We’re seated in the Burton Cummings Theatre, the movie Crossroads starts; the infamous story of the blues artist who meets the devil at the Crossroads. While Ralph Macchio is playing the bluesman, Steve Vai is the one who actually plays the otherworldly guitar in the film.
During the famous guitar duel scene in the movie, a deal is being made with the devil.
In the darkness of the theatre, four figures take to the stage, the hooded fellow at centre stage is wearing illuminated sunglasses, his guitar is also lit up. The film clip ends and the lights go up only slightly. The two hour and 20 minute journey has begun.
Steve Vai is the hooded person. Immediately he starts wrenching sounds out of his guitar like no one else can. Did I mention otherworldly? Yeah I did. He’s playing “Bad Horsie” and it appears that this horse has come from hell (in a good way, this horse of course).
He seems to be taking us with him as he fully absorbs himself into his guitar. It looks like some weird type of transformation is taking place with both the space axe man and his audience.
After the first song, I look around in my amazement at the flabbergasted audience. I didn’t see many people leave their seats the entire evening. Looks like no one wants to miss even one note.
The last time Steve Vai played Winnipeg was June 12, 1990 with Whitesnake at the Winnipeg Arena. I was there in the 14th row on the floor.
The last time I saw him was Sept. 26, 1997 in Vancouver at the Plaza of Nations for the G3 concert with Joe Satriani and Kenny Wayne Sheppard (Robert Fripp opened the outdoor show and Mike Keneally was also there). This show has been long overdue.
He’s touring with his band in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the release of Passion and Warfare. The passion is definitely in this room tonight. The only warfare happening is the battle going through every guitarist’s head in the audience who I can only imagine are wondering if they can ever achieve mastery of their guitars like Mr. Vai
As well as playing with Whitesnake (Slip of the Tongue 1989), he’s also played with David Lee Roth, Public Image Limited (Compact Disc 1985), Alice Cooper (Hey Stoopid 1991), Ozzy Osbourne (Ozzmosis 1996), Dream Theater (Systematic Chaos 2007), Spinal Tap, and Meatloaf to name a few.
Bass Player Philip Bynoe played a mean intro to the second song “Crying Machine” and drummer Jeremy Colson opened the next song “Gravity Storm” with his thunderous drums.
For the fourth song, “Whispering a Prayer”, the band switches into a mellower mood, probably a good thing because I think the top of my head may have blown off from all the excitement so far. I’m definitely listening to this music on the sensual plane, i.e. where the music gives you goosebumps, chills, tingling down the spine and tears occasionally well up in the eyes.
It’s a purely instrumental evening but make no mistake, this band of virtuoso musicians are definitely speaking to us. Steve even made his guitar ‘talk’ to us at one point with a call and response section where his guitar talked and we mimicked.
He explained to the audience how he started working on the album Passion and Warfare 30 years ago and released it in 1990. He never did a tour for the album, telling us how he waited for “the right time (now), the right place (here) and the right band (this one).”
Steve once summed up the album as “Jesus Christ meets Jimi Hendrix at a party that Ben Hur threw for Mel Blanc.”
After four songs, the band starts playing the whole album in it’s entirety. A video clip on the screen above has Brian May, one of Steve’s “all-time guitar heroes,” introduce “the master of the Space guitar” at a concert in Seville, Spain where they played the first track “Liberty”.
The visuals on the screen were quite interesting, but I’m sure the guitar players in the audience had their eyes on Steve the entire evening, trying to figure out “how’d he do that” on all those great solo albums he’s released over the years.
The man certainly becomes one with his guitar. His tone is amazing.
Joe Satriani appeared on the screen live (wink wink) and congratulated Steve on the 25th anniversary of the album. The two guitar gods then jammed together for the song “The Riddle”.
The video for “For the Love of God” had Guitar Guru/ Shaman Steve playing on a mountaintop interlaced with images of Jesus, Buddha, Paramahamsa Yogananda and other spiritual scenes. Very appropriate as this seemed more like some type of spiritual experience than a concert.
Like in the music video of “The Audience is Listening” they showed of “little Stevie Vai” playing for his class, Steve definitely has a playful, childlike attitude of just having fun and a good time as he danced around the stage all evening grooving to the tunes.
Another guitar maestro, Dream Theater’s John Petrucci, appeared on the screen and congratulated Steve on the quarter century anniversary of the release. And through the wonderful modern technology available to us, John jammed with the band on “I Would Love It” (track 9 of the album).
For the last song on the album, “Love Secrets”, Steve told the audience how, “It’s a weird one, never thought we’d do it live.” Weird or not, amazing stuff and they pulled it off.
As Steve had played with Zappa on many albums and tours, he said that “a retrospective wouldn’t be complete without a little Frank Zappa, alright.” Showing a video of Steve playing with Zappa in 1981 on the screen and Bobby Martin singing the opening lines, the band launched into that famous Zappa/ Vai jam “Stevie’s Spanking”. Wow.
Then the band played “Racing the World” from the brilliant 2012 release The Story of Light.
Everyone was on their feet in front of the stage as Steve held out his guitar and let audience members play with the whammy bar.
He surprised everyone further when he walked off the stage and ended up in the audience. One woman got the thrill of her life when he took off his guitar and put it on her.
The last song of the evening “Fire Garden Suite IV: Taurus Bulb” brought the magical evening to a close.
He thanked the audience for our support in his 37 years of touring.
I wonder to myself, how many of the guitarists here left the building inspired (my guess, most of them) or intimidated (thinking they’d never be able to accomplish what Mr. Vai has in his career).
The evening started off with another guitar genius from Regina. Jack Semple played a short but sweet and melodic 17 minute set on his acoustic guitar.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer
Bad Horsie *
The Crying Machine +
Gravity Storm #
Whispering A Prayer ^
PASSION AND WARFARE:
For the Love of God
The Audience Is Listening
I Would Love To
Greasy Kid’s Stuff
Alien Water Kiss
PASSION AND WARFARE
(Frank Zappa cover)
Racing the World #
Fire Garden Suite IV – Taurus Bulbs +
* – Alien Love Secrets (1995)
+ -Fire Garden (1996)
# -The Story of Light (2012)
^ -Alive in the Ultra World (2001)
Passion and Warfare (1990)