I signed up for this message board back in 2005 after my first Steve Vai concert and I had many emotions to share back then. Well, even though I have been lousy at keeping up to speed with the developments in the fan community, I come back 7 years later to report about my second encounter with Mr. Magician
Read below...Practical Magic for Guitar
Steve Vai in Sofia on October 31, 2012
If you are one of the musicians or artists who came to the National Palace of Culture on a pilgrimage – to learn or to be inspired by the string saint Steve Vai – I am afraid that I will be disappointing you, as I cannot write about legato, A minor or Lydian scale. If you are simply one of the hundreds of fans of guitar art who admired the flamboyant display of virtuosity that Mr. Vai put on for us – keep reading.
This is the story of light. Of the splashes of color lights all over the stage in Hall 1. Of the spotlight eye that watched over us from the backdrop which echoed the cover art for Vai’s latest studio album – “The Story of Light”. Of the LEDs that ran along the frame of electrifying Deborah Henson-Conant’s electric harp. Of the laser beams that shot from the master’s knuckles and pierced the thick theatrical smoke. And of the light in the eyes of more than 2000 attendees who reveled in the feast – not only musical, but visual as well – that was the third Steve Vai concert in Bulgaria.
A friend of mine had once said, “What is a Vai concert? Three hours of frantic scraping and fingers running up and down the guitar neck.” Fine, but that’s not all. Last night one of the widely recognized award-winning lords of the guitar led the faithful on an almost three-hour-long journey which had plenty of virtuosity, skits, noise, jokes and lots and lots of music. Melancholic or bubbling, growling or howling, under the hands of the master magician each of his guitars came to life and in what seemed like a human voice told stories and recreated almost physical sensations (those instruments saw a lot of stroking, pinching, scratching, kissing and slapping!).
A minute or two after 8 pm, singer Beverly McClellan, perched on a chair in the center of the stage, opened the show, announcing, “I sing the blues, I hope you guys like it!” Last year she had reached the final stage of the TV reality show “The Voice”, and indeed her voice did not leave a person untouched during her half-hour set. The especially moving covers of “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers and “Purple Rain” by Prince got major rounds of applause.
Before the headliner took the stage, we also got to hear some of the newest stuff by Devin Townsend, his latest album “Epicloud”. As most of you know, back in the 1990s the eccentric young Canadian’s career launched precisely after his participation in Vai’s record “Sex and Religion”.
The dimming of the lights in the hall at 5 to 9 was a sign that the wait was over – a couple of guitar wails echoed at the back of the stage, while Jeremy Colson took his seat behind the drum kit. Rhythm guitarist Dave Weiner and bass player Philip Bynoe also appeared and the glamorous harpist Deborah Henson-Conant took her place. Last on stage was Steve Vai himself, hand raised in a Vulcan salute. “Racing the World” from Vai’s most recent studio recording opened the race of the guitarist’s fingers with the speed of light, and then forged ahead into another new composition – “Velorum”. “The Story of Light” was predictably the focus of the set list, represented by five songs, and only the critically acclaimed favorite of many Vai fans, “Passion and Warfare”, followed close with four tracks.
At the end of “Velorum” it was time for band introductions. This is the appropriate point to mention that Steve Vai always surrounds himself with eclectic musicians who are no less virtuoso's than him. One of the highlights of the evening was certainly the dazzling presence (crowned by a breath-taking solo performance) of harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, while guitarist Dave (“I never go anywhere without him,” Vai said) and drummer Jeremy are old acquaintances of ours, as they also accompanied Steve on his previous visit to Sofia, in November 2005. Unfortunately the bass guitar was not in the hands of whiz Billy Sheehan, but Philip Bynoe showed impressive skill as well. Each of the musicians, besides contributing to the complete performance, had their few minutes of solo fame under the spotlights.
Vai was effusive about his warm feelings for the Bulgarian audience and admitted that it was a great honor and privilege for him to play in Sofia for the third time. “We’ll do a 5-hour show, is that alright?” he had asked a few minutes earlier, and he put his back into keeping his promise. Well, Steve Vai is no Manowar (Bulgarian insider joke referring to a five-hour show played by metal band Manowar in Kavarna in 2008)
, and we hardly looked at the clock during the two-and-a-half-hour show, because there was plenty to entertain us.
Halfway through the concert, a brief acoustic set was included, with Beverly McClellan joining the band on stage to lend her vocal support to “Rescue Me or Bury Me”. The heart-melting “Tender Surrender” and “Whispering a Prayer” (and actually, every other song too) sounded even better than the studio recordings, adorned by many improvisations, twists and even kisses on the necks of Flo and Evo. During the “fast boogie” – “The Audience Is Listening” – Vai, who is anyway a flex-able and artistic performer, had a passionate dance with his guitar, flipping it behind his back, up on his shoulders and holding it high in the air while playing.
Other memorable moments included: a middle-aged lady walking up to the front row and handing Vai a rose; Jeremy Colson appearing on stage with a “strap-on” – a mini drum kit tied to his waist and chest decorated by flickering lights and a talking plastic skull; the “spaceman” suit trimmed with lights and the even more otherworldly guitar which were part of the stage props during the performance of “The Ultra Zone”; and, of course, the most entertaining part – “Build Me a Song”.
Towards the end of the show, Vai announced that he and his band would play a song that was not yet recorded. “As a matter of fact, it’s not even written yet,” he said and offered to write it there and then, on stage, in front of us. He picked two young ladies from the audience. The stunned girls had to suggest a rhythm to the drummer and melodic lines to the other musicians. “Just keep away from my amps because I want you to have children one day,” Vai said, joking. And indeed, a new melody was born on stage that night, and it was both fun and amazing to watch this guitar genius and the rest of the master musicians beside him create and improvise with breath-taking ease.
The crowning glory of the set list was Vai’s signature composition – “For the Love of God” – with the virtuoso making his guitar (excuse my French
) come using his lips and tongue.
It was 11:30 pm and the audience gathered in Hall 1 was hardly burning to leave at all. Many other emotions were burning, that is why it did not take Vai too long to come out for the encore – an impeccable and fiery performance of “Taurus Bulba” from the album “Fire Garden” (1996). Someone in the front row held up a Bulgarian flag inscribed with the words “Bulgaria Loves Steve Vai”, which eventually landed on the shoulders of the guitar magician.
Hard to please as we are, let’s point out some minor flaws. We didn't see any double- or triple-neck guitars. We didn't hear one of “our” songs – “Freak Show Excess”, inspired by Bulgarian clarinet player Ivo Papasov and his band, included in the 2005 album “Real Illusions: Reflections”. We also missed “John the Revelator” from the most recent album, “The Story of Light” – the song had been performed on most of the shows on this leg of Vai’s tour, especially with Beverly McClellan, who sings on the album as well, traveling with Vai. But still, everything else that makes for a perfect night was there. Waving goodbye from the stage, Mr Vai asked us, “Do you feel good?” The affirmative yells from the audience put a wide smile on the guitarist’s face and he said, “This means we have done our job. God bless you and until next time!”
We can hardly wait, Steve!Steve Vai Setlist
October 31, 2012
Hall 1, National Palace of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria
01. Rаcing the World
03. Building the Church
04. Tender Surrender
05. Gravity Stоrm– Dave Weiner acoustic guitar solo
06. Weeping China Doll
07. The Moon and I
08. The Animal
09. Whispеring A Prayer
10. The Audience Is Listening– Deborah Henson-Conant harp solo
11. Rescue Me or Bury Me
13. Pusa Road– Jeremy Colson drum solo
14. The Ultra Zone
16. Build Me а Sоng
17. For the Love of God
18. Taurus Bulbа
Written by Florimel exclusively for Metal Katehizis