I was lucky enough to end up with a pair of tickets to see Joe Satriani at the Fox Performing Arts Center here in Riverside California a few weeks back. The Silver Surfer has long been an inspiration to me, a person who simply existed in my mind as legend. Meaning I sometimes forget he’s human. It’s not like I think he’s kangaroo I just mean he’s always occupied my mind as a musical force rather than person who shops at Costco for bulk toilet paper. So when it dawned on me that I was going to see him live and in person I was kinda dumbstruck… would he meet my mental mythical icon image?
Since I had scored two tickets I had to decide who to ask to join me. In most cases this would be easy. Two tickets to Adele, Arcade Fire or Ben Harper that’s easy, I ask my wife to join me. Two tickets to pretty much any concert and my wife would be the logical choice as copilot, but Satriani maybe not. Let me explain. I love guitar music. It’s a deep seated childhood core of my being kind of love. I have asked her on several occasions to feel what I am feeling by forcing her to listen to Prince play the solo to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction or “Muffin Man” live in Austin Tx by Zappa or “Satch Boogie”. For me these songs can induce a near orgasmic euphoria where time and space fade away. After coming down from my out-of-body experience I see my wife’s face saying “what were YOU listening to? All I heard was noise”. Don’t get me wrong she loves music and she’s game for anything, but this was Joe Satriani and I wanted who ever I brought along to appreciate the gravity of the night. That’s why I was relieved when she told me the babysitter was unavailable and I might want to invite someone else. I texted my bandmate and fellow guitar player. He was traveling on business, however he was going to try and rush out early and drive the 6 hours with just enough time to swing by and pick me up. It ended up falling through and so did the next guy. I ended up calling in a favor for babysitting duty and reinvigorated my resolve to get my wife to catch Satch fever.
We arrived at the theater a little early and waited in line. Right away my wife noticed the diversity of the people in line with us. An older couple right in front of us and two younger guys behind us. Long haired rockers and straight-laced and everyone in between proved to us that Satriani has an effect on all types. Once in the historic theater (first theater to screen Gone with the Wind in 1939) we found our seats and settled in. Since I had a badass hologram printed media badge I could snap a few pictures from the front of the stage and I made my way down so I’d be ready the second things got rolling. I struck up a conversation with a couple that said they had watched Satriani perform over 50 times. The woman said that she felt a kind of cosmic connection to the music and couldn’t get enough. The couple had joined his concert in San Diego the night before and would be following him to Vegas the next day. They assured me that this night was special because this marked Satriani’s 30th year as a touring musician.
The Satch started out as a guitar teacher. Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Steve Via, and Larry LaLonde of Primus being the most notable. He’s played with everyone… like every human being who has ever held a guitar. His reach is far and his influence on the music world is wide. I was ready to hear the mythical beast myself and live! We could hear some electrical hums and some shadows moving behind the huge curtain. And then we were assaulted by the biggest wave of sound I have ever heard. Loud and proud the curtain lifted and out came the Alien in an shiny silver jacket playing the 25th anniversary guitar with matching strap (he also played the muscle car orange JS2410 much of the night and another red and white striped JS. He used the Ibanez JSA5 for the acoustic song “Friends”). When I say sound I don’t mean the aggressive noise many bands employ. It was clean and crisp, just nice and ear-ringingly loud. This might have something to do with the fact that I was standing right in front of a double stacked speaker. Joe wore his signature black sunglasses, but his love for the fans shows right through. He poured out enthusiasm and played every note with a kind of “I’m giving this note to you” gesture. I was pulled in and that was actually a very beautiful moment for me. I snapped as many pictures as I could for the 3 song window given to media. From my perch stage left I was nearly arms length away from Joe and could really sense what he was doing. It was fun to see him work up close. His style is impressively technical, but he spreads the extremely technical bits out with his signature smooth soaring sounds. There were a few moments when his fingers were moving lightning fast and his hand had crept up the fretboard until he was fully overhanded and it looked like an octopus was rounding third base and headed for home. I had blown my whole SD card in those three songs and it was time to rejoin my wife… oh man my wife!
When I returned to my seat my wife was bewildered. She had sat in overwhelmed silence as she watched not the band, but the people. I had been so transfixed on the onstage presence I had not yet took in the other people in the theater. The guy right next to us was in full psychedelic air guitar mode. The lady two rows in front was moved to bust into a post Woodstock flower child groove complete with a lace Japanese style fan. Off to the right was a dude with a tallboy Budweiser fist pumping to the beat, which honestly was pretty impressive considering he kept that going ALL night long.
Satriani fans come in all shapes and sizes and it was cool to watch people react in so many unique ways. Some people were guitarists themselves watching their idol masterfully play their instrument. Others were music fans who were just infected with the vibe and energy of live music. I met a couple of young guys before the show who had saved up for the meet and greet passes and raved how cool Joe is and how much he loves his fans (Grady and Gabe of Almost Awake). So much of what made this concert so good was that it was diverse. With so many bands the attention is focused on the singer and the lyrics, but because Joe doesn’t sing nor does he hire any vocals at all the music stands on its own. And it’s not all Satriani. Mike Keneally plays keys and rhythm guitar and at one point Joe stepped aside as Mike took the lead. It was amazing! He made sweet love to that green stratocaster. Mike has played with Frank Zappa, which was easily one of the most demanding band leaders. Zappa expected a lot of his bandmates and was known for his extreme perfectionism, so in my mind that maxes out a guys street cred. Bryan Beller, the bass player, played with an almost boyish enjoyment and was fun to watch. And of course Marco Minnemann on drums. Marco has some crazy machine gun double bass.
After we left the concert I asked my wife what she thought and she surprised me when she said “I loved it”! I think it was a kind of baptism by fire. Joe Satriani is unlike anyone I have ever seen and after being there to experience it live I have a new found respect for what he does musically. What was the most impressive was the love Joe and the band exude for the fans. They played music from every album and time period with a huge grin the whole night. The fans gave him the love right back and I could tell we all felt connected, which is really hard to find these days. Needless to say I will be catching Satriani next time he’s in town.
Keep up with Joe Satriani on satriani.com
Buy the album the new album Shockwave Supernova.