Steve Vai – The O2 Ritz, Manchester – 5th June 2022
Steve Vai returned to the stage after a three plus year absence. Touring in support of his latest LP, Inviolate, Vai wowed the crowd in Manchester with his unique and uncompromising compositions.
Taking the stage in amongst galactic visuals and cracks of thunder, Vai and his band crashed into Avalancha from Inviolate. With a guitar lit up by its fret board, the track drives hard at breakneck pace. It’s a stunning opener that sets out the stall for the evening. More cuts from Inviolate make up the set; Teeth Of The Hydra and Zeus In Chains both deliver stand their ground mixed in with older pieces of music.
As Vai stalked the stage from left to right, it is evident that fun is high on the agenda as every member of the four piece plays with such delight on their face. And as far as facial expressions go, Vai does his talking with his. Each solo flourish, lick or note is accompanied by an animated expression; he doesn’t need a microphone to tell you how he is feeling.
Whilst the delight is clear and obvious in those expressions, Vai does the take the mic for several thank yous during the evening. The crowd respond in unifying elation. “What’s going on in here tonight?!” says Vai under the spotlight. “This our second gig in 3 and a half years,” continues Vai. He shares his joy at being backstage for the food (pizza) and drink and bathrooms. “I’ve put this butt on more toilet seats than anyone,” he jokes before talking of being 62 in the morning (Happy Birthday, Steve!). What is most cutting are his words about being independent, being the boss, and sharing that no one can derail you when you know what you want to do – that’s freedom. Prophetic words.
Band introductions follow, and what a band it is. Long time touring companion, Dave Weiner, assists on guitar and keys. Their chemistry together is clear to see. They duel on Lights Are On with growing exuberance, and Weiner wows in his own solo slot later in the set.
With any backing band, chemistry is key. Philip Bynoe shakes the foundation of the Ritz with his dynamic work on the bass, and Jeremy Colson completes a stellar rhythm section on the drums. Both have their moments to shine on their own with Vai offering props to both. It is their power that propels many of the songs into orbit.
When the four members come together, they are as heavy a unit as you will ever see. Building The Church, with its mind bending intro, is thoroughly heavy. Add the chunky and chugging Bad Horsie in with this tag as well. In amongst the fury of the rhythm section, Vai exploits his guitar for all its worth – it is a mesmerising sight.
For all the bombast and bluster, there are plenty of more serene moments. The classic Tender Surrender is greeted like an old friend by the crowd and new cut, Greenish Blues, is superbly delivered. There is a reverence in most quarters of the crowd as the quieter aspects of the songs are soaked up. I’m Becoming is a harmonic dream and the emphatic blues of For The Love Of God, which closes out the main set, all enchant the crowd. To watch Steve Vai play these songs is a real privilege – he is an almost trance like state during For The Love Of God.
A nice surprise in the set is Dyin’ Day – a song that Vai declares they have never played live before (aside from the night before in Glasgow). The acoustic led intro gives the song a real classic rock feel before Vai again shreds his way through various blistering solos. Such is the heat in the venue, the song is abandoned and restarted; “I forgot how slippery and wet it gets on stage,” claims Vai as he confesses to the botched opening.
As the band returned for a one song encore of Fire Garden Suite IV – Taurus Bulba, it was clear to see the joy all around the Ritz once again as the band departed. Steve Vai’s new album, Inviolate, is a brilliant record, and upon witnessing a lot of it live, it is only going to grow and grow as one of his many fine works.
Categories: Live Reviews