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A Night To Remember With Steve Vai

Updated on April 1, 2014

Steve Vai: Just What I Needed

Steve Vai made his Cleveland, Ohio/House of Blues stop on his Story of Light Tour a few weeks ago. Fans of all ages flocked to see the virtuoso at the comfortably packed smallish venue. Yours truly was in attendance representing the blog accompanied by my good friend, Boardman, Ohio multi-media artist, Dave Koch. Dave’s daughter Leslie is a friend of my daughter Loryn. I coached them both in middle school basketball. Over the years Dave and I have realized our mutual appreciation of neo-classical rock guitar. Shred guitar if you will. It’s not for everybody and is anything but mainstream. Guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Michael Angelo Batio, Yngwie Malmsteen headline this genre. The combination of sweep picking, alternate picking, economy picking and fingerpicking transforms into a plethora of articulate, arpeggiated chords. I was an instant Satriani fan when I first heard the Surfing With The Alien album in the late 80’s. Dave Koch has attended many Satriani concerts including the G-3 tour. He has even met the legend in person. I never thought I’d ever get to see one of these guys up close. I was wrong.

I can’t remember what month it was last spring when Dave called me. He said something about tickets for a Steve Vai concert. I said hell yes I’m in and forgot about it. Then, in late June, about a week before the concert Dave calls. We discuss the dates and times etc. Let me say at this point in the summer I wasn’t quite myself because of the fact that I am working on an emergency construction project with an insane work schedule. There are seven zillion things going on at the same time with 12-hour work days six days a week. What?!!! To start off with I requested the wrong day off because of some pre-frontal lobe malfunction due to fatigue. I go to bed at 10:00 pm and wake up at 5:30 am. At this point I had to ask myself, was it worth it to risk lack of sleep to see Vai? I knew I screwed up but decided to chance it anyway. What the hell, I’m 58 yrs. old and Vai is no spring chicken either. When would I get another chance? Seeing Vai up close was something I’d always dreamed of. Dave picks me up around 4:00. I had mistakenly taken the day before instead of the day after so I was home. We casually made our way to Cleveland listening to Satriani and talking about what songs we thought Steve would play. The weather was pleasant and warm as we drove the turnpike north to Cleveland. After a minor GPS malfunction we found ourselves in a parking deck directly across from the House of Blues in Cleveland. How convenient! We strolled down one of the side streets looking for a restaurant. There were many choices but we decided on the House of Blues Restaurant. What the hell we’re going to the House of Blues to see the show right? Right! We took a chance. The food and service proved to be excellente’. Dave had the gumbo and I had shrimp with Cajun cream sauce with a square of grits at the center. It was excellently prepared, delicious and reasonably priced. As we chatted with the hot barmaids(We ate at the bar), they told us that our meals had qualified us for the “Early In”. Sounded good to us. It just kept getting better.

We were directed to a man standing at a doorway. We gave him the slips the girls had given us. He opens the door to a giant hallway that looks like a bus garage and tells us to wait. Nobody there, the place is eerily empty. Pretty soon two guys approach from the far end. They’re in their twenties. We strike up a conversation and find out they are guitarists from Cleveland, Mike & Steve. Ibanez players like me. Steve Vai’s guitar designs have elevated Ibanez to that lofty place in luthier credibility it enjoys today. We found out they were CSU students and had math tests the next day. It made my lack of sleep dilemma pale in comparison. Mike played an Ibanez Iceman bass. Steve, an Ibanez RG-1570 Prestige. We compared pick-ups, amps and effects. It was a great exchange and the time flew by. We were juiced. As I glanced behind us I noticed the hallway/bus garage had filled to capacity and before we knew it the doors were opened to an empty auditorium. Dave and the CSU guys parked themselves right in front of center stage. I chose the “Best Seat in the House”, stage right-3. I didn’t think my knees could have handled the 2-hr. show if I stood up. I’m too old for the mosh-pit brothers. My seat proved well worth it as it gave an amazing view of the stage.

Beverly Mcclellan opened with ripping acoustic blues and a voice to match. Although I had never heard of her, I was an instant fan. I was amazed as her contrasting styles went from growling blues to Adele-like ballads. She had a beautiful voice. She was also sporting a shaved head and truck driver’s chain drive wallet. I kept thinking that I wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley which I did later that evening where she dispelled all my fears and won me over as a new fan. Steve’s show was over the top. He opened with material from his new “Story of Light” album, his first in seven years. Vai guitarist of 13-years David Weiner played a change up acoustic finger-style piece, giving Vai time to change outfits. I couldn’t believe how many times he changed his outfit. In a theatrical sense, it hit the mark. Harpist, Deborah Henson-Conant gave an animated performance on the harp which was strapped, seemingly uncomfortably, to her body. It didn’t slow her down a bit as her vibrant harp solos gave an ethereal quality to the already colorful music. Philip Bynoe is a bassist to die for. He showed his chops with talent and expertise following and expanding on what was surely an intricate musical score. Finally Jeremy Colson came out with some kind of drum machine that looked weird but worked. In my eyes he’s one of the great drummers of our time. What was striking to me was the tightness of the band. What a lineup of musicians! Vai’s virtuosity became the the highlight of the evening. It seems almost unfathomable to believe that he could have gotten better, but he has. To me this is the best Steve Vai. He chatted with Dave and the CSU guys, Steve & Mike between songs. He met with us after the show and was the nicest friendliest guy you could ever meet. He walked through the crowd graciously shaking hands, signing autographs and thanking everybody for coming . What a great experience! Thanks Dave! The next day on the construction project I felt revived instead of tired. I guess, like Ric Ocasek said, it was “Just What I Needed”. ~

Courtesy of Dave Koch-1
Courtesy of Dave Koch-1
Courtesy of Dave Koch-2
Courtesy of Dave Koch-2
From the "Best Seat in the House"!
From the "Best Seat in the House"!
Deborah Henson-Conant kicks it's ass with the master.
Deborah Henson-Conant kicks it's ass with the master.
A strange contraption but functional.
A strange contraption but functional.
Me and Steve after the show.  Blurry but real. After grabbing him 3-times amid camera and smart phone mishaps he hangs in there with us for one more try.  Incidentally, his hands are three times the size of those of mortal men.
Me and Steve after the show. Blurry but real. After grabbing him 3-times amid camera and smart phone mishaps he hangs in there with us for one more try. Incidentally, his hands are three times the size of those of mortal men.
Up close and personal. Courtesy Dave Koch-3
Up close and personal. Courtesy Dave Koch-3
Check out the Legacy Amps. Courtesy Dave Koch-4
Check out the Legacy Amps. Courtesy Dave Koch-4
Pedal Board  Courtesy Dave Koch-5
Pedal Board Courtesy Dave Koch-5


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