Vai 2013 3 By John Burrows @ishootgigs@ Leeds O2 Academy, August 30 2013

These are strange times for Steve Vai but his shows represent a golden era for fans of the ultimate guitar hero.

Avoiding most major cities on his current trek and hitting venues denied a sighting of the virtuoso muso for decades – this was his first visit to Leeds in 34 years – it’s a tour he doesn’t need to do.

But that’s the point. 

This is a run of shows Vai is loving – away from the limelight and under the gaze of first time fans and the committed few prepared to put in the miles for another taste of his exquisite talent.

With a stripped down light show, little merch to speak of and the bare minimum of band members it would be easy to brand this a ‘back to basics’ Vai show. Then again nothing this man does is basic.

Flanked by trusted trio Dave Weiner, Jeremy Coulson and Philip Bynoe, a typically relaxed Vai may have peeled away all but the essentials but the sound was no less powerful.

And the guy is a born entertainer. Bringing the snake-hipped moves, the seamless banter, the flashy guitars and the full body laser suit (his one concession to excess), Vai lived every minute of another faultless performance.

Vai 2013 2 By John Burrows @ishootgigsIf the joke about his audience featuring no-one but guitarists and guitar teachers is wearing a bit thin then the quip was pretty close to the truth in Leeds – acoustic guitar maestro Jon Gomm was looking on admiringly from the sound desk!

Like everyone else inside the Academy he’d have loved the setlist. Vai plundered latest album The Story Of Light but that record’s best cuts slot in nicely alongside the classic material.

Each band member was granted a deserved solo slot -including Colson and his portable drum machine with the talking head.

A highlight was the superb acoustic section in the middle of the show. Weiner is rapidly growing into more than Vai’s protégé and it’s no surprise he’s allowed to showcase his own material: Zappa, of course, did the same with Vai.

Those who witnessed the previous run of UK shows will have enjoyed the audience participation ‘build your own song’ segment and Leeds warmed to the occasion. Two likely lads helped Vai construct an original tune from the bottom up and the pair were allowed to watch set closers For the Love Of God and Taurus Bulba from the stage.

Two-and-a-half hours after Vai hit his first note the show was finally over. And what a show.

Words and pictures by John Burrows @ishootgigs

I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.


  •' Adam Walker

    It was an incredible show! I was one of the guys he invited up on stage, in the Sonic jumper! 😀

  •' Stewart K E

    Great review, great show! I have seen a few guitar heroes over the years, but I can honestly say, none of them could match Vai’s awesome performance. Those of us who are long time Vai fans from Leeds will never forget this – seeing the living legend in our home town. For me, it was 2 and a half hours out of time – it was just Vai, the band and fans and nothing else existed or needed to exist.
    I didn’t envy the two guys who did the build a song, there is no way I would want to be in front of so many people, but I could see their faces and they were pretty awestruck!
    Adam, you were the drummer then?

    • simon

      Stewart/Adam – thanks for getting in touch. Just out of interest how’s Leeds looking as a live music destination these days? I only ask because up here in the Toon we’re getting a little nervous that you’re bagging some big shows now you have a brand spanking new arena and a thriving Academy. Anyway looks like we’ll be covering more shows in your neck of the woods very soon. Thanks for checking out the site. Simon (ed)

  •' JB

    T’was a fun show to shoot, that’s for sure !

    I’m with you Simon – it definitely looked like Leeds was going to snap up the majority of Newcastle shows, but then we seem to have had a bucket load of decent announcements recently. I’m very curious to see what the new Arena is like, but I do like Leeds Academy it has to be said. Saying that though, the audience turnout was poor on friday – can’t have been more than half full ?

  •' Bilhar Layall

    It was absolutely brilliant to see Steve play my hometown, and also to enjoy the intimacy of a standing audience at a small venue. I’m sure that with such a small attendance, it made little economic sense to play the gig at all, but played it was and with no small amount of passion and commitment..!!! I was stood at the front and caught every blistering shred..!!!

    Steve even made the time to meet fans after the show. I was one of the lucky ones and, starstruck as I was, I gave him a big man-hug. After all, it’s not every day that you meet a musical genius and figure of integrity, humility and compassion..!!!

    I’m hoping he’ll return to Leeds again soon, and if he does, I’ll be taking my boys (both budding Vai fans) along with me too…!!!

  •' Adam Walker

    Stewart – Yes, I was, even though I was forced to sing Steve’s melody line!
    Simon – You’re welcome, and it was great reading such a strong review. As a local, I feel as if Leeds is growing in stature, musically. In the last few years we’ve had huge names, across a variety of genres at the Academy, from Slash to Frank Turner. I think the Toon should be nervous!

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