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.Powered by Sidelines