Joe Satriani @ Colston Hall, Bristol – 18 October 2010

A worldwide guitar hero since his 1987 breakthrough album, ‘Surfing With The Alien’, and with over 10 million albums sold, Joe Satriani continues to push the envelope of modern rock guitar playing.

Currently touring to promote his thirteenth studio album, ‘Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards’, Satch descends upon a packed Bristol Colston Hall, on the second date of his highly anticipated UK tour.

Hiding behind a pair of shades, shaven headed Satriani takes to stage with Allen Whitmann on bass, drummer Jeff Campitelli, Galen Henson his tour manager and additional guitar player, and former Frank Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally on keyboards. For the next two hours, the enthusiastic crowd are treated to 23 career-spanning tracks, including seven from the latest album.

Satriani opens with ‘Ice Nine’ from the classic ‘Surfing With The Alien’, followed by ‘Hordes of Locusts’ from his debut disc ‘Not of This Earth’ and then the title track from the 1989 album, ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’, all completing a spellbinding, jaw-dropping, initial fifteen minutes of guitar skill supremacy.

Rapturous applause and shrills of delight welcome Satch to the microphone for the first of only a few, brief monolgues during his set. He introduces a new offering, ‘Light Years Away’, before continuing with fan favourites ‘Memories’ and ‘War’. Another brief pause takes place prior to ‘Premonition’, ‘Satch Boogie’ and ‘Revelation’.

As the show progresses, it dawns on me that Satriani, amongst all of the technical prowess, has the ability to inject emotion into his music. There is far more than random noodling occurring here, this guy is not just rattling off scale after scale at warp factor 10, as some see it.

Disappointingly, one track that never comes is ‘Surfing With The Alien’, but a host of new and old to pick from include: ‘Pyrrhic Victoria’, ‘Crystal Planet’, ‘Dream Song’, ‘God is Crying’, ‘Andalusia’, ‘Littleworth Lane’, ‘Why’, ‘Wind in the Trees’, ‘Wormhole Wizards’, ‘Always with Me, Always with You’ and ‘Big Bad Moon’.

Of course, if you want to talk guitar technique then the man has everything in his locker. Legato, two-handed tapping, arpeggio tapping, rapid sweep picking, volume swells, harmonics, extreme whammy bar effects, not to mention his trademark compositional use of the pitch axis theory!  But all of this aside, there is deep thought behind his compositions. These may be instrumentals, but these are true “songs”, with melody and refrains throughout.

The night comes to an end with ‘Crowd Chant’ and ‘Summer Song’, but the Bristol crowd don’t want Satch to go. After all, whilst he is clearly very gifted and in complete command of the guitar, there is a sense of mastery and accomplishment just to see him play.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston