In an atmosphere poised with anticipation, the night began with ‘Avalancia’. Lifted from this year's 'Inviolate', release, its' jazzy and double-bass drum heavy melody set the scene for what was to come.
Moving swiftly back into his catalogue with the heavier ‘Giant Balls of Gold’, he returned to his latest work with ‘Little Pretty’ and its’ psychedelic tones.
Greeting the crowd, the guitar hero's guitar hero took to the mic to talk about his joy of returning to the stage. Engaging and charismatic, upon noting the varying age demographic of the crowd he quipped of; “owning shoes older than half the crowd tonight”!
It may be his name on the poster, but Vai was of course ably abetted by his long term band mates, and at this juncture, he introduced them, including; Dave Weiner who provided an array of talent from guitar to keyboards to sitar; the energetic Philip Bynoe on six string bass; and the uber impressive Jeremy Colson on drums.
Changing gear, bluesy ballad ‘Tender Surrender’ from 1995’s ‘Alien Love Secrets’ proved one of the highlights of the evening, with the crowd hanging on its’ every emotive note.
‘Lights Are On’ followed, and the chemistry that flowed between Vai and the toe-to-toe standing Weiner (no easy task when you’re opposite one of the world’s greatest players) proved exactly why he’s been onboard for more than two decades.
Going on to display his own guitar wizardry, Weiner‘s relaxed soloing during ‘Building the Church’ brought the light and shade before things kicked up a notch, reaching a blistering crescendo. One of the stand out moments of the night, it showcased how masterfully the band could entrance the crowd.
Clearly having as much fun as those in attendance, the main man asked; “are we having a good time?”, as the soulful blues of ‘Greenish Blues’ gave way to the impossibly nasty ‘Bad Horsie’.
With a production of dazzling lights and animated video screens, the night was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears, particularly during the hypnotic ‘I’m Becoming’. The screens may have accentuated the dramatics, however the unexpected humorous picture of Vai as a child proved that the maestro doesn’t take himself too seriously.
It was however, the brace of tracks from masterwork ‘Passion and Warfare’ that expectedly, elevated the atmosphere to a fever pitch. With the reverent ‘Liberty’, complete with its’ patriotic feel delivering a commanding fist punch, the set ended on signature track, ‘For the Love of God’. Featuring skilful sitar playing from Weiner, its' spiritual feel and building licks proved exactly why Vai is one of the world’s most revered instrumentalists.
Knowingly teasing; “do you want me to do one more song for you?!” to the growing chants of “one more tune!”, Vai and band closed the night with epic ‘Fire Garden’ suite ‘Tarus Bulba’. Weaving a musical tapestry of moods, tempos, sounds and emptions, it was the perfect way to see out the evening.
Taking his bows, the master musician concluded; “I feel blessed to be here in Belfast. You guys rock. See you next time!”
For some, guitar instrumental music can be one dimensional, and purely for the head nodding, chin scratching demographic. Not so for Steve Vai, who continues to evolve and entertain in equal measure.
Steve Vai’s ‘Inviolate’ tour continues across Europe in June and July. For tickets and more, visit the official Steve Vai site.
By Jess Blair.
Check out our gallery from the show below. All shots by Warren Blair.