Reviews

G3 Featuring Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and John Petrucci

Sam Frank

Thanks to the G3 tour, these guitarists will continue to open doors and inspire guitarists around the world by using undiscovered colors to paint on our canvases.

G3 Featuring Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and John Petrucci

G3 Featuring Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and John Petrucci

City: Osaka, Japan
Venue: Grand Cube
Date: 2005-05-06

Steve Vai and John Petrucci
Photo: Sam Frank
Joe Satriani
Photo: Sam Frank
Steve Vai
Photo: Sam Frank
We can't prepare for these moments. They just happen, and only our hearts recognize the sound. For me, the sound came at the tender age of 12, as I was watching cartoons after school. During a commercial break, an amazing electric guitar shot at me from my television. My chest became warm and light-headedness followed. This commercial was for a yellow Sony sports walkman, and the song was "Summer Song", by guitar legend Joe Satriani. To this day Satriani continues to create innovative music. In 1996 he became one of the founding members of a trio of visionary guitarists called G3. G3 started as a side project which included Satriani, Eric Johnson, and former student and longtime friend of Satriani, Steve Vai. The premise of G3 was for each artist to play a separate set with his own band, and finish the show off with a mammoth super all-inclusive jam session. Since 1996, G3 has become an annual event. But while Satriani and Vai have remained at the forefront of this musical extravaganza, Eric Johnson's position is on yearly rotation between a slew of innovative guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Robert Fripp, and currently Dream Theater's guitar prodigy, John Petrucci. The 2005 version of the tour brought G3 to the island of Japan where, for the first time, Japanese fans had the chance to see these three guitar wizards performing together on the same stage. Thanks to previous tours, each guitarist has individually made a positive impression on Japanese fans. Satriani not only toured with Mick Jagger, but also replaced Deep Purple's guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, during their mid-'90s tour of Japan. Vai toured the world with Frank Zappa and earned nicknames such as "Stunt Guitarist" and "Little Italian Virtuoso". Petrucci also displayed his ability touring with his group, Dream Theater, and supplied music to the Sega Saturn video game, Necronomicon. Knowing all the history surrounding these three, guitar-shredding, song-composing heroes gives a heightened appreciation to their tour's collaborative performance. But at the same time great risk is involved in such an endeavor. When each guitarist performs, the spotlight and focus is solely aimed on the sound he constructs. If it is well-received then the guitarist is praised for his sound and composition, yet if it is panned, then the guitarist takes the blame, with no one else in the band to hide behind. One would think this is the case with every solo artist but, without a singer pick up the slack, instrumental guitarists have to work extra hard to win their audience over. Instrumental guitar performances have become more common, but are still considered alternative music by mainstream audiences. For example, would Jimi Hendrix be as remembered if he only did instrumentals? Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, not only displayed awe-inspiring sounds for future guitarists, but also produced each Zepp album. Then, in 1988, this master of music innovation released his solo album, Outrider, and was unable to surpass the number 26 spot on the Billboard Album Chart. It was not until 1995 when Page reunited with former Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant, that his music once again garnered recognition. The double-edged sword of this year's G3 tour of Japan is that Satriani does not have Ian Gillan's voice, Vai is without Frank Zappa, and Petrucci is minus James LaBrue (who actually accompanied Petrucci on last years Dream Theater show at Tokyo's famed Budokan.) Just off that Dream Theater concert, Petrucci started the evening by exciting all the Dream Theater fans in the audience with his polished style of play. Before the event I had the chance to speak with Satriani's manager Mick Brigden, and was told that the Japanese audience is usually quiet compared to audiences from other countries. To my surprise, this crowd had life in them and Petrucci was the first to receive it. Petrucci's musical compositions were beautiful as well as mentally stimulating. They were reminiscent of such epic ballads as "The Spirit Carries on" and "Home" from Dream Theater's stunning concept album, Scenes from a Memory (1999). In his performance Petrucci became one with his guitar, unleashing a sound deep within himself. As that sound hit the audience's ears the many dimensions of his personality began to take shape. Sometimes he would play fast and with many layers, a controlled chaos. On the other hand, his slow pieces carried a strange beauty, almost as if he was putting a child to sleep. With lighting to help accentuate the emotion of each song, the audience was only given ten minutes to absorb Petrucci's performance before it was Vai's turn at bat. Vai is definitely the "wild" one of the bunch, at least when it comes to guitar personalities. Where Petrucci's music seemed structured and often reserved, Vai was in your face with finger speeds faster than any bullet train Japan has to offer. From his long hair blowing in the air to his energetic facial expressions during high notes, Vai's performance epitomized the essence of rock greatness. His guitar had a voice of its own, and there were moments when his lips moved, but only guitar sounds came out, as if he was speaking guitar. During the performance the members of Vai's band stood side by side and reached over to play one another's instruments. Vai's hands played the bass hanging around Billy Sheehan's neck, while another guitarist played the guitar around Vai's neck. All this instrumental showmanship came mid-song without a break. Vai's performance was proof that instrumental guitar improvisation can be fun as well as just "awesome." The final solo performance of the evening came at the hands of Satriani. Sporting dark sunglasses and a blue denim hat, he came ready to rock the house. Satriani is not a stranger to Japan and its audience. In his twenties, Satriani spent six months in Japan as a struggling guitarist. After touring with Jagger, he triumphantly returned to Japan as a solo artist and earned a sacred place in the hearts of his fans. So it was no surprise that the Osaka audience welcomed Satriani with a standing ovation. He reciprocated by thanking the audience in Japanese after his first few songs. After beginning his exuberant performance with some fast-fingers and rocking riffs, the sound took a quick turn in a different direction after two songs. Satriani started playing songs from his new album, Is There Love in Space, entrancing the audience with his ambient-esque sound. Satriani's guitar was able to make sounds that world famous DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Sasha have spent years perfecting. For those few songs, the audience was guided by Satriani's hands through a whirlwind of emotion and energy. With incomparable skill, he used his stringed instrument as a key to unlock a universe deep within the soul. Having a voice over that sound would have reduced the potency and devalued the experience. According to another musical genius, Beethoven, "music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks, and invents." Satriani used his guitar to make the quote emotionally tangible to the audience. Out of Satriani's set only three songs were of this caliber, while his other songs displayed his technical skills behind the axe. Once Satriani finished his set, Petrucci and Vai returned to the stage for the final act of the evening: the G3 jam. The jam started off with a cover of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady", with Satriani on vocals. Before the show, Satriani confessed to me that during his performances he tries to channel the spirit of Hendrix. Throughout "Foxy Lady" he did just that. The jam gave the audience a chance to see what three professional guitarists on the same stage have the ability to create: a wall of sound layered so thick that not even a tempered Samurai sword could cut through it. The best part of the jam was seeing their enthusiasm as each performed his solo. During Petrucci's solo, Vai and Satriani smiled like Marty McFly from Back to the Future, wowing the crowd at the prom. The audience's cheers gave fuel to each performer. The last song of the evening was Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water", with amazing vocals by Vai's bassist, Sheehan. The show ended on a high note (literally a high guitar note), and everyone in the audience was eager for more, despite over three hours of music. After the performance each of the guitarists graciously signed autographs for the huge line of awaiting fans. This concert was proof that guitar legends will always have a warm home in the world of music, whether solo or in a group. Brave souls like Satriani, Vai, and Petrucci put their hearts and souls into every note they play. This collaboration gave the audience a chance to see three unique guitar personalities perform one after the other on the same stage. From Petrucci's carefully structured rhythms to Vai's hard edge and Satriani's soul cleansing sound, each artist guided the audience along different roads that led to the same destination: sheer amazement. Thanks to the G3 tour, these guitarists will continue to open doors and inspire guitarists around the world by using undiscovered colors to paint on our canvases. A canvas is a two dimensional, all-white board where art is created, and thirteen years earlier, Satriani's guitar sounds were the first to colorize mine. This time around he went beyond just color. With some assistance from Vai and Petrucci, he added a third, more intimate dimension to my canvas. And from now on, G3's sound will resonate in my mind forever.

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