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.
If 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