Review: Joe Satriani @ St David's Hall
Thursday 5th November 2015
As the skies of Cardiff are lit up by anonymous revellers, a different type of firework show awaits inside St David's Hall.
Pyrotechnics of the fretboard and bonfires of musicianship ablaze with aplomb as Joe Satriani swings by on his Shockwave Tour to showcase his never-ending quest for guitar mastery and mystery.
He has been releasing instrumental neo-classical albums for the last 25 years and having influenced and taught many of the music world's finest guitarists, including Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, he returns with another album this year, Shockwave Supernova, and his inimitable style of playing is on form tonight.
... tossing it around as an orca would with its prey
Opening up on his tour is Dan Patlansky and his band, a three-piece lending the sounds of Peter Frampton with a healthy dollop of Cream on top. Very riff heavy and blues-driven but altogether nothing the regular listeners of Planet Rock haven't heard on repeat throughout the day. The live show is good, the music is tight and Patlansky plays with his guitar in fresh ways, controlling vicious feedback and tossing it around as an orca would with its prey.
The songs become almost too similar as the set continues on, with the exception of slower darker piece Hold On. Patlansky gives the traditional "Great to be here... Having a good time?... You're a great crowd" rock band shout-outs with a feeling of indifference, it all seems a bit too methodical as one feels one could get the same experience merely listening to the CD at home (for a fraction of the price as well!).
... dense virtuoso music and colourful shapes and sights
As the stage is set for Joe Satriani, the full set-up is on display. An impressive array of line arrays and enough light fixtures to make the sun blush he's clearly gone all-out to showcase and frame his music. It seems suitable enough for him though, as his music is primarily instrumental it's good to dress up the show with impressive visuals and lighting, make it a spectacle and almost transcendental in the mixture of supreme musicianship and stage fireworks.
He fires up the show with the title track from his new album and instantly the entire auditorium is lit up with dense virtuoso music and colourful shapes and sights from the projection screens at the back of the stage. It is a very technically challenging show, both from the players on stage and the crew/rigging surrounding the stage and it certainly feels like a perfect accompaniment to Bonfire Night. Joe acknowledges the fireworks outside and makes us all feel welcome with his friendly banter. He at least knows where he is by mentioning Welsh names at one point!
... one of the world's top guitarists in his element
This is a spectacular show to behold. Joe is a master of his craft, no doubt, and his constant building of new sounds from his music is clear in this retrospective set list. Mixing rough with smooth there's a great blend of his music throughout the years, and the stage evolves through his music as the lights dim to colder swathes of colours during the slower moving pieces, instantly lighting up again when the heavy riffs come out. His backing band is phenomenal, playing off each other with whimsy and humour, and each having their own chance to take the spotlight amicably handed to them by Joe as they tear through some impressive technical abilities of their respective instruments. A real feast and beast of a show.
Surfing with the Alien concludes the night in a seemingly inevitable encore, with the crowd already on a high from having seen one of the world's top guitarists in his element. The music was fast, loud and fun and Joe was clearly enjoying playing it. The staging and musicianship helped pull the set through its two hour plus time slot and the audience were supremely into the show, almost hypnotised by the assault on their senses. It didn't feel like there were many people below the age of 40, but at this point that's academic, as Joe's music has built a fan base over 25 years so it has listeners throughout the ages. It's also interesting to hear this music played live as I'm sure many of the audience members (myself included) have played this music in their bedrooms on their own guitar rigs, practicing for hours and obsessing over that one double-stop bend or fighting to get that pinch harmonic to really squeal.
This is music to listen to to help develop your technique, to play along to for hours on end, to want to aspire to and to see it live it makes you aspire to be better at your craft. If the crowd were to take anything from this show tonight, take inspiration. A galactic show for the ages.
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Head to stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk to find out what's going on in St David's Hall