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Concert Review: Joe Satriani’s Super Colossal Tour – Berklee Performance Center, April 14, 2006

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It all started way back when, as many things do, with a dear friend from college. I was at Bryan’s house; he was playing something interesting on the stereo. “What’s this?” I asked. “Joe Satriani”, came the answer. He didn’t elaborate, and I just listened. The music was something very different from what usually blazed from Bryan’s Infinity speakers. Not necessarily better than Ted Nugent, Van Halen, AC/DC, or Led Zeppelin, just very unique. The style of music and the name stayed in my head for a long time. I didn’t pursue the artist, but every time I heard the name mentioned, I would nod in appreciative recognition.

Then in the early ‘90s another instrumental rock guitarist got my attention – Eric Johnson. His Grammy winning “Cliffs of Dover” was getting airplay all over the place, so it was hard to ignore. But why would I want to? The song was incredible and I had to go get the platinum CD, Ah Via Musicom. I’ll confess right now, for the most part, all I listened to was “Cliffs of Dover.” The rest of the wonderful stuff went ignored (I am a lazy music connoisseur, if there is such a thing).

But those two names still remained in my musical consciousness. Fast-forward to 2006 when I saw a concert announcement for Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson in Boston. This was too good to pass up.

And it was that good.

The night started off with a rather loud and tasty dinner at Fire and Ice and moved on to the Berklee Performance Center for the Boston stop of Joe Satriani’s Super Colossal tour. Eric Johnson opened up the show at about 7:30, and played for a little over an hour. I have since read that there was a hum coming from his equipment that night, but it wasn’t anything that I noticed personally, nor affected the show that much. Johnson went through a set that opened with “Summer Jam” and went on to include a great Hendrix cover of “Love or Confusion”; a very long but fun “Roctopus”; an undeniably country tune, “On the Way to Love”; and “SRV,” a rocking tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The crowd was more than appreciative during the show, yet this was the first concert that I’d been to in a long time when everyone stayed in their seats. The performances of both Johnson and Satriani were fairly no-frills, especially Johnson’s. Again, this was quite different from the pyrotechnics that I might see at an Aerosmith show, or the upside down drumming of Blink 182’s Travis Barker.

Of course, my favorite (and everyone else’s it seemed), “Cliffs of Dover” closed out the set. I’ve heard that Johnson turns the “Cliff’s” into a whole separate art form during his shows. Annoying to some, and exciting for others, his teasing and hinting at his famous hit went on for — well — quite a while. But the reward finally came while Johnson, bass guitarist Chris Maresh, and drummer Tommy Taylor brought it all together with the true “Dover” melody, in a tight, bright finale.

One thing I never realized until this show: the guitar is such a guy thing. The BPC was packed with guys. I didn’t notice the disparity at first, even with a dead giveaway of a line for the men’s room. Sure, there were a few women here and there, but this was so definitely a guy thing.

So, it wasn’t until Joe Satriani — the headliner — began, that I really became aware of the conspicuously testosterone filled environment. First, it was the three men seated in front of my husband and myself. These guys were going wild, head nodding, air guitar, fists pumping…the works. And I heard of a lot of cheers and whistles, but not much above a low-end resonance. In Eric Johnson’s set, there was a hollered profession of, “I love you!” But, from a guy. Very interesting!

I said that both performers put on “no-frills” shows. Well, that’s not quite true. Satriani did have a modified light show. It was pretty much just white spots and some red and blue gels, but it helped rev up the crowd even more, especially working with the opening song, “Flying in a Blue Dream.” Hearing this one first was exciting, because I actually recognized it. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t the strongest JS aficionado, but I did manage to listen a few of his songs in the week or so before the concert. Though I would have loved to have recognized more pieces, the man is so talented that the whole set was amazing, even to the novice Satch fan.

During concerts, whether rock, classical, or somewhere in the middle, performers often change clothes for different numbers. Satriani doesn’t change clothes — he changes guitars. Now, I don’t know a Les Paul from a Fender Strat, but I noticed at some point that he seemed to change his guitars for every song, or close to it. During the performance of the title track from his newest CD, Super Colossal, he actually played a guitar with his picture on it. This customized and autographed Ibanez with the CD cover art will be raffled off at his last tour stop in San Francisco. (Proceeds will benefit two programs, Little Kids Rock and Music in Schools Today.)

After hearing him perform “Super Colossal,” it all seemed to fit. This really is the song to play on a guitar with one’s own image on it. I listen to it now, and I can picture Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler strutting their stuff. It’s all about the front man. It’s a big, full, swaggering song, a definite rock anthem, without words.

But the fact that Joe Satriani’s music is mainly instrumental can be both a detriment and a plus. Vocals do get the attention of mainstream rock radio. Take Van Halen. Now Eddie Van Halen is a solid shredder. (Just listen to “Everybody Wants Some”.) But for the most part, the average listener is going to first focus on David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. The other instruments sometimes need to vie for attention, lead guitar included, because people will identify a band with the vocalist. But without vocals to contend with, Satriani revels in a love affair with his guitar. Whether cajoling the achingly beautiful melody of “A Cool New Way,” showing off the power of “Redshift Riders,” or unleashing the authority of “Satch Boogie,” Joe Satriani and his guitar make an incredible pairing.

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About MaryKay

  • Duane

    A guy thing? Yeah. That seems to be the way. Why is it that women like their rock bands because

    (1) the lead singer is sooooo hot
    (2) I like the lyrics
    (3) the drummer is cute
    (4) the lead singer is like really hot

    and never because

    (1) I like the way the bass player mixes it up with the drummer
    (2) the guitarist sometimes does a solo in Phrygian mode
    (3) the guitarist kicks ass
    (4) the keyboardist is a phenomenal virtuoso

    Why is that?

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    I know what you mean Duane. I think that is mainly because women aren’t socialized that way. They aren’t raised to follow music in that way, certainly not the guitar.

    Women were taught music to become more accomplished, well rounded, basically preparing them to be marketable for marriage.That’s just the way things were.

    Nowadays girls are brought to dance lessons. No harm in dance, but it’d be nice to shake things up a bit and teach girls how to change an oil filter, or the subtleties of the whammy bar – along with learning an arabesque.

    There’s a great Washington Post article that addresses this topic.

  • Duane

    Thanks for that link, Mary. Pretty interesting article. The basic idea there is that more women don’t become rock guitarists because they have so few role models, which is a self-perpetuating predicament. I can accept that.

    But does this mean we should make the logical leap and say that (most) women don’t appreciate the musical aspects of rock music (except maybe the vocals) because they have no interest in becoming rock musicians? It seems like that’s what would be required in order to finish the argument. But that is harder to accept.

    Example …

    I have no interest in becoming a singer — no aptitude for it — but I judge, rank, and evaluate musical works in part based on the vocals. I know which singers are technically capable, and I know which ones aren’t. I know which ones I like (which is a different matter).

    I would never plop down money to see a band or buy their music just because the lead singer chick happens to be cute. I overheard a conversation between my girlfriend and one of her friends. The friend had just returned from a show by A Perfect Circle. My girlfriend asked for her opinion of the show, and I quote, “I just love Maynard. I would just [f-ck] him to death.”

    Moreover, I would not hesitate to plop down money for the music of an unattractive woman if I liked the music. Obviously, I don’t care what the guys look like. Why should I care what the women look like? I will mention no names here.

    Paraphrasing some remarks of the backup guitarist for Steve Vai, as he conducted a tour of the backstage area, “Normally, this is where we would meet our women fans. But that’s not really an issue here. Remember, it’s the Steve Vai band.”

    That’s right, another guitar virtuoso, no lead singer, no chicks. Guys in the audience going crazy over the guy.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    No, I don’t think we should make that logical leap. That article does raise the issue of lack of role models and all that, yes.

    But the desire to see one band over another, or purchase one CD over another extends to other art forms, well – to at least film /tv art.

    Some will take in a show because the leading man or woman is hot. Bottom line.

    Others will watch for the story line, or the direction – appreciating the deeper offerings of TV or cinema.

    And yes, some read Playboy for the articles. Or maybe that’s just an urban legend. : )

    But I hope you see the point. I’m not sure I do any more, I’m tired!

    There is SO much good music (switching back to that art form now) that goes unappreciated, unnoticed, or just unheard of.

    Unspecific to gender, I wonder if some people are just predisposed to being open minded and appreciative towards new stuff? And some are too rigid? Don’t answer, I already know that’s a yes.

    So, these chicks just need to here some more of the Vais and the Satrianis.

    (When I told my women friends who I was seeing that night, I got a lot of blank looks)

  • Guppusmaximus

    The true appreciation of music for it’s audible integrity will most always be overlooked because a good portion of the people aren’t trained to listen to all the instruments. Perhaps this is why fashion and mainstream rock will always win out in the popular sense.
    I agree with you Mary, I don’t understand why it’s so hard for families to show their daughters the “Non-frilly” things in life. Well, I’m not a woman so I will never truely understand that situation but I did grow up with a single parent(my Mom)and I can tell you that she didn’t really understand my love for music nevermind the idea that I wanted to make it my career. “You can’t make a living off of music!”, That’s what she would tell me… Maybe this is why parents don’t teach their daughters about the “whammy” bar??
    I’ll tell you one thing… Music can be a worldly education and a great networking tool!! You can connect with anyone in the world without talking and I find it to be more interesting than learning all the different languages…
    Anyways, Gotta get to my “real” job….HAH!(Thanks for the support, Ma..)

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Thanks for the comment Guppus

    My parents weren’t overly supportive with the arts, but my brother tried to teach me guitar. I do crave music, in all its forms – though it’s more in appreciation, rather than performing.

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