An Ode to Steve Vai

Steve vai

“Don’t stand in front of my amps if you want to have children one day.” – Steve Vai
“I think it’s more than awesome when you still have that buzzing in your ears.” – post show thoughts from a first time concert goer

Steve vai

It’s not that I’ve ever had a conscious affinity for guitarists; I’ve never been a groupie girl crushing on any greasy dude with a pick in his pocket (“Hey Baby, wanna check out my fingering?”), but rather I would find myself infatuated, and then eventually stumble upon his guitar case. This became such a reliable pattern, that it led to solid inside jokes.

 Speaking of jokes, what do you call a guitarist without a girlfriend? 
 (Ok, not all of them, but I did date that guitarist too.)

All to say, that through no intentional effort or particular interest on my part, I know Gibsons from B.C. Rich’s, Rhoades from both the Johnsons, and even the Johnsons from each other. Where I get mixed up is Satriani from Vai, despite numerous G3 listenings and a few watchings, I still don’t know which is which.

I know that Satch taught Vai, and Vai started his career transcribing music for Zappa, then playing with him, but which one wore the cute toque that time? One sounds more toe tapping, the other more technical, but which is which?

 Well, conveniently, my sweet (guitarist) boyfriend took me to the Steve Vai show at Metropolis last week, and I’m bound to keep it straight now. Satch has the knit hat and jeans, Vai wears unironic 80s nostalgia from his light show to his bolero hat, to the smoke machines to the skin tight pants that came with each of his 3 costume changes (quote: “Everytime I wear these pants my legs think that they’re Prince.”). But fuck, his talent is timeless.

First, I must take a moment to acknowledge the opening act, Beverly McClellan. She reminded me of Ani DiFranco meets Serena Ryder….but bald….and tattooed. The Google Elves tell me she made it to the final four of the first season of The Voice, which doesn’t sound as impressive as she did. Soulful, down to earth, and gigglingly grateful for the warm response she was on her first trip outside of the States, the Metropolis crowd gave her enough love, but were Montrealers less apathetic, I think she truly coulda brought down the house. I look forward to more from her.

Beverly McClellan on The Voice

Ok, so Steve Vai’s the more technical of two, but I can appreciate cleanly sustained notes that resonate in the spaces where our primal screams reside. I can also appreciate an Annie Lennox/Roxette looking chick on an electric harp. That’s right; electric violins are already passe, and harps are the new black. This dame was rocking 32 strings, and I’m betting that’s not nearly as easy as she made it look. Also probably not as easy as it looks, using your tongue as a slide, but I’m thinking it wasn’t Vai’s first rodeo. It’s a wonder there weren’t more chicks there, when you think about it…

Fundamentally, Vai can do with his li’l ol’guitar (no, guitar geeks, he didn’t break out any of his freaky equipment) what a generation of kids hasn’t been able to do with all the computer technology there is to date. There. I said it. Throw some phat bass behind this guy, and no one would know what hit them. In fact, the dub’n’trance lovin’ young’un we brought along for his first show, was heard to say “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” while beaming broadly and bopping his trendy-ass hat among the long haired dudes all dressed in black.

It’s hard to believe that he can do so much, so fast with just human hands; musician types can appreciate his skill even more so, at least theoretically understanding how he’s doing what he’s doing, meanwhile I just hear that it’s pretty, impressive, soulful, and highly improbable. (I was 1 of the 3 people I saw really moving to it, cementing my hunch that I can dance to almost anything, so if I can’t, it is ipso facto crap music.)

With that caliber of talent and experience under his belt, and his 15 million albums sold, this guy actually has every right to walk into a place, demand only the blue smarties and walk on stage with some ridiculous douchey attitude like so many newbie stars who are more like wind up models than musicians, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Steve Vai was one of the most gracious performers I have yet to see. There were times when he looked as moved by the Muse as we did by the resulting music, and actually watching that kind of art as it’s happening is awesomeamazing and painfully rare.

He took a moment to say how glad he was for the turnout, having wondered if people would still come out to see an esoteric guitar dude that hadn’t toured in 5 years, which took me aback. I was (happily) surprised he wasn’t playing a bigger venue considering his notoriety, and I’m not even his target market. When it was all said and done, the crowd stomping and clapping and throwing heartfelt devil horns to the stage, Vai gave back prayer hands, that felt genuine, humble and lovely.

Those guitar boys just keep on being charming don’t they…?

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One comment

  • He does that in Europe too…small venues but always full…
    Looking forward to see him next December in Lisbon…

    And when you say you couldn’t tell the difference i think the main one it’s the music itself witch is not so 3 chords and rock on like Satriani but kind of more progressive (Zappa) style…..

    And it’s nice to know that there’s always some nice girl to get a guitarist from the streets…..


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