Steve Vai – Fitzgerald Theater – St. Paul, MN – November 18th 2022

Review and photos by Patrick Dunn

Steve Vai – The Inviolate Tour

What an incredible year 2022 has been for live music in the Twin Cities. There seemed to be several desirable acts to choose from on almost any given night and the way shows were lining up on the calendar offered unusual opportunities to see some of your favorite performers back-to-back. The stars aligned beautifully for fans of hard rock guitar with Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, and Steve Vai all passing through the Metro over a span of several weeks. Experiencing separate performances by three top guitar virtuosos one after the other was thrilling and validated just how incredible they all are. It also made me recognize just how unique each one is stylistically as well as from a performance standpoint. While they all had qualities that made them stand out in their own way, I’d have to say wrapping up the trifecta with a Vai show on November 18th truly felt like a Grand Finale.

The epic performance which took place at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul as part of the extensive Inviolate Tour lasted more than two hours and required no opening act. The historic theater was an exceptional fit for the show, offering a quality experience in both sight and sound. The amply suited stage was packed full of gear that was immediately recognizable as Vai’s setup, thanks to two amplifier cabinets front and center branded by his logo design in neon green. A giant video screen proved to be a functional backdrop that was eye catching while effectively displaying content related to each story being told. The planned list of songs was consistent with previous nights on the tour and offered a nice balance between new and legacy material. Bursts of smoke were also incorporated into the performance at random moments for added effect and fortunately didn’t linger much beyond their intended impact.

A lively capacity crowd celebrated Vai’s presence from the moment he appeared onstage wielding a highly reflective signature model Ibanez Jem with custom fret markers that lit up blue. He immediately engaged his fans with an attention-grabbing intro that enabled him to fire off a quick round of blistering scale patterns, ultimately working up to an ascending whammy bar bend that generated excitement and had us all calling out for more.

Transitioning directly into Inviolate’s hardest hitting track Avalancha, made for a brilliant set starter, establishing great vibe and getting things off to a rockin’ start. Jeremy Colson’s pounding beats were a driving force that nicely supported the tune’s upbeat melody which absolutely screams Vai. With a lot of ground already being covered on the 6-string, one standout section had Dave Weiner matching Vai note for note on a harmony battle that was as pleasing as it was precise.

The band’s execution was tight and cohesive, which made a lot of sense after learning most of them have been performing with Vai for 20+ years. The fact that he made a point to introduce them just a few songs in to the show speaks to how much their contribution is valued. They also  each got a chance to shine, first with Phillip Bynoe cutting loose on his monster 6-string bass for a solo section during Lights Are On. Dave Weiner’s tonally rich guitar clinic and Jeremy Colson’s traffic chase themed drum extravaganza were both standalone offerings where the rest of the band actually exited the stage to ensure they had the crowd’s full attention.

An important variable to consider when listening to songs without lyrics is that the task of communicating any intended message or desired emotion is left pretty much up to the instrumentation. Vai has built a career on this very concept and is without question among the best at accomplishing this through his playing. Beyond that, what he adds with emotive facial expressions and full body movement to compliment the notes he plays elevates his performance to another level. This practice was especially recognizable during another fresh track Candle Power, which incorporates hybrid picking along with Vai’s newly innovative “joint shifting” technique. The song’s unique feel was accentuated by his fluid body motion throughout, which helped bring it to life and make it a standout.

Vai took time to interact with the audience and did share insight behind some of the music. The story of how Greenish Blues grew out of an idea that organically came together during a random soundcheck jam was particularly interesting. Incorporating the track into this show provided another layer of depth considering you don’t typically expect to hear a slow blues groove develop at one of his shows. He executed it beautifully and the crowd appeared to be very receptive to the result.

Perhaps the show’s most outrageous component was the unveiling of Vai’s newest multi-neck instrument, the Hydra. Having already seen the Teeth of the Hydra video, I couldn’t wait to see the instrument live and witness Vai conquering it. The tune has a laid-back kind of mysterious feel, but conversely looks like one heck of a challenge in coordination and timing. His movement across all the available strings was super smooth and he managed to nail the performance, certainly earning the positive response he heard back from the crowd.

While the new material had a lot to offer, the familiarity of Vai’s established favorites is what delivered on the crowd’s ultimate expectation. On the heavier side, Building the Church was the all-around best with Bad Horsie winning out on meanest groove. Tender Surrender won out on finesse while Whispering a Prayer was the most captivating. There was no better choice to close the set than For the Love of God and Vai did return for an ambitious encore. Coming full circle on expressing how this show felt like a Grand Finale of guitar mastery, Liberty had the energy to sum it all up and even included fireworks on the video screen during its victorious performance.

Set List:
Giant Balls of Gold
Little Pretty
Tender Surrender
Lights Are On
     Bass Solo (Phillip Bynoe)
     Guitar Solo (Dave Weiner)
Building the Church
Greenish Blues
Bad Horsie
I’m Becoming
Whispering a Prayer
Dyin’ Day
     Drum Solo (Jeremy Colson)
Teeth of the Hydra
Zeus in Chains
For the Love of God
Fire Garden Suite I – Taurus Bulba