Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Concert Review: Joe Satriani w/ Mountain - Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg, MB, 10/06/2008

Numbing guitar solos wear you out in this otherwise stunning evening of instrumental prowess.

Attendance: 1646 (sold out)

I was surprised by the number of old rock fans in the audience. Grey hair and balding heads were everywhere. Clearly, a chance to see Mountain, one of the classic rock's most popular early 1970's bands, was too much to resist for these 50 and 60-something fans.

Leslie West's vocals weren't great but he performed adequately on the electric guitar, neither speedy or full of finesse, compared to Satriani, but in command of huge riffs and power chords. Drummer Corky Laing (60) looked a bit like Arthur Fonzarelli, if the Fonz had frizzy hair, and he had a blast. Throughout the set, and especially towards the end, Laing would point at audience members and then let loose a drum stick at one of the cymbals, allowing it to whirl away into the crowd. No doubt, many fans went home with souvenirs.

I didn't recognize the songs that they played towards to beginning of their set. I did know the blues classic "Crossroads" (A cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind," which seemed like an ineffective cover to me.) and their best known tune, "Mississippi Queen." Some members of the crowd, perhaps fueled by beer, were particularly boisterous, calling out to West and Laing, with requests for "Mississippi Queen" and offering words of approval and encouragement for their playing. Mountain are touring in support of Masters of War, an album of Bob Dylan covers.
Joe Satriani (52) is a monster on the electric guitar, and I enjoyed his performance the most when he was playing the old classic tunes that I recognized, as well as when he slowed things down a bit and sustained notes. In fact, during the tunes that were chock full of endless fast noodling, I found myself being numb to his playing and, truthfully, getting bored.

Highlights for me included "Flying In A Blue Dream," "Ice 9," "Surfing With The Alien" and "One Big Rush." I wasn't so keen on the show's opener, "I Just Wanna Rock," the first track from the new album, Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock. It sounded like something you would expect from KISS, AC/DC, or any other purveyor of overly simple rock, not something from this metal maestro. I was quite impressed with another track from that album that was played towards the end of the show, "Asik Vaysel." With an exotic opening and beats, it's about a Turkish musician and poet who died in 1973. Like every artist, it's not enough to be a great instrumentalist to have a lasting career. You need songs that people can remember. Satriani played several that I didn't know and didn't stick in my head. The ones that I did recognize, however, were fantastic, particularly, the slow, dreamy, and hypnotic "Flying In A Blue Dream," from his third album.

Bassist Stuart Hamm (48) is also well- known among rock instrumental fans, and he wowed the audience with a solo that ran the gamut from sounding like an acoustic guitar while playing Led Zeppelin's "Going To California," to the slapping-fing popping style not unlike what you hear in the music used in the Seinfeld show, to foot-stompin' honkytonk, perfect for a hoedown. Hamm has played and recorded with the cream of the crop rock musicians, including Satriani student Steve Vai, as well as guitarists Frank Gambale and Eric Johnson.

During the final song in the encore, Leslie West (62) appeared to sing and have a bit of a guitar duel with Satriani.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Satriani about 21 years ago and then seeing him at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall. He's very humble but it is apparent that his recording output has not translated into the ability to headline arenas. In fact, one could argue that since radio doesn't play his style of music very much, his career has remained static commercially. Artistically, he's arguably the best-known instrumental rock or metal guitarist in the world and has played with everyone. He's released 12 albums in the last 22 years and continues to be in demand as a guest musician on other people's albums and on the road as a touring act.

The merchandise booth had the 2007 live album by Stuart Hamm for sale but not the new or any, Satriani album, curiously.

I would see Joe Satriani again and my rating for this show is 4/5.

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