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Artist: Steve Vai
Venue: Town Hall - NYC
Opener: Eric Sardinas
Date: 3-26-2005
Label: Epic Records
Promoter: Clear Channel

There is no question or argument about Steve Vai being considered perhaps the most prolific of Progressive Rock guitarists in music today. This weekend Mister Vai returned to New York City for two sold-out shows at The Town Hall an intimate theater setting where there was not a bad seat in the house no matter where you located. Steve would be featuring a number of selections from his latest release entitled “Real Illusions: Reflections”, and if you ask me this is his most Zappa inspired piece of music yet. So much of it reminded me of his early time with Frank and that is great to see Steve returning to an even more adventurous musical level after so many years in the business.

Kicking off the evening would be maverick blues guitarist Eric Sardinas. He plays a lot along the style of Danny Gatton and does a terrific job of entertaining you. It was sad that Sardinas’ set would only set at 2 songs from his CD “Black Pearls” but at least they were 8 minutes apiece. He is someone that I definitely look forward to seeing perform again in the immediate future. He even does a cool trick with his beer as he plays the guitar neck with it, and soon it shoots all over the place as he reaches crescendo. He is smart in handling a killer visual as well as performance for these days it is best to stand out in both areas. We were lucky to attend the first show of the night, for Sardinas would not perform at the second show.

Steve Vai came up very quickly after that and arrived to the stage amid the wild lights and smoke in the truest rock star sense. His band mates showing once again that Vai puts together the most killer lineup that can be assembled in a rock band. On bass would once again be Billy Sheehan who I consider perhaps the most fun to watch play the bass. To me he is a king on the bass and I fondly remember seeing him and Vai supporting the music of David Lee Roth many years ago. Joining them would also be Tony MacAlpine who would not only provide expertise on keyboards but play some guitar during the course of the evening. I enjoyed seeing Tony almost as much as seeing Vai since he had long been a favorite of mine with his amazing playing. One of my favorite Prog-Metal records of all time is “Edge Of Insanity” (and wow, Billy Sheehan is on that as well). The drums would be handled by Jeremy Colson who at first was not winning me over and that would change with the drum solo. Dave Weiner would be holding down the rhythm on guitar as well. I wondered why it was necessary with those other guys present, but it did end up working out after all.

The set was filled with killer numbers both old and new. Someone in the audience even interjected to Steve for “Stevie’s Spanking” and Steve replied to him, “wow that was over 20 years ago”. This was due to this theatre’s intimacy as otherwise he would never have heard him. While the complete set list escapes me I can tell you that among the songs played were “For The Love Of God” (always a fan favorite), “Whispering A Prayer”, “Lotus Feet”, “Pusa Road”, “Call It Sleep”, “Rescue Me Or Bury Me” and many more. There was an acoustic portion which was amazing to see Steve and Tony sit and do that. There was also a very interesting drum solo by Jeremy who played first against Vai on a standup kit and that was very impressive. Many people miss Virgil Donati and Mike Mangini. I guess the lesson we can best learn is that Steve Vai is not going to get anything less than a kick ass player on the drums no matter what.

This truly was a great show, and while I am certain it would have been a little longer had the performances not been so close together it still was a good time. The encore was kicked off by their rip-roaring rendition of “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama” where Eric Sardinas returned to the stage to jam with the band. Good times.

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--Ken Pierce

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