Review by Richard Henry for MPM
This one has been a long time coming, rescheduled three times previously and a massive anticipation is in the building tonight as since the last time Satriani toured we now have 2 new albums to cover!
I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to have to do a setlist and keep everyone happy, but tonight is not like any other night, there is no support act and Joe is onstage for near two and a half hours, a real treat for any fan, and a few songs in there I had not heard in a few years, so let’s get stuck into the set!
Nineteen Eighty – The rumble of elephant noises comes on as the lights dim and on come the band, the blue smoke has coming out for a few mins so it really sets up the stage, then bang, into that open string pull of riff, first curveball as I was half expecting a song from the new album but then this is technically a new album as well, up tempo from the off, Satch back from stage right into center, Bryan standing beside his bass right swinging away, Kenny battering the kit and Rai on keys/guitar, it’s quite a line up! As we hit the end of this song the band are playing a vamp as Satch improvs at the end of the song, which leads into an eastern style melody which tees up nicely
Sahara – Track one form the new album is up next and as I said it was teed up on a plate at the end of the last track, laid back in the pocket groove, Kenny laying way back on this one, I love the way this track modulates in sections from the melody to a quieter part where Joe backs off the gain and plays a little floating part before it kicks back into some serious trem arm abuse of the melody, with a serious Hendrix style fuzz tone, his tone was the best I have heard it tonight!
Elephants of Mars – Into the electronic intro of Elephants from Mars and we have that dizzying guitar lick to start it off, then we slide into a soaring Satch melody which let’s face it, he’s the king of that really, isn’t he! I love the way this track drops down into a spacey mid-section which for me sounds like the Elephants talking to each other, then we have a circus drum part in the background, there is so much stuff to take in its really easy to miss it all, back into that riff with Bryan roaming around the stage, gesturing the crowd, it all goes a bit Hendrixian (it’s a word ok), the sustainer on and the alien/elephant noises start, before you know it you are three songs in!
Ice 9 – I mean, anything from Surfing can just be called classic by now, really driving track pinned down by the changing melodies, then we hit the solos, the first is the Satch legato fest, then into the blues section, then you’re into noise land, I mean what other solo do you get something called Lizard Down the Throat, yeah it is a thing, go look it up! I loved the breakdown at the end where there were tradeoffs between Joe and Rai, each getting more and more out there, I get the feeling Rai has played a lot of jazz fusion as I could hear that in some of the lines he was busting out, great interplay!
Thunder High on the Mountain – Off to 2018s, What Happens Next album for this one, Bryan waving at everyone to start clapping to the beat at the start of this, he’s like a circus ringleader, whipping everyone up! I love the intro to this with the open string guitar intro over the droning keyboards, now you can’t tell me that riff isn’t heavy, again the contrast from that into the verse part which is just a gorgeous melody over a really subtle groove, it’s a relatively short track but there are loads of little things in it to catch and so many changes in feel, it’s what Satch does best, ebb and flow
One Big Rush – I’m not going to lie people, I was very excited to hear this one, from that rapid snare intro at the start, this is 100% up-tempo Joe, a classic off Flying in a Blue Dream, it’s funny a lot of his newer songs have less wah pedal and you can tell because Joe is over the stage and this one he is over stage right for the whole song, the man can do facial expressions like no one else and he’s mouthing and harmonic dive bombing his way through this one!
Blue Foot Groovy – This has a real like 70s blues funk vibe to it, I remember thinking that when I heard the album, it also reminded me a lot of San Franciso Blue from Shockwave, it’s a real laid back summer vibe song, really just being carried by the melody for the most part and then peppered with the groove and laid back parts, it picks up nearer the end of the song, more in just the distortion of the guitars than anything, it also in the context of the set gives a reprieve from the last two tracks which are a lot more direct in feel!
Flying in a Blue Dream – There Joe is right beside that Marshall and hits a C note, well you know what’s going to happen as he positions himself then moves slightly to change the harmonic and in comes the keys playing those lovely chords and off, this is a must play for Joe, I never tire of hearing it, technically demanding in parts with the fluid legato runs and picking parts, but it’s just another beautifully constructed track, building up through the solo and then coming back to the melody at the end, we get freeform end with Joe trem picking down the scale and flowing legato over an E Lydian vamp from the back, it’s just a stunning track!
Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws – Almost like a desert rock track, this one just drives along with a deep groove and Joe playing a melody against open strings, this is probably one of the most riff driven tracks Joe has, it’s really carried by the riff until you get to the solo section, you get blues runs, arpeggios, legato, stutter phrasing, yeah the whole book is played out right in front of you as a guitar player, that solo has it all!
Faceless – This song tears me up every time I hear it, if you think of Joe as the technical guitar player extraordinaire, this is where he bears his soul and it is a heart wrenching song, that descending melody and just the phrasing and the way he hits certain notes during it, I had goosebumps the whole way through it, and I kept it together this time, if you have someone who isn’t a fan of Joe, just sit them down and listen to this track, it’s all about the melody and that’s it!
Crystal Planet – Well in a way this wasn’t a surprise as Joe had changed guitars to one with a Crystal Planet graphic on it! It was indeed the title track with that open stringed riff and the start into the riff, then into that spacey melody, again it changes, so you get the melody in your head and then it modulates to something else, then into the middle section, more pull offs and then the fuzz tone solo from hell, there is literally no rest bite on this track, it is full on from start to finish and again it just shows the light and shade in the set with the track before being so mellow!
Summer Song – Off to The Extremist, this always has been such an uplifting song, great Wah melody at the start and you notice the original video for the song playing on the screen behind Joe as well, with him on the racetrack with stuff blowing up round him, it’s such a playful track in parts as well, but still has a boat load of chops and playing in it, at this point you realize that you are actually 12 songs into the set and an hour and fifteen mins has gone, and then we get to the intermission! Very kindly Kenny is going back to make the band cocktails for 15 mins and gave the audience a chance to do the same!
And we are back, well one of us is……….
Drum Solo – Mr. Aronoff you are up sir, now the man hits like a truck, that poor kit has had to put up with some serious abuse up there tonight and it’s not getting away too easy with it now, we have grooves, double bass, cross hand rolls, audience interaction, I mean the guy is regarded as a drum legend for a reason!
Energy – Well the drum solo was full of it and this song doesn’t let off with it, an apt title, this one is from What Happens Next, like a really up-tempo AC/DC style track its properly in your face, there is a little let up for like five seconds before we hit back in with the riff, with Joe peppering it with little licks at the end of each part, and well we are back for part two of the set with a bang!!
E 104th Street NYC 1973 – Quite the title, now this one when I heard it the title made sense, think of Lalo Schifrin that sort of Dirty Harry soundtrack, it just reminds me of that crossed with Steely Dan, very much more in a fusion world that Joe has been in before, Bryan getting a chance to come forward and play a bit of a fretless bass solo, it’s a slinky groove underpinning this track, really lovely solo, really nice phrasing and lots of playing a phrase and stopping and playing again, it’s a really unique track, I loved the album version but live it takes on a completely different vibe, so cool an so groovy!
Keyboard Solo – Rai Thistlethwayte, you sir are up! This guy has chops, lots of chops, then I saw his mum was a classical piano teacher and he was awarded a scholarship to Sydney Conservatorium of Music for jazz piano, so it all makes sense because the guy has the classical chops when you heard him rip up and down arpeggios but I knew he had to have had a jazz background with the note and chord choices he was making ( I looked up his background when I got home), but it was evident this guy was of that pedigree, really impressed with him, what an awesome player!
Cool #9 – The intro track from 1995s Self-Titled album, again a slinky laid-back groove brings this in one in, live again this track with the keys and everything in it, it really brings that other element to it, now laid back and groovy doesn’t mean there isn’t a load of playing, we have sweeps the hand over the neck part before we even launch into that blues based solo in the middle of the track, then the whammy pedal gets deployed, then you get that really cool descending section before Bryan comes over to play the bass figure along with Joe before we launch back into the groove with more whammy pedal, then out to the sweeps to end the song!
Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me – It’s almost like a samba groove on this one, so if you know who Ali Farka is, he’s a Malian Singer, Dick Dale is the king of surf rock, an alien is well you can figure that one out yourself and you know who Joe is, and if ever there is a perfect title and song for that mix of all these elements, the main melody is really Malian vocal, the middle section is pure Dick Dale Misirlou, and the rest of it is clearly alien, or maybe Joe is the alien, anyway you guys can figure that out!
Shapeshifting – A real almost Jungle groove to the start of this, keeping with the eastern theme of the last track, this one plays into the same sort of area tonally at the start before hitting a really cool section with almost dissonant chords over which Joe is playing a melody and Bryan is all over the place on the neck before it breaks down into a really intricate bass groove with Joe playing a really bluesy solo over the top of it
Teardrops – Another one from Shapeshifting, the tempo comes right down for this one, and as I have said this is such a well-balanced and thought-out set-in term of pacing, a real almost slow shuffle blues feel to this song, lots of space, nothing gets in the way of the melody, a really interesting solo in terms of the way the notes are placed, you go from staccato sections to the full on flowing legato that Satch is so well known for, but it never loses feel for flash and as we all know that’s what this man does so well!
If I Could Fly – First song tonight from 2006s Is There Love in Space album, there had been a few occasions where I could hear Rai, more on when he was playing guitar, I could see him strumming the chords to this one but I just couldn’t hear him, this one is just such an uplifting track, with a 100% classic Satch solo, it really really reminds me of Flying in a Blue Dream solo, there are so many similarities between the two, for a man who is on tour having issues with one of his fingers that he is having to super glue, you would never know by the way he is getting about, outstanding!
Always with Me Always with You – Satch thanks the crowd for coming after so many years wait and dedicates this song to us all, I mean the next few songs are at this point, must play every concert songs, this one I could sing every note, from the verse melody to the tapping part in the middle that I heard the crowd starting to clap when he played right all the way to where the song backs down to the end, it’s just ingrained in my memory forever as I am sure it is with every Satch fan here tonight!
Satch Boogie – As with the album, right after the last song comes this one, Kenny absolutely hammering the kit on this, this up-tempo blues rocker that gets its name from a way to name his demos, it’s a Satriani tour de force, with that middle tapping section being a headache for many a guitar student to learn over the years (pitch axis theory) for those who are curious is what it’s based on! Where did the last two hours go….. 22 songs and two solos in and wow!
Now there where a few members of the audience assumed that was it and left, now maybe they didn’t get out of the building but they didn’t come back to the seats, however we are not done people!!!
Crowd Chant – Bryan yet again, getting everyone to clap, getting people to sing along and get involved, not that he had to ask much, we all know the licks and what we have to sing and we did, a fantastic track with an additional ending now tagged on which was really cool to hear!
Now what else could be the last track…….
Surfing With the Alien – Much like Satch Boogie, this is a staple of the set and a track that just has all the elements that make Satch the player he is, you get the Wah melody, then it modulates, into the tapping section, into the legato then the blues playing then back into a melody then some bar harmonics the more blues phrasing and bar abuse, this song really is just a benchmark of instrumental guitar playing from an album that stands above the pack in terms of being singable, melodic but still displaying the technical prowess that Joe has, I can’t think of a more fitting tack to close the show!
In a career that saw the Satriani Ep released in 1984, Joe has nearly 40 years of being at the top of the heap of instrumental guitarists, and this has to be not just one of the best nights I have seen him play but deliver a set of classic after classic, how many artists can do that after 40 years and still have quality album after quality album, I look forward to seeing him again soon!
Photography by Darren Mcveigh for MPM