of which, oddly enough, had originally been written to be performed specifically on his first G3 tour appearance.  While they were all great tunes, I was just a shade disappointed there was nothing from one of Dream Theater’s multitude of instrumental pieces and nothing from Liquid Tension Experiment.  I suppose…and I don’t blame him…he wanted to keep the focus on his guitar without the distraction of people thinking “hey, wasn’t there a keyboard lead there originally?”  Still, even the cuts from just the solo album showed some great variety.

Opening track “Jaws Of Life” was a 7-string riff-monster that had the whole Orpheum shaking on the bass notes.  Portnoy’s kit was miked perfectly and his drumming was fantastic, as expected, and John’s lead tone was exceptionally clear and punchy.  Near note-perfect rendition of the CD version, but much heavier in terms of sound.  LaRue’s bass was pretty muddy throughout most of this song, but the sound engineers had that problem cleaned up by the second tune.  Dave, in fact, got to play some great fills and bass leads throughout the remaining songs, getting a huge hand from the audience every time he stepped into the spotlight.

It’s hard to pick a highlight of Petrucci’s set because everything was performed so well.  “Glasgow Kiss” had a great Scottish-stomp feel that was instantly memorable.  Anybody who thinks the man is nothing but a technical shredder should listen to his live performance of “Lost Without You” – very soulful, very emotional playing.  “Curve,” while a great mid-tempo rocker, was peppered with Satch-isms, including whammy bar dips, pinch harmonic bending, and rhythms and harmonies very similar to what you hear on at least one track on nearly every Satriani album.  I enjoyed the song, but I kept thinking to myself “why is he playing what’s essentially a Satch song when Satch himself is coming on later?  Shouldn’t he be establishing his own identity more?”

John FINALLY said hello to the audience and introduced the band before launching into final track “Damage Control,” and it was here he finally hit his stride in terms of crowd interaction, pushing his lead playing over the top in the fast interlude section and really letting himself go with the music rather than trying to pull the music along with him.  I guess you could sum it up by saying he’s a fantastic guitar player, but not the most charismatic frontman in the world.  Still, it was an excellent set that earned him a huge well-earned ovation as the trio took their bows. 

Two for two so far!

John Petrucci Set List (50 minutes)
Jaws Of Life
Glasgow Kiss
Lost Without You
Wishful Thinking
Damage Control

The stagehands went to work once again, though this time it took a lot longer to get the third set ready – almost a full half-hour.  By the time the house lights dropped again at 9:50, the crowd seemed a good deal more packed than it had before – guess a lot of people showed up just for Satriani.  Not that I really blame them, because Joe is quite simply, as Yngwie pointed out…DA MAN.  Crowd roar was huge as Satch, clad in his traditional alien-looking sunglasses and a  Motörhead shirt, stepped out, accompanied by one of his classic amp-feedback note-swells and a Middle Eastern-sounding legato lick that quickly built into a furious performance of hard-rocker “War” from THE EXTREMIST.  Tour manager Galen Hansen handled rhythm guitar duties, longtime Satch drummer Jeff Campitelli was behind the kit again, and poor Dave LaRue was pulling double duty on bass, though it seemed Satch’s sound engineers got a much smoother, clearer sound out of his bass than Petrucci’s had.

Satriani was his usual self, meaning he not only owned the guitar, he owned the whole audience.  There may be guitarists who have more technical prowess than Joe, but in terms of combining ability to play with exceptional technique AND squeeze every drop of feeling out of every note – even those played an extreme velocity – AND the ability to instantly connect with an audience and make it seem to every single person in the crowd that he is playing his ass off specifically for that individual person, there is nobody who can touch him.  Part of it must be the boundless enthusiasm he seems to have for the music.  He always looks like he’s out there on stage having the best time of his life, and all he wants is for everybody to enjoy the music with him.

The light show was far better for Satriani’s set than it had been for either Gilbert’s or Petrucci’s.  Not that theirs were bad, it’s just that the light sequences and color shifts seemed to reflect the moods and shifts of the Satch songs exceptionally well.  Song selection had a couple surprises like “One Big Rush” from FLYING IN A BLUE DREAM, but overall left me just a little bit disappointed.  Granted, as he pointed out partway through the night, it was the 20th anniversary of the release of SURFING WITH THE ALIEN, and I’m sure he wanted to celebrate that, but I would’ve liked to have heard at least one track from the four albums he released between 1998-2004, or even something from NOT OF THIS EARTH.  But I suppose when you only have fifty or so minutes to work with, you have to cut a lot of options.

I guess the sunglasses must cause a couple minor issues, because at the end of “Flying In A Blue Dream,” after a fantastic improvised outro solo, it looked like Satch only narrowly avoided tripping over his own guitar cord.  Ah well, nobody’s perfect.  A definite highlight was the long new intro to “Cool #9,” which featured some great funky and bluesy licks and an excellent bass solo by LaRue.  Title track of Joe’s latest release, SUPER COLOSSAL, sounded absolutely HUGE with the pitch-shifted guitar thundering out a tremendous wall of sound, and absolute classic jam-tune “Satch Boogie” from SURFING had the man so into what he was playing he wound up doing a pretty darn good impersonation of one of those bobblehead dolls.

One segment that caught me totally off-guard was the new outro to “Circles,” which took a decidedly darker turn than what one normally expects from Joe, with the stage lights shifting into strange shifting patterns on the rear curtain as Satriani coaxed spine-tingling harmonic shrieks, feedback howls, and eerie, dissonant arpeggiated chords before resolving the song, like the circle of the title, back to the original key of the piece.  Unexpected, but not an unwelcome surprise!

The best surprise of the night, though, was the last track, “Always With Me, Always With You.”  In previous incarnations of G3, Satriani would always finish his set and then introduce his fellow players for the ending jam  This time, however, after a beautiful rendition of the main piece, he began to bridge into the extended outro he had performed on the recent SATRIANI LIVE disc, but instead of going into the solo section himself, John Petrucci instead stepped out and began to play his own lead over the top of the recurring chord progression.  Again, Petrucci impressed me with his ability to play with depth of emotion and feeling here, delivering a superb lead that had obvious roots in Satriani’s original version but put John’s particular stamp on the piece as well.  As Petrucci finished his version, Paul Gilbert came out as well and launched into his own version of an outro lead over the progression.  Gilbert’s seemed a bit ham-handed in parts and not quite as soulful as either Petrucci’s or Satriani’s, but it was still a good interpretation.  Then the three guitarists began to trade off amazing and expressive lead segments, culminating in a three-guitar jam that had the crowd roaring with applause.  With that, the G3 jam was officially on!

Joe Satriani Set List (70 minutes, including “Always” jam)
One Big Rush
Flying In A Blue Dream
Cool #9
Super Colossal
Satch Boogie
The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing
Surfing With The Alien
Always With Me, Always With You (jam with Petrucci & Gilbert at the end)

Not surprisingly, every G3 jam has included at least one song by Jimi Hendrix.  The tradition continued as the three guitarists launched into an energetic version of “Foxy Lady,” with Paul Gilbert on vocals.  Two verses lead to a monster tradeoff solo section, and just when it seemed the song was coming to a close, they bridged directly into “Purple Haze,” launching an entirely new set of incredible tradeoffs in the process.  They wrapped up the jam with the intro lick for “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and closed out the song to a huge ovation from the audience.

Up next, Joe brought out Bruce Bouillet again as well as Massachusetts native and jazzy rocker Johnny A as additional players on a version of Jeff Beck’s hard-rocking “Goin’ Down.”  Surprisingly, when the solo section came around, Satriani stepped off-stage, yieldingthe spotlight to some great tradeoffs between Petrucci, Gilbert, Johnny A, and Bruce, only returning – and without his guitar – when the solos were done so he could sing the last verse.  Not sure whether he had a technical problem with the guitar or if he just didn’t feel like taking the spotlight away from the guest players, but it still sounded excellent.

For the last jam tune, Bruce walked back off, Joe came back with his guitar, and Johnny A stuck around for a finger-blistering rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”  Unfortunately, whoever was on sound duty for Johnny A must’ve been concerned he’d be drowned out and, in true Spinal Tap fashion, turned the knob past 11 up to about Infinity, leaving Johnny’s tradeoff lead section an indecipherable mess of overdriven mud – one marring spot in an otherwise excellent performance.  The jam session finished up at about 11:25, and the general consensus of the audience going out the doors seemed from overheard conversations to be about the same as mine – this had been a truly spectacular show.

If I could travel back in time and tell that young man at the pub what he could expect in the future, I doubt he’d believe me.  But if he did, it’d put a smile on his face.  Not counting the time for set changes, this was three solid hours of pure fret-burning insanity and a more than worthy addition to the G3 legacy.  Highly recommended for anyone who loves great guitar music!

Jam Set List (30 minutes)

Foxy Lady / Purple Haze
Goin’ Down
Jumpin’ Jack Flash