25 Years Later Steve Vai Brings Passion and Warfare to The Neighborhood Theater
Photos by: Vikas Nambiar
Preamble by: Sheila Walsh
Charlotte coverage by: Jimmy Warsham
Guitar-legend Steve Vai graced New York’s Town Hall
Guitar-legend Steve Vai graced New York’s Town Hall last Wednesday. A revolutionary composer and consummate producer, Vai has developed quite the resume since the start of his career at 18 years old. Since 1980, Vai has released eight studio albums, two EPs, twelve soundtracks, and twenty compilation albums, not to mention the two specials and eight live albums. There’s something to be said about how Vai started his career too; the 56 year old began playing with Frank Zappa and has since recorded and toured with the likes of Whitesnake, David Lee Roth, and Alcatrazz. Even cooler? He’s guest starred on forty-four albums, playing with other musical legends, such as Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and Joe Jackson.
It is a pleasure when you get a chance to see one of your favorite musicians that you have followed for 30 plus years. It is even a bigger pleasure when you can see him perform at a small local venue. When buying tickets to shows these days, I have pretty much given up on getting there early and camping out in line. With music becoming more and more of a corporate event, fans who line up hours in advance to see their favorite bands get passed up by people who show up last minute and pay a few extra bucks and skip right past you.
When I heard Steve Vai was coming to The Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte, I was amped up, no pun intended. I thought to myself, I am going to go get in line and see if I can get right up front so I can get a chance to see one of my all time favorites, just like I did back when Vai was playing with David Lee Roth. Right up front on Vai’s side of the stage. Is there anything better than that? I will say there was nothing better then and nothing better now.
I took my chances and headed down to NODA to see if anyone else was there yet. As I drove around looking for a place to park, I noticed the Tour Bus was sitting right out front of the Theater. I also noticed that there were only about 4 or 5 people out there waiting, so I knew this was my chance to get up close and personal. You never know how close and how personal sometimes. The Tour Bus is literally sitting on this small street pulled up to the front door like a mini van waiting to pick up some kids from school. I happen to be between the front door and the bus.
Hanging out in line, I turn around and Vai’s co-guitar player Dave Weiner is bouncing in and out of the bus gearing up for the soundcheck. I was like that is really cool. Weiner is an amazing player in his own right, and seemed like a really nice guy as he said hello to all of us and asked how we were doing. We were like ok, that is pretty cool. Another nice thing about the Theater is that we could see the band through the small front doors setting up on the stage and getting ready for the soundcheck. Finally, he appeared from the side of the stage. It was Vai himself. The tall thin silhouette slid across the stage and disappeared somewhere into the darkness.
We all got back in line. The front door opened again and there he was again, Vai! He jumped on the bus. I think everyone was more than a little starstruck. As there were a few whispers of “Hi Steve” “Thank you for the inspiration Steve.” I was so caught off guard, all I could get out was, “Steeeve.” He was then quickly onto the bus doing whatever rockstars do on there… Based on what I was told later, I think he was trying to find some food because their dinner was late. He did emerge back from the bus with a saltine cracker in his mouth, waving, as he slid back into the building. This was already a great night.
A soulful wailing drifted from inside the Theater. The signature sound told us one thing. Vai was on stage right now playing. We all slid back over to the tiny glass doors to get a look. The thin man in black and the white Ibanez guitar were one stage for the soundcheck. Vai played through a few songs as we all crowded around the doors. People were stopping on the sidewalk as they walked by. The sound was pulling random people in with its hypnotic tone.
Waiting in line, you get a chance to chat with some interesting people. I met a nice father and son this week, the Padillos, who drove down from Lexington, NC. I have a soft place in my heart when I see a father doing things with his son. I didn’t have this for most of my life, so it really is something that makes me happy. Seeing a father and son on a Friday night sharing something together that is important to each other, that is how things should be. The young Padillo is a guitar player in his own right and had never had a chance to see Vai play before, so he was quietly excited.
S16: So is Vai your favorite guitarist?
Padillo: It is a tie. Clapton, Van Halen, and Vai.
S16: What do you think about Vai?
Padillo: He is a great player and he can play anything.
S16: I agree. He is a great player, but how does it make you feel when you listen to him. Once you scrape away the technical aspect, how do you feel?
I could see that Padillo was thinking hard on that one. I didn’t want to put him on the spot.
I smiled and said, “Think about that one as the show goes on.”
The Padillos and I made it down to the front. We were second row, and I strategically made my way behind someone who is shorter than myself. This is not easy to find sometimes, but I found a nice woman from Hawaii who turned to me and said “ you are happy you are behind me.” She was right, but I have done this more than once in my life. I picked her out specifically with the end in mind, to be able to see.
Eight o’clock finally came, and the video screens lit up. It was the scene from Crossroads where Willie Brown was asking the Devil if he could change his mind about the deal he made with him when he sold his soul at 17. Scratch reminded Brown that things aren’t ever as good as you hope they are going to be and there is only one way out of the deal for Willie. Every Saturday night, Jack Butler cuts heads, and if Lightnin’ wants to take on Jack and can beat him, then Willie is free. The Karate Kid meets Steve Vai in Hell. Far fetched but in the ‘80s, this had every young boy ready to pick up their telecaster and battle the Devil himself. Far fetched or not, this is still is one of the best scenes ever in a movie!
Vai came out, hoodie on, dual laser glasses, beams cutting through the blackness, fretboard glowing. It was time. The next two and a half hours were nothing but greatness. From a 13 year old boy who wanted to play guitar, taught by Joe Satriani, driven by a Led Zeppelin influence brought us all to that moment at the Neighborhood Theater. Vai has always looked for the unusual as he was developing his style. What could he learn new and play in a different way? He sees no limitations on where he can take the instrument. The guitar cannot be mastered. The humbleness and the emotional connection between the inner ear and the fingers and the output is obvious when Vai is playing. He gained a lot of wisdom by working with Frank Zappa at the age of 18. “If you want to do something, you just do it, no excuses, and don’t let anyone stand in your way.” Vai has done this.
From Zappa to Roth to Whitesnake to a solo career, Vai has never stopped raising his own bar to strive to continue to grow. Friday night in Charlotte, we got to see the uniqueness and creativity of a genius who has been able to overcome everything that limit most of us from taking chances. Steve is about taking chances and we got to see a spectacle of true musical creativity.
We were treated to the Passion and Warfare album, collaborations with Satriani, Petrucci, Zappa, and other friends were brought in on video. As Steve wrapped up the night and exited the stage with his band, I could hear people talking. A 50 plus year old man said he was brought to tears, my new Hawaiian friend said it was the best show she has ever seen. I agree with both of them.
I wasn’t physically crying, but the raw emotion when one of your favorite artists is 2 feet away from you doing things that you can’t even fathom how they are doing it can be overwhelming. I saw it, but how does he do that? I can only imagine what it would have been like to see Mozart or Beethoven sit down and do their magic. There are a few people in the world that can take you to that level. Vai is one of them.
The 25th Anniversary of Passion and Warfare Tour is one not to be missed. You only get so many chances in life to witness true genius. I only have one outstanding issue from the show that disappointed me. I didn’t get to speak to the Padillo men before they left. I know how seeing Vai made me feel. I want to know how it made them feel and is it still a three way tie for favorite guitar player of all time?
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