Review by Richard Henry for MPM
The venue for tonight is the Belfast Limelight, with Steve Vai playing these shores for the first time since he played at the Mandela Hall in 2013 in support of the “Story of Light” album. Tonight’s appearance is in support of the 2022 Inviolate album
The band behind Steve Vai hasn’t changed at all within the last 9 years since his last appearance in Belfast, Jeremy Colson on Drums, Dave Weiner on second guitar/sitar/acoustic and now added Keys to his arsenal on the side of the stage, and rounded up by Philip Bynoe on 6 String bass guitar.
The venue was at capacity by the time the lights dimmed down at 8pm, with a little call and response section while Steve was standing off to the side of the stage getting the crowd to howl and sing along to the noises he was making with his trusty Ibanez Jems, much like the start of the Dave Lee Roth classic Yankee Rose with the talking guitar or like his mentor Joe Satriani’s Crowd Chant!
Just like that Steve finally walks onto the stage and after a little improv with the band they immediately launch into a track called “Avalancha” from the new album, this is an upbeat number to kick off the show, lots of double bass drumming in this one with Jeremy attacking his Tama set, this is a very melody driven song despite the rhythm shifts, it reminds me of Racing the World from the last album, a very easy to digest track, great interplay with Dave Weiner on this one with Steve coming over to stage right to play the harmony parts with Dave, typical Vai soaring melody on this one!
Moving into “Giant Balls of Gold” which was off the Alive in an Ultra World album from 2001 (this was the song for Poland for all you trivia nuts), a very heavy brooding riff kicks this one off, very reminiscent of Satriani’s Hordes of Locusts, very much again in soaring melody territory until the first break with the dissonant sliding up section before we head into the solo, and the notoriously hard tapping section coming out of the solo and into a long held note courtesy of his sustainer pickup, then back into the melody, and again a bit more sustainer and trem based action to close this one!
Next up we have another new track off Inviolate, this is “Little Pretty”, this is a track which I did not get at all on the album, but hearing it live it actually made a bit more sense, a very Zappa track with some “Meshuggah” style rhythm shifts under it, giving Jeremy Colson a chance to show his chops off on the drums, a very interesting song live, and without doubt it takes a whole new dimension compared to the album in a live setting!
As the band vamped in the background Steve came to the mic to talk to the crowd, letting everyone know how great it was to be back on tour and playing for people again after all this time, then we had an introduction of the band
Next up we headed back to 1995s Alien Love Secrets Ep, we got treated to the track Tender Surrender, a beautiful track, very dynamic, this song is a beautiful example of a song building and building to an absolutely blistering solo, then as soon as it has climaxed, we are back down to the soft start again until… the very end where we go all Hendrix and the guitar gets absolutely assaulted!
A song I have certainly never heard before from Steve live is up next, “Lights are on” which is from the Modern Primitive album which came out in 2016, a nearly sort of funk track combined with some very definite Zappa influence, loads of tribal drumming in the middle section and some interplay with Dave and Steve combining on the harmony parts!
Next up is a track I was looking forward to seeing live, “Candle Power”, from the new album, very mellow in terms of its all-clean guitar and features what Steve calls his “Joint Shifting” technique, it provided a nice break from the other songs in the set and really stood out, almost a surf guitar crossed with a lot of country bending, again another track I thought really benefitted from being seen live rather than on the album version! Steve now gives the stage over to his second guitar player for the first solo section of this evening!
Weiner, Weiner, nope it’s not an insult, we had Dave Weiners solo section next which was again a nice break in the set with Dave really going for a much more bluesy solo piece than going for all out shred, playing a lovely relic custom shop strat through a Friedman BE, really tasty playing and a great solo from a great player in his own right – check out his “Shove the Sun Aside” album from 2005!
We launch straight into “Building the Church”, this was the first track from 2005s Real Illusions album, you really have to see this live, a two-handed tour de force intro into a solid groove which had many a head nodding along to it, much like a lot of Steves music its all melody for the most part, with his sustainer again getting a good workout on this one, those poor guitars are getting seriously abused!
Much like a lot of Steves music, the set is very light and shade so we bring things down again with the mellow “Greenish Blues” from the new album, this is a very different track in the Vai catalogue, with a very slow blues backing section where the band brings it back and lets Steve go for it, very restrained in the whole and some very tasty note choices!!
Now during the performance there was a screen in the background showing various visuals that tied in with the songs being played, however up now was the one time that the screens would be interacted with from the stage…….
Let’s go back to a movie called Crossroads, on the screen came the footage and that voice, “I know a real good guitar player by the name of Jack Butler”!! Just like that we had Steve playing the intro to “Bad Horsie”, from 95s Alien Love Secrets EP, along with the footage from the film, something that was an awesome visual touch, we also had the Green Pia guitar with the LED lights in the neck for visual impact as well! Probably the heaviest song in the set tuned down, that riff is monstrous, never mind the two-handed part in the solo, a great live track!!
Another change of guitars (I will list the gear at the end as I am sure there are more than one or two guitarists interested) we come out with Flavia, the white Jem and Steve goes into the beautiful track called “I’m Becoming” which is an unaccompanied solo guitar piece with clean sounds and the sustainer that was from the Sound Theories album, it is an intro that leads into the next song…
“Whispering A Prayer” from 2001s Alive in an Ultra World, we have Dave Weiner providing the synth bed for this track as Steve comes over to the mic and tells the crowd, this was written for your country, as this was the song for Ireland on the album, and absolutely stunning ballad track, that like most Vai tracks building but this one never loses the melody or gets into solo territory, absolutely stunning from start to finish!
“Dyin Day” is up next from 1996s Fire Garden album, again following the last two songs this is another laid back song that builds with Dave providing acoustic 12 string backing, a nice addition to the set and a song I have never heard live, and I did see the Fire Garden tour in 97!
Solo no 2, and this time its Jeremy Colson’s turn, there is certainly nothing subtle in the first part of the solo, ranging from double bass to Slayer beats, a good bit of crowd interaction and then we have a bit of technical playing, keeping one Latin rhythm going with one hand and then something different with the other while keeping another groove with his feet, a great drummer who has been a long-time staple of the Vai band!
Zeus in Chains is next from the new album and this is a straight rocker track, much in the veins of Racing the World from the Real Illusions album, some great bass work on this one from Philip, can be easy to miss that part, a good crushing riff and into the solo which takes some serious twists and turns, a great song and again as I have said before the songs live take on a whole different vibe than the album versions!
The next two songs are 100% absolute Vai classics, first up is the first track from the 1990 album Passion and Warfare, “Liberty”, all melody and just a beautiful uplifting track that is about to take us into the one song that made every guitar player listen
For The Love of God, its without doubt Steves signature track and despite the amount of times I have seen it being played I still get goosebumps, the first half is all melody, with Dave holding down the sitar, but it keeps building and then explodes in the middle with every technique accounted for, before bringing it back to the melody again! The outro over the static chords is again a sight to behold, it builds and builds and climaxes like only Steve can do!!
That’s it, or is it, as the band go off for a two min breather the crowd starts cheering and cheering looking for another track, and as they come back on we revisit a track I have only seen been played once before!
“Taurus Bulba” from 1996s Fire Garden album, this is Part 4 of the Fire Garden suite, a truly unbelievable song to end the show with multiple shifting time signatures and a middle eastern feel to the piece, its an absolute highlight to end with!
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 9 years before Steve returns to these shores!!!
For all the musicians and guitar players out there, here’s the gear: ( could’nt see the pedalboard unfortunately)
Evo – White Jem
Flavia – White Jem
Onyx – Black Pia
Bruno – Burnt Universe
ASR 2000 – Hollow body Ibanez
Synergy Vai and Bassman models, Axe Fx 3, 2 x Fryette Power Amps into 2 4×12 Carvin Legacy Cabs
Photography by MPM