After three years of waiting, Joe Satriani was back in London, and the crowd was hyped for the event. A sea of Satch t-shirts could be spotted across the Palladium's auditorium, along with the beer glasses in hands. With the venue's palatial nature, you'd be excused for thinking you were going to a rock concert at the wrong venue.
As a multi-purpose space, the Palladium has become the host of some of the biggest names in rock music in recent years, and it's the perfect venue for it. Forget the horrid bathtub sound of the O2 Arena, (it's a giant tent there are only so many miracles sound engineers can work), the Palladium boasts one of the best sound systems in the Capital (and I've no doubt the sound team was using this to their best advantage too). Satriani's guitar was as crisp and well-balanced as it could have been, it sounded terrific.
For a venue used to dealing with orchestras, Satch's orchestra tonight consisted of some amazing musicians too: One of rock's most underrated drummers, despite playing with EVERYBODY, the awesome Kenny Aronoff, Bryan Beller - Bass Rai Thistlethwayte - Keyboards. Both Rai and Kenny do some blinding solo stuff in the second half. Yes, that's correct, a second half.
A Satriani show is certainly one that you get your money's worth. There's no chit-chat, apart from a few comments about how nice it is to be back in London, Satch lets his guitar do the talking, and once he gets started there's no stopping him. He even jokes after an extended version of 'Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws', "I know a lot of guitar players are out there and they're going, Joe, the ending of that song was way too long. But I'm here in London and I want to play my guitar!" And play his guitar he did.
Starting with 'Nineteen Eighty' from the Shapeshifting before launching into a few newer tracks 'Sahara' and 'The Elephants of Mars'. Armed with supersonic riffs, otherworldly tones and a wardrobe change of Ibanez guitars Satch had landed.
If you think that all this instrumental noodling would be a brain salad soup, you'd be wrong. This isn't the symphonic guitar work akin to Malmsteen, it's packed with melody and space, but he's every bit as much a virtuoso player. He makes his guitar sound like a theremin at times and at others uses the whammy bar like rock vocalists would scream. Part of the magic of Satriani is how he's able to bend and tweak his guitar to create truly timeless music.
Guitarists watched in wonder as his fingers hovered above the keyboard darting up and down in a series of hammer-ons, pull-offs and flashy wizardry. There were plenty of random standing ovations and cheers from the crowd. For the uninitiated and non-guitarists in the audience, we were simply able to appreciate the showmanship, artistry, and skill of this legendary musician. On Planet Satch this is business as usual, but for us mere Earthlets, these sounds are like popcorn to our brain, making it jump around full of wonder and excitement.
He's also a great performer. He's part lead guitarist, part frontman and has the energy of both. In fact, his band is instantly watchable on stage too. Kenny's drumming is mesmeric, Bryan stands wide-legged in a rock/metal stance while he carves out a toe-tapping bass groove, and Rai on the keys is a total musical fireball as he lays down some wonderful synth and retro tones. There’s even a bit of interplay between the band too. If you thought this would be a dusty old instrumental show at a theatre, think again!
'Thunder High on the Mountain' and 'Flying in a Blue Dream' gave us some Jeff Beck-inspired music from Satch. 'Shapeshifting' and the emotional 'Teardrops' were a show highlight. As he mixed old and new throughout the set 'One Big Rush' also got dusted off the shelf.
'Crowd Chant' has the audience in a call-and-response song. He makes his guitar sound like a theremin at times and at others uses the whammy bar like rock vocalists would scream. The show ends with how it all began, 'Surfing With the Alien'. Nearly 40 years old, the track still sounds as unique as it did in 1987.
'Always With Me, Always With You’ was played just before the encore as a parting gift from Satch. It’s as schmaltzy as this show gets, it even has a festive quality to it, but the lilting sentimental tune says it all, even without words: he’s glad to be here, and we’re glad to have him back.
Review Cathy Clark and Gerry Driver
Photos by Gerry Driver