We are on a plane right now on our way to Seoul, Korea. We just finished the Down Under leg (Australia and New Zealand) and it was so much more than I even expected. Every show was jammed, with enthusiastic supporters (unfortunately many were turned away). I just didn’t expect it. They really participate in the shows down there. The exciting thing for us is that now we can go back in 18 months to two years and have a great audience.
Let me fill you in on some of the things that happened on the remainder of the “Down Under”. I think when I left off, I was torso sunburnt from laying on the beach on Rottnest Island. Well I got back to the hotel and put some lotion all over those red parts and a day later I had an allergic reaction to the lotion. So you can imagine what it was like to do simple things like walk and sit, not to mention flail about like a lunatic on stage. In the immortal words of Mike Keneally, “Ouch…a lot!”
Back in the 80′s, at the end of the shows I used to throw my guitar to my guitar tech. Well, I think it was in Melbourne that I got the bright idea at the end of the show to throw my guitar to Roger, my guitar tech. In the early days I used to use a wireless system but these days I use a cable.
Now, Evo is the name of the guitar I use and have been using on basically every recording and tour since “Sex and Religion”. It’s a white Ibanez Jem with the first DiMarzio Evolution pickups made and that’s why I call it Evo. I am exceptionally fond of that guitar. It feels and sounds like an old friend. One of the few guitars I’ve grown impassioned to.
So there I am thinking, “Well I can throw this guitar, hey, Roger can catch anything!” Well, he can, but what I didn’t realize was that when I had thrown it, the cable had wrapped around the strap and when the guitar got halfway to Roger in mid air, the cable caught and the beautiful guitar smashed down like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner and falling off a cliff. The darn neck cracked. It was paper thin anyway. I’ve tried to have that neck duplicated dozens of times but to no avail. No one could duplicate that neck so it felt identical to the original. For the remainder of the tour we put another neck on her, poor girl. See, that’s what I get for showin’ off. I’m probably the biggest poser you know, right?
The record company and promoters stuffed every little crack of time I had with press. Ugh. Contrary to popular belief, press can be no fun at all. Sometimes it’s just these reporters who know nothing about you except what they read on the same bio that everyone else in the world got. How many times can you tell people how the bus burned down, or why you decided to sing. How about 137 times so far this year alone (no kidding). Sometimes it can be interesting when you get journalists who are real fans that ask genuine questions. They undeniably do their homework, but it still keeps ya in the hotel when everyone else is at the beach. Oh well, gotta work.
We visited a lot of Hard Rock Cafes all over the Eastern Hemisphere. I really enjoy them, it’s like a little piece of America wherever you are. Their vegetarian fajitas are good and the decor, well, totally LA.
I notice when I don’t sleep and have to travel a lot (I’m talking 2 hours of sleep a night and airplanes everyday along with press all day until soundcheck, then a 2 hour show for 5 days in a row), it catches up with you. I usually enjoy the challenge and face it head on with a “screw you” type attitude but this time it caught up with me and boom! I was pretty down and out by the time we got to Melbourne. I remember I was online one night and got an instant message from Joe Satch. He recommended Sudafed or some bourbon and warm water. I opted for the first, canceled all press and slept for 15 hours. The next show went great.
I have gotta tell ya about this gig in Brisbane. It was this big funky club that holds about 1000 people. They crammed about 1300 people in there and the air conditioner had broken 2 days earlier. Now remember, it’s winter north of the equator but down under it’s the dead of summer. They were experiencing record high temperatures reaching as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. When I walked onto the stage I thought someone was playing a joke on us, that’s how hot it was.
The lack of oxygen and sheer weight of the air is one thing but the 100+ high-powered lights burning your body from 3 feet above your head is an interesting sensation. I drank about 2 liters of water and just went for it. After the first song we all started shedding clothes like they were hot potatoes. I remember looking at my arm and watching the sweat actually excrete from my pores and form little round blobules of liquid on my skin. People in the audience were dropping like flies. I just don’t know how Mike Mangini our drummer did it. I mean, it was battlefield conditions. You had to look ahead and pace yourself for every 30 second interval or you would fall over, and there’s Mangini firing away on the kit. I watched his solo in utter disbelief.
They reckon it was upwards around 130 degrees on the stage. My clothes are still wet and I came off the stage about 6 lbs lighter and I’m already rail thin. When I looked at myself naked in the mirror sideways, I looked like half of the letter “h”. Ah yes, that’s what touring memories are made of and I wouldn’t want to change any of it for the world. But wait, that’s not all…
We get off stage and I’m railing to Gungi (our 6’11″ tour manager) “This is the last time I every do a gig in this heat with no AC, there was no excuse for them not to fix the AC when they knew there would be a concert here! I was breathing so hard out there that my heart hurts! We couldn’t breathe and the kids were dropping like flies! If we get to Sydney and the AC is broken, I’m not doing the show! I promise I’m not doing the show! I don’t care how much money I lose.” Gungi looked down to me and said in his inimitable 6’11″ Scottish accent, ‘If yew dewnt dew de Sydnay shew, yew will loose all ye profits fram de tewr!” (translated to English he said “If you don’t do the Sydney show, you will lose all your profits from the tour). “I don’t care!”, I wailed in true primadona fashion: “It’s unhealthy and I will never do it again bla bla bla…” I just kept going on and on knowing full well that I was going to do the Sydney show and that at some point in my life I will most likely play a hotter show than the one there in Brisbane (I don’t know if I’ll live through it, but I’ll do it). Everyone assured me that the AC worked in Sydney.
We got to Sydney and during soundcheck the AC made the room so cold that we all had to wear jackets. I guess the AC was working, alright. It was so cold that the guys that didn’t have jackets had to go backstage to warm up between songs.
So I’m standing there thinking to myself, “Yeah, a little drama goes a long way. I knew they would have this fixed because I’m so heavy and bad that if they didn’t…” Right at that moment, all the electricity in the entire building went off.
We stood there on that stage in the dark with the only light coming from the little emergency bulbs in the room. We all made funny jokes and I said, ‘if this happens during the show, I’ll just go backstage until it comes on’. We figured that they had the AC blasting so much that they blew a fuse, but when the electricity didn’t come on for about 5-10 minutes, we got suspicious. Someone finally came in and said, ‘it’s not just this room, it’s the whole building’, then they came back 5 minutes later and said, ‘it’s not just this building but it’s the one next to us too’. Still later they came back and said, ‘ it’s not just this building and the other one but the whole town is out.’
“Oh fine, we blew up the town because I was hot in Brisbane, I’m going to get some precious sleep. Someone wake me 20 minutes before we go on”, I exclaimed.
So I found this very dark little room with a little bed in it and passed out. I don’t know when I woke up but it felt like I had slept for a long time and the electricity was still off. It seemed like the time to do the gig had long passed. “That’s it,” I thought, “there’s no electricity and there’s no gig.” I lay there in the bed and started to make a mountain out of a mole hill. “Geez, isn’t this ironic…me complaining and threatening like I was yesterday about not doing the gig and now I have no choice. Me and my big mouth. There goes my tour profits because of ME AND MY BIG MOUTH!!! It serves me right. The law of Karma is teaching me a good lesson here”. Then I started to repent… ‘I will never complain again. Look how lucky I am to be able to come to a place like this and play my music to people who come to hear it and here I am threatening not to do a show because of a little heat — what a wuss! That’s it, I’m going to be a pillar of strength for all from now on and face every obstacle like a trooper. Damn I wish we didn’t lose this gig. There’s 100 people from the record company and 2500 kids who were waiting to see this show, and my tour profits! Ugg! Maybe the Lords of Karma will be compassionate and let me make up the gig tomorrow which is a travel day to New Zealand, but then we’ll never get to New Zealand. Oh me and my big mouth.’
Right at that moment, I hear a rap on the door and Richard Pike (my assistant) walks in and says, “20 minutes, Steve”.
“What do you mean, what about the electricity?”
He paused for a minute and then hit the light switch on the wall and exquisite white light illuminated the room. “You’ve been asleep for 2 hours and the electricity came on an hour ago,” he said. “But the air conditioners weren’t on so the room is blistering hot.” Me and my big prayers, I thought to myself. The inexplicable laws of Karma prevailed once again. I thanked the Lord and a good hot gig was had by all.
So, for a kick, we put “Twist & Shout” in the show (in the key of A) so I could make believe I was a pop star amidst all the clamoring teens. At the end we would usually add the national anthem to whatever country we were in. I was told that in Australia they love Waltzing Matilda and that for most people that is the national anthem. Who am I to question such a fine choice right? So, we would play Waltzing Matilda and it would get them every time. Kind of grew on me too, the little lady.
Okay, so then we get to Auckland (New Zealand) and the crowd is outrageous. We actually had stage divers and mosh pits, believe it or not. We’re doing “Twist & Shout” and I go into Waltzing Matilda but the band sounded like a train wreck in back of me. I’m thinking, ‘What’s with these guys, how could they screw this up so bad?’ I turn around to find Mangini, open mouthed, his flailing arms waving hysterically at me, Philip in a state of utter confusion with a “do you know what you’re doing, Steve?’ look on his face, and Mike Keneally hiding behind his amps with a ‘Oh I just need to fix this amp here and I’m not really part of the band right now’ look on his back.
“What?!?,” I thought, as I proudly plowed through the ol’ girl. I turn around to the audience to see faces stunned into silence and a growing growl of boo’s under the massacred melody. Then it dawned on me that even though New Zealand and Australia are neighbors, if they are anything like the rest of the world they are probably fiercely proud of their country and hate each other. I was right, Oooops. Me and my big fingers. How the hell am I gonna get out of this? I couldn’t.
It amazed me that two countries could be such close neighbors with similar people, language, architecture, etc. and be so patriotically effected by some 6/8 waltzing melody. It’s just a song, but then I realized wait a minute, this is the human race now. The audience seemed to rebound when I walked up to the microphone and said “Hey, you know that bitch Matilda… she blew me!…” (just kidding).
At the end of the show I was compelled to jump into the audience and crowd surf. I forgot that this isn’t America and that over here they think I’m a real rock star or something. I was mauled. They grabbed and pulled every inch of my body like I was made of silly putty. I had to hold my hands in tight fists as hard as I can so that they wouldn’t break my fingers. I had red marks on any touchable epidermis in reach. But ya know what, I loved it, yes that’s right. I only hope I can still have children!
And some guy, some guy took my right shoe off and ran! The shoe I wore for every gig since Whitesnake, and almost every photo shoot. The ones I was hoping to wear for another 10 years and then auction off to charity. The ones that cost me $600.00. Now listen, if you’re out there and you have my shoe, would you fuckin’ mind? It’s not that great of thing, dude. Send it to me at the address on the Fire Garden CD please. OK, if you want to fetish it for a little while be my guest but if you send it in like a good sport I’ll… I’ll… I’ll introduce you to Matilda.
[Editor’s Note: This actually turned into quite an interesting episode, with the person who took the shoe contacting us before Steve wrote this letter, saying he would return the shoe but only for a trade that included various items he listed, and copies of Steve’s drivers license and passport… balking at his ransom demand, we again requested the shoe be returned and finally got it only after Rich Pike called him up one day in a bad mood]
One thing that struck me pretty wild was how many people have Steve Vai tattoos. I usually see the Light Without Heat Logo (the eye in the pyramid), but here down under I saw more people with actual pictures of me tattooed on their body. I don’t know how to feel about this. Many people wanted me to sign their body so they could get my autograph tattooed on themselves. Now, I’m flattered, but come on. Be careful of stuff like that. Think it out thoroughly. What if I make a record you don’t like?
Another very unique event took place in Sydney. For about 2 months before we got there, there was a young man who called our office and asked if it would be possible for him to propose to his girlfriend backstage in front of me. It seems that they were both big fans and he wanted her to “remember the event in a special way”. I thought sure, I’m there. It was actually very beautiful. They came back after the show and we had a nice chat for a while and then he said to her, “Well dear, the reason I brought us backstage was because… ” And she said, “What are you doing?” Then he pulled out the ring and popped the big question. (I had to tell him to get on his knees, though.) Her little eyes were aglow as she accepted his offering of love and devotion. It was very touching and I actually found myself choked up. Richard videotaped it. It reminded me of when I proposed to Pia in that funky Italian restaurant in Minneapolis. I have it on video because at the time I had to go everywhere with a bodyguard.
Anyway, it was a wonderful thing and I told them that the happiest day of my life was the day I got married and that they should never go to bed arguing. Always resolve with kindness and understanding. And then they blew me (just kidding!!!). I felt like the odd man out and figured it was time for me to go and leave the two love birds to their thing.
All in all it was so much more than I anticipated. Australia and New Zealand, you two have great countries with great people and I can’t wait to return. Next time I’ll bring two pairs of shoes though.