Hardcore Vai fans will recall his early beginnings with Frank Zappa, first serving as Zappa’s transcriptionist, and then actually joining the band in the early 80’s. More mainstream fans, however, became enamored with Steve Vai through a movie released in 1986 entitled ‘The Crossroads’, in which Vai played the devil’s guitarist in the culmination scene of the film. The scene lasted only 4 minutes long, but was able to inspire many a musician, including myself, to pickup a guitar in the first place. Now, I know my limitations in life, and playing more than just a few basic chords was as good as I would ever be able to achieve on this particular instrument. As such, this write-up is not necessarily for the hardcore guitar enthusiast seeking out any technical analysis on Vai’s performance this particular performance.
However, what I can speak to is this: I’ve loved music all my life – played the piano since I was 5, was the drummer in a local cover band for several years, and even served my time playing the low-brass in high-school marching band. After years of lessons, recitals, and public performances, I’m fully aware of the time it takes to play / perform something ‘well’. Vai’s concert went for about 2.5 hours (less a 15-minute intermission), and of the thousands of notes he played tonight, I swear to goodness I don’t think he hit 1 incorrect note. Every note he picked, plucked, or tapped was flawless – a testament to this living guitar god’s virtuosity.
When the concert kicked off, Vai’s bandmates took to an almost pitch-black stage, for which minimal stage lighting was cast. Suddenly toward the back of the stage, I see clips playing from ‘The Crossroads’ movie and suddenly I’m brought back to that moment when I first discovered Steve Vai. In the dark, a tall hoodie-vested figure emerged from the side of the stage, covered with emanating laser beams… he looked like an alien… if he wasn’t an alien, he definitely wasn’t from this world. Then I heard the first note to ‘Bad Horsie’ and suddenly realized that the being in front of me not from this world was Steve Vai! In the midst of my realization, Vai uncovered his head from the hoodie and I knew that I was standing only a few feet from music genius. After his first song, Vai quickly acknowledged the audience before playing the next few songs. After his 5th song, he took a moment to introduce his band.
The 2nd set kicked off with stage video of ‘The Audience is Listening’. As the ‘video progressed, Vai took to the stage and played alongside his video counterpart playing the exact same notes, while the band impressively was also able to keep to the exact same tempo as the video footage. The next 6 songs represented the rest of ‘Side 2’ from Passion and Warfare. Paying homage to Frank Zappa, Vai and band played alongside pre-recorded concert footage of ‘Stevie’s Spanking’. For Vai’s encore this evening, he took on ‘Fire Garden Suite IV- Taurus Bulba’ from his fourth album, named as such.
Tonight’s concert was a fantastical musical dream of what it would be like to be able to catch a brief glimpse of Steve Vai’s mind. Listening to him play live forced you realize that you weren’t just watching a great guitar player playing an awesome guitar that he designed; rather, you were able to witness man becoming one with his instrument, the merger of which elicited leaps and bounds higher and further into the musical stratosphere than you could have ever imagined. It is the opinion of many that Vai continues to improve in technical skill with every passing album, and tonight showcased a highly talented guitarist’s continuous improvements on previous day’s efforts for almost 40 years of professional-level performance play. Vai is definitely the one I’d want to have playing for my soul someday whenever I get to my crossroad.