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Concert Review & Photos - Steve Vai

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The first time I saw Steve Vai perform live was early in 1986 during the filming of David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose” video at the Orange Pavilion in San Bernardino, CA.  I won tickets to the video shoot through 96.7 KCAL FM, and spent an incredible afternoon watching this super talented guitarist shred through take after take of Roth’s first single since departing Van Halen in 1985.  As a 16-year old kid, I had very little exposure to Steve Vai at the time aside from hearing him on a few Alcatrazz tracks off a mix tape someone gave me.  What I didn’t realize during the video shoot was that I was witnessing the emergence of a true guitar virtuoso right before my eyes.  The stage could not have been brighter in 1986 and Steve Vai exploded onto the scene with a sound so unique it literally rocked the guitar world to its core.  Fast forward 30 years and Steve Vai is back in the Inland Empire picking up where he left so many years ago, launching his 25th Anniversary Passion and Warfare Tour at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside, CA on Saturday October 8th.

Kicking off the night’s festivities was fellow guitar phenom Tony MacAlpine.  Supported by his band consisting of Aquiles Priester (Drums) and Bjorn Englen (Bass), Tony and company dazzled the Riverside crowd with amazing power and sheer guitar brilliance.  The Fox was in awe as MacAlpine crushed his setlist comprised of his very best work spanning an amazing 30+ year career.  My favorite track of his set was “Tears of Sahara” – it was technically flawless and to me sounded better than it did when it was first released back in 1987.  I am so glad Tony is back in good health and absolutely killing it on stage.  For those who have not seen MacAlpine live, his performances are truly epic. Get to the show early and take in every note this guy plays – you will definitely thank me later.

After a brief intermission, the house lights dimmed and Steve Vai finally hit the stage.  He strutted out in a white hooded sweatshirt and neon sunglasses, carrying his signature Ibanez Jem guitar.  The lights further darkened as Steve kicked off the show with his 1995 classic “Bad Horsie” off of the Alien Love Secrets EP. The crowd went wild as his mirrored guitar flashed across the audience, captivating his legions of fans with a hypnotizing melody that was nothing short of brilliant.  After a few additional songs to get the crowd pumped up, it was time for Passion and Warfare to be performed in its entirety.  For those who have never heard this 1990 masterpiece, it truly is an album to behold - and hearing it performed live from start to finish was simply astonishing.  From opening track “Liberty” to album finale “Love Secrets”, Steve Vai absolutely crushed the 14-song album with guitar work so precise you would have thought he was a heart surgeon.  And on top of that, his band (consisting of Dave Weiner - Guitar, Jeremy Colson – Drums, and Phillip Bynoe – Bass) was simply killer.  You could see that this band had a solid chemistry on stage and absolutely loved playing with one another.  It’s no wonder Steve choose these guys at this moment for this tour – brilliant.

Throughout the set, Vai was joined on stage virtually by guitar legends Brian May, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, and the late great Frank Zappa.  This was a unique way to highlight some of the long standing friendships that Vai has cherished over years and highlighted the respect that each have for Steve and his many contributions to the craft they have all dedicated their lives to.  My favorite was Petrucci and Vai shredding to crowd-favorite, “The Audience is Listening”.  This duet sounded technically flawless and showcased Vai’s technical prowess on the 6-string to all in attendance Saturday evening.  And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, one of Vai’s oldest and dearest friends Billy Sheehan along with Tony MacAlpine joined him on stage for a rousing encore that had the entire crowd off of their feet and screaming for more.  For most in attendance, this was definitely the highlight of the evening and capped of a kick-ass night of guitar wizardry.

For those who came out and rocked alongside of Steve Vai on his 25th Anniversary Passion and Warfare Tour, it was truly an epic evening with one of guitars all-time greats.  Whether you call him a prodigy, a virtuoso, or simply a rock-star, there is no denying that Steve Vai has a unique talent that very few have ever been blessed with. When watching Vai play, one witnesses firsthand his natural connection between mind, body, and guitar which effortlessly transforms simple notes on a page to pure unadulterated ecstasy.  Vai unleashed this magic on the Fox Performing Arts Center Friday night, and for one brief moment helped to transport all of us back to a simpler time when the music itself was all that mattered.  Until next time….

Stay Frosty and Rock On!


Matthew Belter

Executive Editor - Long Beach

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