Live Review: Steve Vai at The Webster Theater 10.03.07 Print
Wednesday, 24 October 2007 05:01
vai.jpgTim McCall, Staff Writer - Guitar Jam Daily
So there we were, part of the GJD crew, heading out to the Steve Vai show at the Webster Theater in Hartford on a Wednesday night. Ken, Dave, Mike and me. I knew before we even left that tonight was going to be a great night. I have always liked Steve Vai's music. Not completely in the same way that I like other styles and artists, but more of an extreme case of admiration for his incredible technical proficiency and wonderfully intricate melodic phrasing. He has had some very memorable recordings that played a large part in my developing love of music over the years. His work on the Bill and Ted's EXCELLENT Adventure soundtrack. The Encino Man soundtrack as well as playing with Frank Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, David Lee Roth, Whitesnake, and of course the Passion and Warfare album -- which is my all-time favorite work by Steve Vai.

The one thing that everyone needs to realize about me is that I am fan of all musical instruments, not just guitars. I don't get hung up on the infinite minutiae and minor details of the techniques of guitar playing. For me, it's all about WHAT I HEAR and HOW IT MAKES me feel. Instrumental music like Steve Vai's gives us all an opportunity to interpret the music to mean what we want it to mean. The lack of lyrics is sadly a barrier to many peoples ability to FEEL and personally interpret the music. If your life is all about words and not about feelings... Then Steve Vai's music will not speak to you because it requires you to speak to yourself. Steve does sing on some of his songs and while he isn't the greatest singer in the world, I for one, wish he would sing more. Even some minor introductory lyrics can set the tone, lyrical framework and expectation for the whole composition.

Anyone that has heard Steve Vai's music would immediately recognize it. He utilizes harmonizers extensively to achieve his distinctive and unique sound. I don't know, maybe I am a little off the beaten path of what would be considered "standard" musical knowledge or awareness, but I would recommend reading any articles you can find on Psycho-Acoustics. There is a good primer on Wikipedia. It is esoteric for sure, the science of the perception of music. (or sound) For any serious musician, I would say it is almost a requirement to have some rudimentary knowledge of this area. A basic understanding of these concepts helped me expand my musical appreciation immensely.

Imagine someone scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. Sounds terrible, hurts your ears, simple example of psycho-acoustics at work. Now imagine Steve Vai playing his signature guitar style and sound, harmonizers kicking in, off-key secondary and tertiary harmonics aggregating and reverberating inside the biological sound-processors residing between your ears. This was the psycho-acoustic experience I was looking forward to on the way up to the show, and I was richly rewarding by Steve Vai and company. Listening to Steve's compositions on your MP3 player or home stereo (even a really good one like mine) is just no comparison to hearing it performed live, on a decent venue's audio system with all it's dynamics right there for you to experience firsthand.

For those of you familiar with Steve Vai's catalog of music, the Passion and Warfare albums song "For the Love of God" opens with a young man saying "Peace and Love and Good Happiness Stuff". For me, that summarizes perfectly what that song is saying when I listen to it. In talking with Ken after the show, he had the following observations about three of his favorite songs that Steve played: "Tender Surrender" reminds him of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Riviera Paradise with jazzy octave melodies. And "Juice" shows some heavy influences from Eddie Van Halen and "Ooo" which includes a haunting double-stop laden melody.

Some of the things that Steve Vai did during the show indicate to me how really humble and thoughtful Steve is for someone who is so incredibly technically proficient. Every other member of the band had their moment to shine with a solo. He also had the opening band's guitarist playing a tasty acoustic number with him. The two violins played a really cool, fast, Paganini style duet. Steve played the guitar with his feet at one point during one of his solo's, the lighting came up from below and was an excellent accent to the solo. Steve was waving his arms for emphasis which added the perfect touch to highlight the various phrasings Steve created with his feet (toes?)

In wrapping this review up, if you are already a huge Steve Vai fan, you will be happy to hear Steve playing out live and up close. For those of you that are not familiar with Steve Vai's catalog of music, start with his Passion and Warfare album. It is definitely his most accessible work. If one of the songs on it doesn't move you in some way, you are an emotionless shell and you should take up selling used cars. Like I said to Steve when I was shaking his hand at the after-show meet and greet, "Peace, Love and Good Happiness Stuff" Thanks for a great show Steve.