G3: Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steve Lukather @ The Palais
Thanks to being supplied with a bunk show schedule, I arrive quite late in Lukather's set, surprised to find a couple dozen punters still loitering indifferently in the foyer. It's amazing how many people have let Lukather's association with Toto (who are, admittedly, the epitome of 'soft rock') keep them from appreciating one of the most respected guitarists in the industry. Lukather's broad session resume has earned him a reputation for versatility, and from what I saw he ably met these expectations, balancing the soaring instrumental Truth with the harder groove and lyrical cynicism of TMZ.
Watching Steve Vai perform is almost always a completely transcendental experience; Not merely for his astonishing instrumental dexterity, but for the palpable intention behind it all – where every note rings of an aching hunger for truth, beauty and enlightenment. So when the enigmatic guitarist fills a limited set time with his most emotionally and spiritually intense pieces – Tender Surrender, Whispering A Prayer, For The Love Of God etc – even a mere 40 minutes is enough to leave you slumped breathless in your seat, feeling like you've had your third eye wrenched open.
While he has been well surpassed by Vai, his former student, as a musical innovator (and the audience reactions seemed to reflect this) Joe Satriani is still at the top of his game as a guitarist. His feel is as impeccable and, at 55, his fingers just as fast as ever. Sadly, his setlist is equally consistent, and watching Joe perform songs like Satch Boogie and Ice 9 has lost its lustre over the years. Considering the long-term loyalty of his fanbase, and the lack of 'hit singles' he need feel obliged to play, Joe should really consider shaking things up a bit.
That said, at least one classic that Satch is always reinventing is Always With Me Always With You, and this evening's rendition was the most mesmerising, delicately crafted version I have yet seen. There were also a couple surprises in the form of often-overlooked gem A Secret Prayer, and the burningly intense newie God Is Crying.
It wasn't until the famous 'G3 Jam' that things got disappointing. This was firstly due to the song selection, which offered nothing new over previous G3 tours. Given Satch and Vai's long-running relationship, and the fact they had jammed on the songs in question – Hendrix's Little Wing, Zappa's My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama – a million times before, you couldn't blame Lukather for feeling (and, occasionally, looking) like a third wheel. At least when John Petrucci joined Satch and Vai in Australia for G3 '06, there was evidence of a few cannily prearranged three-part harmonies, which not only kept things egalitarian, but also added some much-needed finesse to the chaotic (though brilliant) improvisation. Not so this year. And even if there had been, it would have been nearly impossible to appreciate due to the sound, which was mediocre throughout the show, but became god-awful during the jam.
Of course, any show with musicians of this calibre can only fall so far. But I'll still be holding on to memories of the 2006 tour as my definitive G3 experience.
BY JESSE SHROCK
LOVED: Vai, Vai, Vai.
HATED: The sound.