REVIEW: Steve Vai, at Academy, 9/10, by Robin Askew
GIVEN that the outsiders' view of Bristol music fans is that we are trip-hop-loving trustafarian hipsters with a snooty disdain for rock, the city seems to have developed a surprisingly-large appetite for guitar heroes.
A couple of months ago, Joe Satriani packed out the Colston Hall. Now, here is his frequent collaborator Steve Vai at the Academy.
Vai made his name as a stunt guitarist for Frank Zappa. He has played with artists as diverse as David Lee Roth and John Lydon (in Public Image Limited) but his style proved a poor fit for the short-lived 1989 incarnation of Whitesnake.
It is as a solo artist that he is most revered, although he does not churn out albums like so many of his peers. The new one, The Story Of Light, is his first release in seven years. What is more, it is a concept album.
It is not just any old concept album, mind, but part two of a baffling projected trilogy whose failure to make any sense probably has much to do with the fact that it is presented non-chronologically.
Not that this matters tonight, because Vai elects to play a set which is almost entirely instrumental.
Only during a momentum-sapping acoustic Rescue Me Or Bury Me does he attempt to sing, proving that this is best left to the professionals. But that was the only low point in an epic, rapturously-received performance.
Vai is more of a showman than Satriani and his tricky yet unerringly melodic music is a little funkier.
He switches guitars more frequently than Lady Gaga changes costumes, playing them with intensity.
Contrary to the stereotype of the pofaced guitar hero, there is plenty of humour here too, much of it inherited from Vai's Zappa years.
At one point, Vai dons a pulsating laser suit, complete with natty illuminated gloves. Not to be outdone, drummer Jeremy Coulson disappears – "I fell asleep during your acoustic solo," he said – only to return sporting a preposterous yet fully-functioning strap-on drum kit, which he proceeds to batter into submission.
Accomplished genre-straddlers Dave Weiner (second guitar) and Philip Bynoe (bass) help make a jaw-dropping team.
When an equipment malfunction curtails the ferociously-complex The Animal prematurely, they all pick up precisely where they left off. And during the build-a-song section of the show, two punters are plucked from the audience and asked to come up with rhythms and melodies, which the band mimic perfectly and turn into a song on the spot, with special guest Herman Li from DragonForce pitching in.