Satriani is however, first and foremost, an artist. His invention and innovation was laid bare on 2022’s ‘The Elephants of Mars’, an album that took his fantastical playing and married it to an incredible story; “I started to imagine future earth scientists terraforming Mars, creating a beautiful planet that they plan to exploit for raw materials, but, unknowingly, they produced a species of gigantic, sentient elephants that could communicate telepathically; not only among themselves, but to the new Mars colonists”, he told eonmusic in 2022.
Bringing that world to life, Wednesday evening’s show featured the highlights of that ambitious piece, interwoven with a stunning lights and visual spectacle, as well as a focus on 2020's 'Shapeshifting', and occasional dips into his past.
Opening with the bouncing ‘Ninteen Eighty’ before atmospherically morphing, both musically and visually (the stage bathed, appropriately in the purple and orange of ‘The Elephants of Mars’ cover art) into ‘Saraha’ and the stunning title track of his latest opus,
“Well good evening everybody. We finally made it back!”, he declared, greeting the crowd, before asking drummer Kenny Arnoff; “Hey Kenny, how about a little ‘Ice 9’ for us?”, signalling the first classic of the evening. Breaking off into an extended jam between Joe and keyboardist Rai Thistlethwayte, the spontaneity and ability to bounce off each other was all too apparent.
Following the relentless stomp of 'Thunder High on the Mountain', the welcome return of 'Flying in a Blue Dream' highlight 'One Big Rush' to the set (last performed more than a decade ago, before this tour) really lifted the atmosphere in the 100 year old venue.
Acknowledging the ebb and flow of the set, Satriani said; "thanks for letting us mix up these old ones and new ones together!", before slurping into perfectly-titled newie 'Bluefoot Groovy'. It was followed by what for many, is still his best song, the majestic 'Flying in a Blue Dream', complete with amazing visuals which featured a lonely spaceship traversing a blue galaxy.
Musically, Satriani was on fire throughout, making his otherworldly skills look like child's play. Joking about his showboating towards the end of 'Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws', he joked knowingly; "I know a lot of guitar players are out there and they're going, Joe, the ending of that song was way too long. But I'm here in London and I want to play my guitar!"
It was a thrilling first half, and with a emotive 'Faceless' giving way to the euphotic speed of 'Crystal Planet', 'hit' 'Summer Song' (complete with nostalgia-inducing period-video footage) to close things out, act one ended on a high.
While the second half started off at a slower pace with a solo from Arnoff, it soon gathered apace with melodic throwback ‘E 104th St NYC 1973’, and the sci-fi blues of fan-favourite ‘Cool #9’.
Getting sentimental for a second, ‘Always With Me, Always With You’ prompted the clearly elated guitar hero to proclaim; “man I've got to thank you again for letting us play all this music here tonight. This one goes out to you”.
Closing out with a rip-roaring ‘Satch Boogie’, only the encores of ‘Crowd Chant’ and signature song ‘Surfing With the Alien’ remained.
While he may have dipped his toes into the world of EDM in the late '90s and all too briefly added vocals to parts of his albums in the early part of that decade, these days, you know what you're going to get with Joe Satriani; two hours of nuanced fantastical instrumental playing with just a shade of blues, and tones and sounds that are not of this earth. And judging by the reaction tonight, his fans wouldn't have it any other way.