Joe Satriani soars at the House of Blues

A review of Joe Satriani at the House of Blues on December 9, 2010

, Staff Writer

After rocking out with the supergroup Chickenfoot, guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani is back on the road for a solo tour in support of his brand new fourteenth studio album, Black Swans And Wormholes. Hitting Boston’s House of Blues on Thursday night, Satriani dropped a number of tunes from the new album, as well as several old favorites, putting the crowd through a two-hour exercise in face-melting guitar solos.

Right off the bat with “Ice 9”, it became clear what Satriani’s live show is all about: his guitar. There are no vocals (save the very last song of the set), rather the human voice is replace with the guitar. Satriani, sporting his signature of look of shaved head and sunglasses with a basic black t-shirt and jeans, let his instrument do all the talking, busting out a seemingly-endless string of runs and trills. The guitar’s tone was impeccable – sharp and classic-sounding. A backdrop of psychedelic visuals played throughout the show, changing with each song. The whole experience was a straight-up rock show, which sadly is an increasingly rare occurrence these days.

Of course, the meat of the show was the guitar solos: the composed sections of songs only lasted two or three minutes, leaving Satriani to shred for the rest of the time. Listening to his solos reminds you of what you take for granted with the guitar: fast licks and finger-tapping is pretty common nowadays, and the impact of hearing virtuosic guitar playing is lessened as a result. When it’s live, though, and you can actually watch Satriani’s hands fly up and down the frets, all of that appreciation comes rushing back. “Memories”, which is over twenty years old, sounds just as insane now as it did back in the 80s. Satriani’s composition style hasn’t changed much since then, either. “Premonition”, which kicks off Black Swans And Wormholes, would be right at home on any progressive compilation of the past two decades, alternating rhythms and space-y synths swirling in the background. Satriani was particularly into this one, posing in all the classic guitar stances, nodding and pointing into the audience.

Towards the end of the set, the band gave the audience a bit of a break from the hard rock tunes, going acoustic briefly for “Andalusia”, a sort of flamenco tune. Of course, Satriani can shred on an acoustic guitar as well, and did, but it was nice to have some time off from his trademark songs. “Littleworth Lane” was a nice power ballad, though arguably the show’s weakest point. Satriani is clearly at his best when he’s going fast, sounding almost a little cliche when he’s working a slower tune. After shredding some more with “Always With Me, Always With You” and “Wind In The Trees”, the set ended with “Big Bad Moon”, an older song, and the only point in the show that featured any sort of vocal work. The encore was first a song of Joe playing brief guitar licks and had the audience repeat the line back to him, “Crowd Chant”, and the show closed with “Summer Song”.

Essentially, a Joe Satriani show is two hours of the middle guitar solo part of an 80s metal song. It’s a lot of fun, but can be a bit fatiguing to go through for a long period of time. Having said that, it’s hard to argue that there is a technically better guitar player out there right now. It’s astounding what the man can do with the instrument, taking it to ranges and making sounds you never thought possible. It’s worth going to see the man play, if only because he’s a classic guitar virtuoso, and has continued to be one of the best out there for over twenty years.

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