CONCERT REVIEW: STEVE VAI Delivers An Inspiring Night Of Six-String Wizardry In Toronto (August 8th, 2023)

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At 63 years of age and 45 years of performing across the globe, Steve Vai could just as well repeat his formula over and over again and simply rest on his well-earned laurels. However, as we came to experience at the Danforth Music Hall last night, he continues to push himself and to find new ways to challenge his abilities. His latest “proper” album “Inviolate” impressed the listeners with many twists and turns, and he’s still finding material in his vault to release, as was the case with the “Vai/Gash” album, a collection of straightforward songs recorded over 30 years ago.

Vai entered the stage at 8 PM sharp and there was no opening band. Honestly, for the average attendance that was quite a relief. Not only because we could go straight to the point and see the main attraction of the night, but also because there would be a lot to digest during his lengthy set. He kicked things off with “Avalancha”, one of the fastest and most accessible tracks of “Inviolate”. This was quickly followed by “Giant Balls of Gold”, and the wizard was already on the loose, holding his guitar by the whammy bar and reaching the exact notes he wanted at any given time.

Believe it or not, the “Inviolate World Tour” is only in its halfway point, although it has already hit Europe, US and South America. The start of the journey was postponed due to health issues – Steve had to have an operation on his right shoulder and finger right before the first dates – and will last until mid-2024. And although most of the crowd is here for the fast-paced numbers, Vai does shine on slower songs like “Little Pretty” and “Tender Surrender”, the Hendrix-inspired song from “Alien Love Secrets”. A quick stop to introduce the band – Jeremy Colson on drums, sporting a “Listen to Rush” shirt, Philip Bynoe on bass and Dante Frisiello on guitars and keyboards – and we’re back in full gear.

Photo by Drew Osbourne

Ever the generous bandleader, Steve gives plenty of room for his support band to shine throughout the show – Philip, Jeremy and Dante all had solo spots – and during “Incantation”, all roadies joined the band on stage doing well choreographed moves and riffing together. The show progressed by alternating soulful numbers like “Candlepower”, born out of a self-imposed challenge to record a simple trio track with Strat, no whammy bar and no pick, and high-octane moments such as “Building the Church”, with the most insane two-hand tapping this side of Lake Ontario.

“Greenish Blues”, from “Inviolate” was also represented, and is a rare exploration of the blues – a style that Steve mentioned he won’t be revisiting any time soon. Out of all the crowd-pleasing moments in the middle of the set, “Bad Horsie” was probably the one which got the strongest applause by then, with parts of the audience anticipating Steve’s bends and singing some of the licks. The big screen showed a baby growing from inception to birth during “I’m Becoming”, and “Whispering a Prayer” brought some levity to the proceedings with a welcome change of pace.

Photo by Drew Osbourne

It was then time to bring out the Hydra, a beast of an instrument that Steve designed, containing two guitar necks, one bass and a harp. As a sign of the times, this was the most “hang on, let me film this to post a story on social media, while totally missing what this guitar god is doing right in front of me”. In a different time before the invention of cell phone cameras this would have been the moment for the crowd to go nuts, but that’s a sad sign of the times. Anyway, Steve played “Teeth of the Hydra” with this humungous guitar held on a pedestal, and I can’t wait for him to adapt other pieces of music to play with it. This was followed by “Zeus in Chains”, another high point of “Inviolate”.

There was still time for some crowd participation on “Liberty”, and a hypnotic version of “For the Love of God”, with Danny G., one of the roadies, adding operatic vocals to it. A nice addition to a song that has been played to exhaustion on every tour since the seminal album “Passion and Warfare” came out in 1990, and sounded faithful to the original but very fresh.

Photo by Drew Osbourne

The glorious ending came with an excerpt of the “Fire Garden Suite”. After 21 songs and a million notes, I’m reminded of the words of another fellow shredder, a Swedish guy who goes by the name of Yngwie Malmsteen: “How can less be more? MORE is more!”. Steve’s performance is an assault on the senses, and a feast for fans of guitar and music. More than just a show, this is an artistic statement from a man who serves his muse and his art, and refuses to be challenged by physical limitations. If you haven’t checked out this show, there are still a few chances – the tour continues in Canada, then Europe again, Asia and Australia, with a few more selected dates in the US. Make sure you catch Steve in one of those stops, and for Christ-sake, live in the moment – leave your phone in your pocket!

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