The Aronoff Centre, Cincinnati Ohio
7 December 2010
If there’s one thing that I hate it’s going to a show and seeing a musician who looks completely and utterly bored to tears. It’s that they’re there in body, but they’re not there in spirit. It’s that they’re there to just go through the motions and go home or go back onto the bus and hide. Joe Satriani and company, however, embody everything that I love about going to shows. From the moment he stepped out on stage until the moment that he walked off, he smiled. It wasn’t one of those silly cheesy smiles, either. It was a genuine smile from deep down. It is evident that he loves doing what he does and he loves the people he has chosen to share the stage with. I’ll be the first to admit that this show was set up differently than what I am used to. There wasn’t a barricade, security were conspicuously missing and there were…seats. Seats that were numbered and assigned to you. This was all a very foreign concept as I hadn’t been to an assigned seating show in ages. Perhaps this was all a harbinger of what was to come as I was not prepared for what I was about to experience.
Experience: noun. A word meaning the totality of the cognitions given by perception; all that is perceived, understood, and remembered. It is of my opinion that the only way that this tour can accurately be measured is if you experience it. The venue that they chose to play in couldn’t have been more perfect. The Aronoff Centre, most often holding ventures from the fine arts world, is an open space with a ceiling that reaches to the heaven. Perhaps appropriately so, the space itself feels as though you had walked into the sanctuary of a gothic orthodox church. Foreshadowing? In hindsight, it’s very likely that this was the case. Everything felt much larger than it really was, which was perfectly fitting as the band played as though they occupied a space much larger than the largest arena you could ever imagine.
Before anyone really knew what was going on, the changeover had been completed and there was just a split second of calm before the houselights were brought down. Soon, the theatre was washed in a royal blue light. One by one, the band walked out, slowly, unassumingly. Mike Keneally, sitting behind his various keyboard equipment, is illuminated from above and plays something or other on the piano. Keneally, it should be noted, is a mad genius on par with Satriani himself. Having played with everyone from Frank Zappa to the touring incarnation of Dethklok as a guitarist, it was interesting to se him take on the role of keyboardist / pianist. For those who only know him as a guitarist, it was refreshing to see him in a role like this as he was able to truly put his musical virtuosity on display. One day, it will be nice to see both Keneally and Satriani have a guitar battle; there’s always soundcheck and there’s always next time. The closest thing that we were able to see this go around was a keyboard-guitar duel to the death. The line between anticipation and action was a fine one and just as we were all getting comfortable…he walked out.He, of course, being Mr. Satriani. There was a confidence in his step as he came centre stage. Looking down while slightly adjusting his guitar, you could see his eyes through his sun glasses. He looked up at the crowd and we all froze for a moment. A grin broke out over his face as if to say, “You guys ready?” With that, we were off. Satriani was illuminated from above, in a manner similar to Keneally, with a single white spotlight. In many theatre circles, we call this the “Jesus light”. This is not to say that Satriani is a diety, though he was treated like one for the entirety of the evening. During the anthemic solo parts, a member of the front row held up a sign that said “Joe Knows!”. Whenever anyone would do anything that was mind blowing and amazing he would bow. Perhaps he intended on giving the impression that we weren’t worthy to be in the presence of such incredible musicians. I’m sure that if Mr. Satriani were in the crowd with this man, he would have argued. It is very possible that he would have told this man that he is not worthy to have such accolades bestowed upon him. He gives off an air of humbleness which belies the fact that he is one of the most technically gifted guitarists of modern guitar playing. As he very possibly would have continued to argue, he is but a man who has been blessed with a gift.
Having wisely chosen Ice 9 as the opener, it was a slow but effective start to the evening. From there, and for the next two and a half hours, we were whisked to the far corners of the universe and back again. We were taken from Cincinnati and sent to the Far East, a quick stop at Mars, through Europe and back to Cincinnati. If I were forced to choose a pilot for our adventure, there would be no one that I would want to have manning the voyage than Joe. The between banter was minimal, opting to have the music speak for itself. When he did choose to speak, however, his words were well chosen. He spoke to us as though we were sitting at a table in a bookstore having coffee. The conversational tone of his voice was matched by the conversational nature of the music. The music itself was structured but not rigid. Satriani allowed the songs to become organic beasts which easily lead themselves to improvisation.
Personal highlights of the set came two fold. The first came in the form of Andalusia. All things considered, this was a relatively quiet song. Quiet, however, doesn’t mean boring, not in this case, at least. On this song, Satriani swapped out his electric guitar for an acoustic. Both he and guitarist Galen Henson, whom many know from G3 as well as being a member of Satriani’s touring band for a long time, were able to take centre stage and really shine. There were touches of flamenco and Turkish folk music throughout the composition. Because of this, there was plenty of room for the song to breathe, and in breathing, Satriani allowed Henson to really shine. This shows what kind of a musician he is; just because his name is on the marquee, doesn’t mean that he has to be the centre of attention all the time. The song was a showcase for the entire band to really display the calibre of musicianship that they each possessed. Just when you think that they are playing the song as it’s recorded, there would be an extra flourish of something special in the background. The second half of the highlights came as a one-two of Crowd Chant and Summer Song. Growing up in the Long Island and New Jersey music scene, I’m a sucker for gang vocals and group participation, so it’s not really a surprise to see that this song made me smile. There is nothing that can bring a crowd together easier and faster than a call and response section.
Perhaps my biggest complaint of the night was that this show was appallingly under promoted and in turn, was woefully undersold. This is not to discredit the musicians by any stretch. I’m sure that if they had sold one single ticket, they would have probably invited that person to sit on stage with them and play an all request show for that one lucky fan. Mr. Satriani did, however much to the chagrin of the house staff, invite everyone (“Yes you…all the way in the back of the balcony! That means you too. Come on, we don’t bite.”) in attendance to move forward and fill in close to the stage in an effort to give the auditorium an intimate club feel.
Overall closing impressions: if this tour comes near you, please make it a point to go. If you’re a music theory geek or a guitar geek or a technical geek, make sure you pick up a ticket. When it comes to being “stuck” in assigned seating and listening to some songs that haven’t got words, I’m a hard sell. To say that I was blown away would be a gross understatement. Fans of every genre of music from world to jazz to rock will be able to take something away from this and leave with a smile.
My apologies go out to the front row whose laps I had to sit in in order to get these shots. You were wonderful, long suffering and gracious.
Hordes of Locusts
Flying In A Blue Dream
Light Years Away
The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing
God Is Crying
Wind In The Trees
Always With Me, Always With You
Big Bad Moon