Report: Show of Steve Vai in Vilnius

2005.11.02 00:00, Adis

Translated by Crazyte

Photos by Crazyte are here >>

“I wrote this song for all my friends in Lithuania. When I grow up, I’m gonna be a famous rock’n’roll guitar player!”. No, these weren’t the words said at the beginning of the concert, but they could be the best reflection of the whole concert spirit. Lithuanians enjoyed Steve. We think Steve enjoyed Lithuanians, too.

However, let’s start from the very beginning.

No, I wouldn’t begin the story from my impatience waiting for the interview with Steve Vai on the radio station “M1+”, how it was late for two hours and at last was made not at the studio but by cellular phone with static interferences.

I’ll begin it from the phenomenon in the history of Lithuanian concerts — punctual start of the concert — 20:02, when some mysterious white shirted person runs onto the stage, shouts/roars something into the microphone and… and after a few seconds lights are gone and unexpectedly sharp guitar riffs begin to fill the hall.

I have to admit that have heard nothing about Eric Sardinas until the first announcements of this concert of Steve Vai. So I’ve grabbed his last (and quite old) album “Black Pearls”, impatiently listened to it and was quite satisfied — the first impression was that it’s some mix of quite nice old Mississippi delta blues and energetic hard rock. Although lively, it sounded quite different…

Yep, there is some blues manner but energy, even aggression — it’s definitely out beyond blues range. Young company of metalheads standing nearby even begin to headbang. I started to think what my mom-in-law is going to think about me, ‘cause I’ve promised that it would be an absolutely extraordinary and non-metal concert, for sure …

Rage continues for a few more compositions till something more like classical blues is played. And here it comes out clear that Eric is a much better bluesman then a rocker. Blues compositions sound somehow more convincing, naturally, guitar slide fits here much better. There is one problem, however – compositions played at the concert seemed very alike, purely blues insertions made the whole impression better but somewhere after the fourth composition the public began to migrate towards the bar in the corner of the hall. The situation was saved only by the fire show at the end of Eric’s performance.

Summarizing I can say that it was typically American — a lot of acting, posing, rags, decibels, and due to the really big national requirements for the show – a lot of drive and technique, of course. Nonetheless, I would not go to Eric’s concert for a second time unless he promises to play what he plays the best — old fashion electrified blues. And the main thing – beer is supposed to be drunk, mister Sardinas, not sprinkled out…

Now it’s time for a “beer break”; meanwhile, there is some sort of movement on the stage (but everything there seems almost untouched), my heart begins to beat faster and harder, and at last the lights are down.

Oh, yes. This guitar “voice” could not be mistaken for anything else. Exactly, the voice, not the sound. Unique style of Steve, those “comments by guitar” — human intonations that come from strings, sound both comic and astonishing — like human voice.

Thus, the most outstanding rock concert in Lithuania begins…

First time in my life I’m sorry for not being squint, there is a big desire to see everything, everyone and at once — MacAlpine, Sheehan and Vai himself. And all of them, as if they had some sort of agreement, move all over the stage and you are just afraid to turn and look from one to another fearing to miss something…
The first impression about Vai that he is a guitar guru (but where is the triple-neck? Double-neck isn’t so conspicuous any more… ;). No, not only because of playing (it’s obvious). These associations rise from the stage outfit – embroidered clothing that looks like oriental, “khan” robe — robe that was worn only by royal persons. I doubt if that choice has been made accidentally… Steve has a really good stylist…

Legendary compositions change one another (could we survive without “Audience is Listening”?), many compositions from the last album of this year. The quite psychedelic song “Km-Pee-Du-Wee” reaches the ears especially pleasantly. I could agree with those who said that they missed more compositions from “Flex-able”, but time is limited and me myself would not take anything out from set list…

It’s enough about Vai for a while – as I have mentioned, eyes are aimed not only at him.

Tony MacAlpine. I’ll admit that he seemed somewhat gloomy to me at the beginning and with a very bad sound. Essentially keyboards are heard only during Tony’s solo and there, where he puts ambient background for the main star’s solos. If another musician is playing — that’s all, Tony and his battery of synthesizer is not heard anymore… Everything changes when this guy grabs a guitar. A smile comes at once and I must admit that he plays not worse than his colleague and “boss”. And what happens at the end of the concert when Lithuanians “heat” not only themselves, but musicians too – let’s leave that for later.

Billy Sheehan is a real professional both in the musical and show sense. Even if those jokes have been prepared in advance, they are really good and in place pronounced with unbelievable mimics, gestures and, of course, with highest quality playing technique. At the very beginning of the show he looked a little bit arrogant for me (and I was really surprised by that), later he definitely changed my mind about himself. As he demonstrated later, that old man (hey, already 52!, though as Steve says, he doesn’t need “vaiagra” yet) managed to play not only the bass but the guitar too. OK, if not so amazingly, then at least impressively.

Other musicians were not that famous as the ones previously mentioned but really of “vaian level”: healthy living (“…spends his time without any drugs, and alcohol”… interesting, beer is also out of his list?) drummer Jeremy Colson gives us a drumming show in Buddy Rich style, going with drumsticks through half of the stage, instrumental stands, Steve’s neck and even his guitar. The guitarist Dave Weiner is a little bit calmer but really worth attention because of his very precise playing manner.

The show comes up to its middle. Here goes the playing with “neighbours’ guitars” (guitarists are standing in the row and each of them is picking strings of his own guitar with another hand is placed on the neck of his “neighbour’s” guitar), all solos, lights are down, the stage dips in lots of smoke then… the terminator enters. With guitar in his claws.

No, Schwarzenegger has nothing to do with this — possibly he is sitting calmly in the comfortable California governor’s chair and secretly smoking another cigar. The terminator this evening is the star in person decorated with lamps and laser flashes. Yes, I saw that in “Live in Astoria” DVD, but to see all of this in Lithuania was a real surprise for me. Of course, nothing miraculous, but the show is really good. And perhaps not the cheap one.

Those, who saw Steve for the first time (it can sound strange but you could find such persons :), paid attention to his scenic behavior and famous mimics at once. It looked as if Steve was mute and used his guitar (to be precise – guitars) as a modern speech device. Lips were moving but the sound came out not from them — the face only illustrated the sound that was coming out from the guitar.

And the “messiah” look that wandered all over the hall and made all hands of the audience to rise… Pompous, but… worth respect for punch, successful theatricality and perfect manipulation of the audience. Somewhere after an hour I suddenly noticed that the beer can I got during the break was only half-drunken and still in my hand. An uncomfortable feeling rushed over me. To forget that … I still had beer? That has never happened for me before… Steve, you ARE wonderful.

That is the same reason why I can’t agree with those who are complaining about the bad sound during the concert. Yes, it was “dirty” during Sardinas’ show, there were even cases of microphone disappearance but I saw no shortages except for the keyboards’ deficit during the show of the main star of the evening — at least in the place that I’ve occupied. And I had no wish to check sound somewhere else — my attention was fully griped by Steve.

Two hours past as a blink of an eye. It’s one of those rear cases when I was sorry that show was coming to an end. Vai & Co disappeared from stage but Lithuanians were not naive — nobody was going out and everyone was waiting patiently for encore. That didn’t took long.

And here it is – the best part of the evening.

You can see that the mood of musicians was as good as that of the audience. “You know, we’ve talked at the backstage with all the band and guys agree that you are the best audience in the whole tour!” This phrase evoked a lot of hesitations: was it a usual show element, which is reliable and justifiable for such professionals like Vai company, or, if to believe in the musicians’ smiles and shining eyes, was it a real and deserved compliment? Hmm, witnesses state that nothing like that was said at least in Latvia and Estonia…

After a short speech a fury begins, which involves Eric Sardinas as well. Everyone is playing and everyone can be heard. MacAlpine plays the guitar and keyboards at the same time, Steve demonstrates his heights, Billy — the speed of his fingers, and even the “camera guy” is here… Later Billy and Tony exchanges instruments: MacAlpine grabs Sheehan’s bass, Billy takes Tony’s guitar. There is no difference in the overall sound. Of course, the music isn’t that precise, there’s a lot of improvisation but the impression remains unreal.

Still, everything comes to an end. Ovations, the pretended Vai’s stage diving (huh, we almost believed in his intentions ;), throwing of mediators and drumsticks towards the audience. The musicians disappear from stage, the crowd begins to move also, here and there you can still see bunches of amazed people still lingering. The author of these lines is among them as well. I couldn’t recover for two days after the gig, I haven’t recovered fully even by now…

What could we learn from this evening? It’s not worth to speak about music — as Alan P. Scott once said, “to write about music is the same as to dance about architecture”. One could learn the show itself: the motion on stage, communication with the audience, special effects applied, freedom on the stage. Of course, if everyone behaves so, that would have no effect but nowadays the situation is that the show of many bands (even professional ones) ends with walking along the stage edge, some headbanging and showing of the “unity” sign to the crowd. Thus, there is space for improvement and search for novelties. Even playing with your tongue isn’t that easy as it may seem…

P.S. What about the rumor that the guitar legend would continue his “Alive in the Ultraworld” traditions and would play “Ant kalno murai…”? OK, the anxious ones could hear this national motive in one improvisation but still…

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