Back in the mid eighties, when Joe Satriani first hit the rock scene, there were numerous guitar instrumentalists knocking on the door of main stream acceptance. However with the possible exception of Steve Vai and Vinnie Moore, Satch was the only one to really make that breakthrough and when Joe and his band hit the stage in Glasgow, it is still easy to see why. Somehow Satriani mixes his blinding fret board pyrotechnics with memorable catchy songs that carry a groove so heavy that when he fires out riff after riff it nearly knocks you off your feet. Add to that a shy showmanship that is very endearing and the fact that you can guarantee that he will always show up with musicians just as talented as he is, and you have the perfect recipe for a phenomenal show.
The first time I saw him, Joe was fronting a three piece outfit; however in recent years Satch has begun to augment his live sound with a few extra band members and I have to say that it has proved to be a wise move. Galen Henson, who is also Joe's tour manager, handles rhythm guitar duties, providing some extra oomph to the sound (although he could do with being a little more prominent in the mix) and while Mike Keneally has been providing keyboards on the rest of this tour, having an unavoidable prior engagement with Steve Vai means that tonight we have the excellent Jem Godfrey (Frost*) deputising and a remarkably assured performance he gives too. The rest of the band is made up by the towering figure of bassist Allen Whitman (Mermen), who prowls the stage like some ancient mythical giant and Satriani's long time percussive collaborator Jeff Campitelli.
It's plain right from the outset that Satriani means business as we are treated to three classics from the Satch catalogue, "Ice 9", "Hordes Of Locusts" and the gloriously melodic "Flying In A Blue Dream" and even this early it is clear we are in for a treat. The latter of the three songs illustrates what a shrewd move it is to have added a second guitarist, with Henson's acoustic strumming adding a real depth that would have otherwise been lost. However as the show moves on, the set-list becomes a fantastic mix of old and new, as well as fast and slow, with the mighty groove-fest that is "Light Years Away" introducing the first of eight tracks from Satriani's fantastic recent release Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards that are liberally sprinkled through the two and a half hour set. As you would expect Satch himself is a blur of skill and talent on the guitar, with hammer-ons, finger picking and even some moments where he uses his teeth to play, breaking up the frenzied fret fireworks, although he isn't afraid to slow things down either. The audience is a great mix of young and old and while there are more than a hand full of guitar obsessive's, literally sitting on the edge of their seat in admiration at the great man's virtuosity, the majority of the crowd are just here to rock out to some of the mightiest, melodic riffs you will hear anywhere.
The key to Satriani's success is his ability to sprinkle his amazing playing over riffs and melodies that are catchy as hell and as danceable as they are impressive and in Jeff Campitelli, he has a drummer who can really lay down a groove that allows the music to remain firmly rooted, even while the main guitar is firing out remarkable tangents. The highlights in tonight's set are too many to mention, however from the new songs, the rock steady bass thump of "Wormhole Wizards" and gentle wah-wah atmospherics of "Dream Song", where Godfrey stars on keyboards, prove a match for any of the songs from Joe's past. That said the crowd almost takes the roof off the Clyde Auditorium when the band burst into "The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing" (to which Godfrey adds a joyous cowbell thunk), "Satch Boogie" and main set closer, and Joe's only vocal performance of the night "Big Bad Moon". Even that is nothing compared to noise made for the two encores "Crowd Chant" and "Surfing With Alien", which is still as jaw dropping as it was the first time you heard it.
Joe Satriani has set the standard for this style of music for many years and on the evidence of this show, he will continue to do so for many more to come. Fantastic songs, awesome musicianship, twenty four songs and two and a half hours worth of music – does it get any better than this?