Story and Photos by Matt SchwenkeThere was a strange hush as I joined the crowd watching Steve Vai at the Rave. Arriving just after the band took the stage, the crowd resembled the classic image of an early 3-D movie audience-- frozen with stares of amazement but minus the glasses. While the signs on the doors read something like "Warning: Loud Rock Music", seeing Vai in 3-D can apparently also produce a dumbfounded state where heads slightly nod and feet lightly tap. With four extremely talented musicians on stage supporting Vai, the spectacle that is Steve Vai was a lot to process while being shook by the speakers-- the band definitely turns it up to "11."
After the initial amazement of how Vai manages to play all the notes you are hearing, it was the Zappa influence in the diversity of sound and talent in song-writing that made this show something more than a guitar clinic. Using parlor tricks and making funny faces throughout a set is usually done to make up for a lack of talent or creativity behind an instrument; however, Vai is certainly an exception to this caution of mine. In fact, the performance reminded me of nearly every video of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn that I've seen. Not in any stylistic sort of way, but the way they play makes you think there isn't a sound they couldn't pull out of a guitar, no matter how they managed to do it. Vai did, however, play the guitar with his tongue and later with the heel of his boot-- perhaps as an homage to the aforementioned guitar masters.
Vai also changed things up by grabbing an acoustic and taking a seat on a stool at the front of the stage. Maybe the only time Vai wasn't moving around that night, the acoustic set of three or four tunes was a welcomed change to the set and allowed Vai to sing with a surprisingly booming voice. To top off a night of morphing into different personalities, Vai left the stage at one point and came back out glowing. Looking like a crazed alchemist, Vai donned a cloak of sorts and lights attached to hands and head. With lights also blinking from the fretboard, Vai swirled his guitar through the fog on stage and the amps responded with strange sounds.
Adding in their own sounds and equally technical playing to the cauldron Vai stirred, the rest of the band had their time to shine as well. Guitarist Dave Weiner lead the crowd through a very heavy shredding of some metal guitar playing and bassist Billy Sheehan seemed to make his bass float beneath his hands with an ease of moving up and down the fretboard. Then there was drummer Jeremy Colson. While interesting behind a percussion set, Colson was an artillery behind the drumset. With feet equally as quick on the double bass as hands on percussion, Colson unloaded an impressive display of triplets and cymbal crashes. Adding still another element to the mix, keyboard/guitarist Tony MacAlpine took the crowd through a lengthy keyboard solo that had hints of techno as well as classical, and the crowd seemed to respect the different directions the show followed. Even though the volume was cranked up and the rhythms heavy, this was not a typical rock concert.
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