Throughout his long and fruitful career Joe Satriani has delivered album after album of sumptuous, irresistible guitar led instrumentals, with his latest and perfectly titled Unstoppable Momentum merely emphasising the point. However even with a studio catalogue now numbering in the mid teens, it is still in the live arena where he and his all-star band, this time consisting of guitarist/keyboard player Mike Keneally, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann, truly come to life. A hot, sweaty night in Glasgow - and you don't get many of those - proved to be no exception.
There can't be many shows that explode into life with a drum solo, especially one where the undoubted star of the night is a guitar player of unmatched skill and panache, but "Cool #9" was introduced by mighty drum pounds and cymbal bursts, Minnemann quickly setting out a standard he'd go on to maintain throughout the entire set. Beller's bass then boomed into the picture before the quirky ball of energy that is Mike Keneally bounced into view adding his undoubted, if less celebrated, six string skills.
The man himself was happy to make a low key entrance enticing the crowd to clap along to the beats and in appreciation of a band who would be allowed to express themselves fully as the evening simply whizzed by, before ripping into the first of a plethora of jaw droppingly impressive fret flurries. However two things make a night with "Satch" the delight it is, with both the gloriously melodic, memorable nature of his music and the sheer verve and joy with which he attacks, caresses and coaxes each note from the trio of guitars at his disposal, proving to be reasons to celebrate. "Devil's Slide" segued into the building atmosphere of the evergreen "Flying In A Blue Dream", Keneally expertly flitting between guitar embellishment and keyboard stabs, before the first new song of the night - the title track from Unstoppable Momentum - received the same ovation its better known set-mates had been afforded.
Happily sitting between the larger club venues and the completely characterless "sheds", Satriani always has the luxury of being able to choose "proper" concert venues to perform in, Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall housing a stage large enough to give the guitar totting trio the freedom to run riot, while their percussion maestro was framed by some dazzling and entertaining videos on the large backdrop. More importantly this is a venue capable of providing a simply sparkling sound, something this style of music undoubtedly needs to hit home with maximum force. "The Weight Of The World" and "Ice 9" rushed past running the full gamut of the Satch catalogue, a huge gap of twenty six years, but no gulf in class, between them. Before Joe introduced "The Crush Of Love" as a song he threw together in six hours or so when his wife was late for dinner - the song initially seeing the light of day as a flexi-disc (remember them??) on Guitar Player magazine! You'd never have known it from this stunning rendition. An octet of newbies - "I'll Put A Stone On Your Cairn", "A Door Into Summer", "Lies And Truths", "Shine On American Dreamer" (which had another stunning video backdrop), "Three Sheets To The Wind", "Jumpin' In", "Jumpin' Out" and "A Celebration" proved that Satch has lost none of the fire and spark that made the classics "Satch Boogie" and "Cryin'" (which punctuated the Unstoppable Momentum tracks to great effect) so essential. The crowd pleasing favourite "Always With Me, Always With You" and the quintessential Satriani number "Surfing With The Alien" closed the main set out , the crowd vociferously mimicking every screech, howl, yowl and swoosh coaxed from his fretboard; something taken to further extremes during the first encore "Crowd Chant" and the steamrolleringly good time "Summer Song". Heading right back to his 1987 debut Joe brought the night to its conclusion with the beautiful, poised "Rubina", a real beauty of a song, even if it is an oddly low-key choice with which to end an evening of energetic virtuosity.
Satriani is a crowd pleaser, an entertainer and a master of his chosen instrument. That he achieves all of those things with a self effacing modesty makes it all the easier to succumb to his impossible to resist charms. The importance and talent of his backing band, especially Keneally who matched his guitar sparring partner time and again and the stick twirling, cymbal smashing Minnemann, can't be overstated - the freedom Satch gives them and the five-string bass master Beller to reinterpret his music also being commendable and the main reason the older songs still sound so fresh. However there's only one reason that tonight became the complete triumph it was and that's the unmistakable, inimitable Joe Satriani. Long may his momentum prove unstoppable!
Pictures courtesy of www.fishbonesphotography.com