In a world full of "American Idol" and cookie-cutter pop stars, it's rare to see a guitarist standing on his own and even rarer to see one perform with total control and virtuosity in his art. On April 4, guitarist Steve Vai and his band, the Breed, took the stage at the UB Center for the Arts, a stop on the Real Illusions Tour 2005. The 2 1/2 -hour show demonstrated the sheer magnitude of Vai's guitar chops and showed musicians just what they have the potential to be.
Vai began studying guitar as a freshman in high school, attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and joined Frank Zappa's band -- his big break. He went on to play in former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth's solo act and also played in Whitesnake and metal band Alcatraz. During 20 plus years, Vai recorded 11 solo albums. The 1990 album, "Passion and Warfare," went gold. His latest, "Real Illusions: Reflections" was released in February; selections performed in concert offered a tantalizing treat to the Buffalo audience.
Opening act Eric Sardinas, with his slick blues slide guitar and raunchy sound, prepared listeners for the full-on aural assault they were about to receive. When the lights dimmed for Vai's entrance, the crowd went wild, and the band dove into one of Steve's face-melting guitar opuses. (Other members of Breed are Buffalo native Billy Sheehan on bass guitar, Tony MacAlpine on guitar/ keyboards, Dave Weiner on guitar, and Jeremy Colson on drums.) The evening was marked by many favorites including "Answers," "The Audience Is Listening" and "Whispering a Prayer." One of the night's most special moments was the band's acoustic set, where Vai injected various snippets of songs including the beautiful "Sisters," and according to him, "the silliest love song ever written." Other songs included "Liberty," "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" and "K'm Pee Du Wee."
Another pleasant surprise was the brand-new cut, "Lotus Feet," which Vai beautifully articulated. Always the showman, Vai performed one song with an interesting headset, rings, and guitar fretboard all covered in lights. The crowning moment of the evening was the soulful Vai favorite, "For the Love of God," which he cleverly saved for the encore.
Steve's guitar technique was nothing short of amazing, employing whammy-bar dive bombs, two-hand tapping, high-pitched harmonics (articulated by his tongue!), blisteringly fast notes, and anything else that one could possibly imagine. But when all is said and done, Vai still knows how to bring a tear to your eye with the absolute beauty of his playing.
It was an especially awesome evening not only for Vai, but also for Buffalo's own Billy Sheehan. He has had platinum albums and has become world-famous, playing with David Lee Roth together with Vai, Mr. Big, Buffalo's own Talas, and solo. Each time Sheehan took a solo, he received a standing ovation from the packed crowd -- a nice homecoming for a guy who's just one of us (hey, he even recommended the best chicken wing joint to the band!).
Vai and the Breed put on a great show (despite the high volume and a few sound problems). It is comforting to know that there are still musicians out there who can incorporate music theory, technique, beauty, soul, and themselves into their music.
For those unfamiliar with Vai, check out "Passion and Warfare." Or go online to www.vai.com.
Leah Hodge is a junior at Cheektowaga Central.