@ Newcastle City Hall, December 5 2012


vir·tu·o·so (vûr ch – s , -z ). n. pl. vir·tu·o·sos or vir·tu·o·si (-s ). 1. A musician with masterly ability, technique, or personal style.

vir·tu·o·so (vûr ch – s , -z ). n. pl. vir·tu·o·sos or vir·tu·o·si (-s ). 1. A musician called Steve Vai.


What Steve Vai does with a guitar shouldn’t, according to the laws of physics, be possible. That he manages to add personality, an emotional bond and passion (but not, on this occasion at least, warfare) to his technical ability beggars belief. The definition of virtuoso has been rewritten. 

In his own words a ‘small but mighty’ City Hall crowd (turnouts like this will hardly help the venue’s flailing bid to stay alive) was privy to one of the most mind-blowing rock events of the year. Three hours, countless riffs, a plethora of eye-watering solos and an illuminated electric harp (honestly) made for an incredible show. Live music really doesn’t get much better.

Vai’s killer combination of charisma, artistry and unassuming cool proved engaging from the off. Playing like a performer at the top of his profession – although he’d probably still cite mentor and friend Mr Satriani as the better guitarist – and acting as if this was the most fun he’d had in years, the endearing American delivered a faultless, fabulous set.

Introducing key cuts from new record The Story Of Light and leaning on familiar tunes from its predecessor Real Illusions it’s clear Vai’s grand aural concept is still taking shape. Here he described both albums as part of the ‘quadrilogy’ that has yet to be finished but the very prospect that it might be, one day, had those present licking their lips with anticipation.

And talking of licking, Vai even managed to play guitar with his tongue. And rattle out a solo with nothing more than his pinkie. And dress as a lazer-emitting robotic guitar hero (one of many Cher/Lady Gaga/Madonna-esque costume changes). And engage in some ridiculous mid-set banter with a plastic skull. Dare to take your eye off this mesmerising gig and it was guaranteed you’d miss something.

Vai, of course, doesn’t miss anything: a note, a trick or the chance to enjoy his band-mates proving their own credentials as crack musicians with talent to burn. Fellow guitar hero Dave Weiner is a brilliant fret burner in his own right (a stunning solo acoustic slot delivered a bona fide highlight) while harpist Deborah Henson-Conant added a powerful and trance-like slant to the traditional rock dynamic.

Vai conceded the bulk of his audience were ‘guitar players and their teachers’ and one glance across the stalls confirmed the dweebometer was dangerously close to exploding. But credit where credit’s due. Vai did manage to drag the ever-so-cute Aggie (and the not-so-cute Colin) onto stage to create a brand new song from scratch. Female fans of the 52-year-old New Yorker do exist – it’s official.

But Vai’s rank and file remain awestruck middle-aged men realising they’ve missed their chance at rock stardom and acknowledging they’d never have been anywhere near this good anyway. This was their night in the company of their hero and on their terms.

Simon Rushworth

Image supplied by John Burrows at ishootgigs