Satriani By Mick Burgess 2013@ Newcastle City Hall, June 10 2013

With an old master by the name of Young plying his trade across town this was one of those nights when the North East’s rock community was faced with the ugliest of clashes and the toughest of decisions.

Two iconic guitarists, two incredible talents and two musicians who command the respect and admiration of fans and peers the world over. But two doesn’t go into one. And those who chose to boogie with Satch, rather than mount Young’s Crazy Horse, hoped and prayed theirs was the better choice. 

Far from an old master – but an experienced player nonetheless – blues brother Matt Schofield made the most of the opportunity to ply his trade in front of a mainstream audience perhaps yet to latch on to the peculiar charms of his understated trio.

Carefully crafted blues scales, mixed with heartfelt emotion and the odd, brisk solo burst, made for an engaging set. Schofield might still be honing his stagecraft – the double-denim clad guitarist cutting a slightly awkward figure as he shuffled around the mic – but the songs are already top notch. And that’s how one of Britain’s rising blues stars will be judged when all is said and done.

As Schofield sloped off stage right talk turned again to the Young versus Satriani dilemma. And if more than half the crowd were oblivious to the fact that the Arena was playing host to a living legend then many nervous punters were still wondering where their loyalties lay.

In truth – beyond the fact that both Young and Satriani wield their axes in a manner most mere mortals can only dream of replicating – their music is poles apart.

Where the former had chosen to go for the grunged-up, feedback-heavy approach to his slew of UK arena dates, the latter’s trademark style remains crisp, clean, pin-sharp and emotive. Satriani has always traded on a heady fusion of technical proficiency and passionate delivery: his latest City Hall masterclass was no different.

A truly career-spanning set mixed blues, metal, classic rock, funk, jazz and just about every other genre in between. A perfectly pitched setlist ensured the pace never slackened – even when Satch slowed things down on the shimmering Shine On American Dreamer and rarely heard gem The Crush Of Love.

What has changed in recent years is Satriani’s appreciation of the group dynamic – even within the context of a solo show. As a one-man band for so long it appears his spell in Chickenfoot has reignited a desire to be surrounded by like-minded musos with a common goal. And the quartet who made the City Hall their own were far more than hired hands complementing the star of the show.

Satriani shared notable fret-burning duels with Mike Keneally and allowed the rhythm section of Marco Minneman and Brian Beller to showcase their own considerable talents. The focus never shifted from the man himself but there was a feeling of unity so often lacking in a Satch stage show.

It made for a truly memorable night punctuated by classic cuts Flying In A Blue Dream, Surfing With The Alien and the joyous Summer Song. With a wealth of material at his disposal – and a new album proving quality need not be blunted by quantity – Satriani still knows when and where to roll out the trademark anthems that marked his spectacular transition from underground guru to key commercial player in the late 80s and early 90s.

With latest opus Unstoppable Momentum telling it like it is it seems there’s no slowing the guitar hero who burst onto the scene way back in 1986 with the equally apt Not Of This Earth. Satch is one of a kind, a freak of nature, a compelling musician and an endearing personality to boot. No, he’s not Neil Young. But nobody inside the City Hall really cared.

Simon Rushworth

Exclusive Picture Courtesy Of Mick Burgess