@Newcastle O2 Academy, June 3 2016

When you look through the calendar of shows coming to the North-East in 2016, everything seems as average as normal until you get to the entry for Newcastle Academy on Friday 3rd June.

“Steve Vai: Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour.”

Say WHAT ?

Passion And Warfare is one of THE most iconic rock instrumental albums of all time. It sits side by side with Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien and I can never pick a winner. It’s the album that got me into Vai courtesy of a bootleg video of Expo ’92. It’s the album that allowed me to dive into a cataclysmic back catalogue that included not only Vai’s own solo work, but Zappa, Whitesnake, Alcatrazz and countless others.

And he’s playing it in full. In Newcastle.

I’ve never seen an album played ‘in full’ before so I was eager to see how it translated in reality. After the PVRIS experience, a quick check with the venue told me Vai was onstage at 7.30pm prompt. Given that most bands play two hours tops, I treat this with contempt and an effort to sell me more beer whilst a support band played out to an empty venue. But no. Vai WAS on stage at 7.30pm and he went straight through until 10pm(!).

An addition to the Steve Vai stage show for this special occasion is a rather gigantic video screen. And to kick the evening off, a video rolled across it of the epic ‘Crossroads’ Jack Butler scene. I assumed (wrongly) that we’d get P&W in full to start with but – thankfully for the crowd members who got caught out with the early start time – we got an opening warmup combo of Bad Horsie (first time I’ve seen it in a setlist since 2004), The Attittude Song, Gravity Storm and Whispering A Prayer.

And so P&W began.

The video screen at the back sparked back into life with the full performance of Liberty at Expo 92 that introduced me to Vai in the first place. Satriani, May, Cozy Powell were all up on stage via the big screen and the band jammed out with them in perfect synchronisation. The video screen ran all evening long – this wasn’t just Passion And Warfare in full, this was a complete celebration of Vai’s career to date. If a music video had been released for the song being played we got it to view (For The Love of God, Ballerina, Blue Powder).

But in two special instances we had Vai jamming live with newly recorded parts and well wishes from Satriani (on Answers) and John Petrucci (The Audience Is Listening): a sensational and innovative idea that was only ever going to get better as the album built towards the first full electric performance of the sublime Sisters (my favourite Vai song) since 2005. It didn’t disappoint.

And then the main event was over. How was he going to top it ? With Frank Zappa – that’s how. The screen sparked back into life for one final, emotional guest jam. With Vai looking lovingly at his long lost master, Stevie’s Spanking sent the Academy wild. As far as nostalgia goes, this wasn’t there just for the sake of filler – it was a genuine rarity that was shared with the fans and was truly special.

Build Me A Song was as fun as usual but as I’ve seen it three or four times now it loses its charm a little. Racing The World seemed an odd choice to finish the main set with but the final encore of Taurus Bulba ended things on the perfect note and satisfied my craving for more Fire Garden songs to be brought back.

A truly 10/10 evening in every way imagineable.

That Steve Vai, what a nice little boy ….


Words and exclusive pictures by John Burrows