Review of Steve Vai in Vicar Street on Dec 4th 2012

Steve Vai is known among hardcore rock music fans and those who fancy themselves as guitar impresarios as a legend with an axe. Vai, at 52 years of age, has been on the music scene since the ’80s when he worked with the king of weird, Frank Zappa. He returned to Dublin on December 4th to bring his enviably talented band and his masterful skills to Vicar Street.

To begin the show Steve Vai waltzed onto the stage in a sun hat, pajama bottoms, shades and what appeared to be a woman’s trench coat but, hey, he looked well. From the outset Vai’s skills were obvious and you couldn’t escape the awe in the room as you watched a man revered as one of the greatest guitar players in the world. The beginning of the set was packed full of out-and-out rock tunes.

Things really kicked off with the second song of the set with Velorum, during which not only Vai’s talent shone through but also that of one of the most eclectic and skilled bands this reviewer has ever seen grace a stage. Rhythm guitarist Dave Weiner was effortless in his delivery while drummer Jeremy Colson absolutely obliterated the minds of the audience with his drumming skills. While harpist Deborah Henson-Contant’s musical efforts were drowned out by the wailing of Vai’s guitar, she was an absolute joy to watch.

Vai was then given a reflective guitar which lit up in blue lights, which he referred to as his ‘magic guitar’ and the real performance began; the rest had been merely a warm up. It was fantastic to see Vai’s charming and darkly humourous personality radiate. . After some brief interaction, largely referring to his garish attire, the band launched into another long-winded but exceptional arrangement, Gravity Storm. Vai was a vision to watch, effortlessly plucking and strumming so fast with fingers that has incomprehensible reach. Smoke began to rise from him and at first it was unclear whether it was a dry ice effect, or whether he was so speedy with his finger work, that he was soon to be alight. He was making sounds with his guitar that most artists can only make with a synthesiser, by being creative with his use of the whammy bar.

Throughout the show, Vai played himself up to be an arrogant master of the instrument, however his humble nature was clear. He gave each of his band members a moment in the spot light at various intervals. First to take centre stage while Vai went off for the first of many outfit changes was Weiner. He played a soothing number on a semi-acoustic. It was a nice break from the close to metal-style rock that led the performance, however later on in the show, when slower songs took precedence for quite sometime, the crowd’s attention began to wane. It was clear what people had come to see, and that was Steve Vai rocking out. Following a drawn out acoustic set Colson returned to the stage with a bizarre percussion contrapment which he referred to as his ‘strap on’ complete with a talking skull or “boner” which engaged in some comical banter with Vai. The entire band created a wonderful eastern sounding version of Pusa Road before Vai  and the majority of the band left the stage to allow Colson to truly show off his skills. His solo was somewhere between apocalyptic rave music and Garth from ‘Waynes World’; in other words, it was an astoundingly impressive solo that kicked the crowd back into the full swing of things.

Another entertaining moment was a wonderful segment in which Vai invited three shell-shocked looking members of the audience to join him on stage. The three fans who, unsurprisingly given Vai’s general following, were all musicians, helped the band to create a catchy and entertaining song that could have just as easily already been on the set list.

Steve Vai was clearly appreciative of his audience and his fellow musicians. He came across as professional yet friendly, funny and a true showman, but what was most remarkable was the effortlessness in which he delivered these songs. It wasn’t simply three hours of self-indulgence. Vai filled it with anecdotes, interesting outfit changes including one which featured an interesting laser ensemble space costume and grabbing tunes. The highlight was no song in particular, it was simply basking in the otherworldly talent that is Steve Vai’s guitar playing abilities. The night may have been dampened by an over inclusion of his lighter numbers but was a unique and interesting performance. Vai is a man who doesn’t need to speak to make an audience laugh or sing to make them understand a song. He is utterly unique and he proved it in Vicar St.

Steve Vai photo gallery

Photos by Alessio Michelini