The genius that is Steve Vai puts on a show like no other with his virtuosity on the guitar, as he did recently for his Malaysian fans in KL.
You know you’re at a great concert when random people start throwing you high-fives going, “This is awesome!”
I even gave up my comfy media seat to experience the Steve Vai Live Tour concert where all the real fans were – in the pit at the KL Live venue. It was there that grown men were shaking their heads in disbelief or delirium – maybe both – with some close to tears, and others transfixed by the jaw-dropping wizardry conjured by the great guitar master.
Vai is possibly the greatest guitar virtuoso that ever was. For guitarists and fans, it was a surreal experience having him play for them in a relatively intimate venue for close to three hours. It was like a football fan playing five-a-side with Zinedine Zidane, or a movie buff having a night of charades with Meryl Streep.
So, there were a few high fives, some fist bumps, even the occasional bro-hug from complete strangers. But considering the sheer brilliance on display, combined with the compelling nature of Vai’s epic compositions, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Everyone was high on Vai.
The show from Vai and his band was as close to the pinnacle of musicianship as we were ever going to get. From the moment the band appeared, to Vai’s dramatic last note, they were impossibly good. Don’t like instrumental music? Can’t appreciate incredibly technical aspects of guitar playing? Doesn't matter. The show was so good, so mind-boggling, anyone would have appreciated it – to some level at least.
If there’s one word to describe Vai – his musical style, his band, his show – it would be otherworldly. And yet, when he wasn’t playing, Vai was a completely down-to-earth man. We knew this, of course, having interviewed with him a week ago on the phone. And his personality translated into the show just as well.
“Our goal in all our shows is to make people feel good. So tonight, if you leave this hall feeling good, then we’ve done our job,” said Vai, modestly, during a break.
When he addressed the crowd for the last time after the encore, Taurus Bulba, he thanked the delirious crowd and asked, “Do you all feel good?” The answer was a wave of mostly unintelligible screams. “Great! Then we’ve done our job. Thank you, everyone.”
During our interview, Vai talked about how his shredding power – guitar speak for playing superfast – was diminishing, adding that he now focuses on putting more feeling, precision and depth to each note. But at his concert, he delivered every note, every line, every arpeggio to perfection.
His legendary speed was still there, but his sense of melody, his instinct to deliver lines to take listeners to another place, those have become more refined. The jazz-infused Tender Surrender was a perfect example. A popular song, no doubt, but the impassioned delivery would have enthralled even the staunchest anti-instrumentalist.
His backing trio – guitarist Dave Weiner, drummer Jeremy Colson and bassist Philip Bynoe – deserves equal praise for their effective performance, which allowed Vai to shine. For most Malaysian musicians, having any one of these guys come over would have been a big deal. But all of them at once? Amazing.
Vai himself ran a gamut of styles in all his songs. There were his crazy, experimental tunes, good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll and blues jams, straight up metal shredding, and even an acoustic set. The one... three common denominators were incredible technical proficiency, amazing musicality and fabulous showmanship.
In return, the fans chanted his name at every break, which left him visibly moved. But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for the final song – For the Love of God. After an epic solo at the end, he screamed to the crowd, “One last note!” and produced the most ridiculous note ever played in KL.
“You guys are amazing. I’m gonna have to call Joe and make sure we bring G3 down here!” he said to huge cheers. He was referring to fellow virtuoso guitarist Joe Satriani, with whom Vai created the G3 concert tour, which features three guitarists in each show. Promises aside, the fans knew to appreciate what they got that night because they might not ever have it so good again.