Renowned for his melodic sensibility and mind-boggling guitar technique, ringleader Satriani rose to fame in the “hair metal” ‘80s on the strength of the blazing instrumental rock tracks heard on such releases as 1987’s Surfing With the Alien, 1989’s Flying In a Blue Dream, and 1993’s The Extremist.
In 1996 the San Francisco (by way of NYC) shredder teamed with former pupil Steve Vai (David Lee Roth, Whitesnake), and Texas guitar whiz Eric Johnson for the inaugural G3. The first package tour of its kind, G3 promised concertgoers an evening of over-the-top guitar histrionics, as rendered by some of the best players of the day.
The trio delivered.
In fact, the response was so overwhelming that Yngwie Malmsteen, Robert Fripp, Paul Gilbert, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Michael Schenker, Brian May and George Lynch all signed on for later iterations of the traveling guitar showcase, with sole constant Satriani playing the part of affable host. Fans who couldn’t get enough of their favorite guitar heroes’ individual efforts on CD/DVD were soon able to plug the gaps with ensemble releases like G3: Live in Concert (1997), G3: Live in Denver (2004), and G3: Live in Tokyo (2005).
Satriani (who’s performed with Greg Kihn, Mick Jagger, Pat Martino, and Spinal Tap) spent time moonlighting in super-group Chickenfoot (with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, and Chad Smith) between 2009 and 2011 before shifting back to solo work for Black Swans & Wormhole Wizards. The albums Unstoppable Momentum and Shockwave Supernova followed in 2013 and 2015.
His latest effort, What Happens Next, came out last month.
A fifteen-time Grammy nominee and charismatic showman, Satriani leaned heavy on the new disc at the “Rocksino,” with about half of his headlining itinerary given over to barnburners like the up-tempo “Energy,” tribal “Thunder High on the Mountain,” and quirky “Catbot.” Joe also unleashed the hyper-kinetic “Headrush” before quantum-leaping into the past for the dynamic “Circles,” tender “Always With Me, Always With You,” and festive, wah-wah fueled “Summer Song.”
Surfing shuffle “Satch Boogie” made an early appearance, too, alongside the plaintive (and mildly progressive) “Cherry Blossoms,” replete with video images of pink petals and Japanese landscapes with Eastern architecture.
Armed with his sleek custom Ibanez guitars, Joe (whose bald head has become as much a trademark as his ever-present shades) deployed lickety-split legatos, bristling bends, piercing pitch harmonics, and warbling whammy bar bleats—effectively mesmerizing onlookers who’ve come to expect flashes of virtuosity from the six-string demigod. He employed a different instrument for just about every tune, switching from his familiar, mirror-like “Chrome Boy” to other JS models with eye-popping paint jobs (some featuring alien art by Joe himself).
Satriani was joined by longtime associate Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Beer for Dolphins) on keys and guitar, Bryan Beller (Aristocrats, Dethklok) on five-string bass, and Joe Travers (Zappa / Z, Lisa Loeb) on drums. Satriani’s always enlisted high-caliber players for his touring bands, and both Keneally and Beller rose to the occasion on their respective instruments. Keneally came forward to duel (and harmonize) on guitar with Satch during a couple extended jams, proving himself a prodigious string-picker in his own right.
Newcomer Travers was no slouch, either, capably commanding a drum roster formerly occupied by Satriani stickmen Jonathan Mover, Jeff Campitelli, and Marco Minnemann. The Erie, P.A. percussionist got a chance to let loose late in the game, enjoying a noisy-but-nuanced mini-solo just before the climactic G3 encore jam.
But more on that in a minute.
Phil Collen (not Collins) got the party started with a rousing thirty-minute romp seeped in Mississippi blues.
Collen’s best known for his day job—he’s been in Def Leppard (“Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Photograph”) for over thirty-five years—but he acquitted himself marvelously as a soloist (and singer) on this occasion. And since 2014 the English gunslinger’s been mixing rock and roots in the side project Delta Deep, whose self-titled 2015 debut pays homage to the American blues greats of yesteryear.
Phil broke the ice with a cool cover of Billy Cobham (jazz drummer) backtrack “Quadrant 4” and salute-to-Satriani song “Ode to Joe” before welcoming Delta Deep vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook to the stage for “Bless These Blues,” “Burnt Sally,” and Burn-era (1974) Deep Purple classic “Mistreated,” which found Phil tag-teaming some of the verses with dazzling Debbi.
Collen (who favored a Jackson guitar) was accompanied by Cleveland’s own Craig Martini (Paul Gilbert) on bass and Chattanooga native Forrest Robinson (Indie.Arie, TLC, Vic Wooten) on drums.
Collen—who occasionally plays in the power trio Man Raze with bassist Simon Laffy (Girl) and drummer Paul Cook (Sex Pistols)—will regroup with Def Leppard this summer for a team-up tour with Journey (“Don’t Stop Believing,” “Faithfully”).
John Petrucci assumed mid-slot duties with a muscly marathon of prog-tinged metal from solo efforts like 2005’s Suspended Animation.
The hirsute Dream Theater / Liquid Tension Experiment axman wowed on “Jaws of Life” and “Happy Song,” fingers flailing over the frets of his seven-string Music Man JP-model guitar. “Damage Control” was loud and aggressive, but complicated enough to show off Petrucci’s alternate-picking prowess (and the bearded bro’s bulging biceps).
Petrucci’s backup consisted of (Dream Theater) drummer Mike Mangini and (Steve Morse Band bassist) Dave LaRue, who conspired on the rumbling rhythms and turbulent tempos as video clips of chains, gears, and other apropos objects of metallurgy flickered onscreen.
As is tradition with G3, Satriani welcomed his costars back for a triumvirate G3 jam to close the concert.
Remember watching Godzilla battle the three-headed terror King Ghidorah on Saturday afternoon matinees? Think that, but with guitars. Satriani, Collen, and Petrucci traded solos on Deep Purple hit “Highway Star” whenever Blackwell-Cook wasn’t singing, bending notes and tapping the frets furiously. Keneally kicked off Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with a funky clavinet riff, setting the springboard for the guitar trio’s next display of digital debauchery. It was an inspired choice for a cover, considering Jeff Beck’s contributions to the original recording.
The grand finale—“Going Down”—was what Satriani referred to as G3’s “flagship song,” given its use as a closer on previous tours (dating back to 1996). The high-octane Don Nix / Moloch blues classic gave the marquee maestros one last chance to “cut heads,” compare licks, and just plain wail down front.
There was string-skipping and sweep-picking. There were lightning-fast hammer-ons and pull-offs, otherworldly arpeggios, and sundry acts of tremolo-bar terror. At one point Satriani played with his teeth. Later, Satch talked Petrucci out of using a jar of Skippy peanut butter as a glass slide (Petrucci went with a jar of Tostitos salsa instead). There were nods to AC/DC (“Back in Black”) and quotations of “Purple Haze” (Petrucci wielded a violet sparkle guitar).
Heck, there was even a nod to the Wonder Woman movie soundtrack.
In short, it was an evening of glorious guitar magic that would’ve made Jimi Hendrix proud. The average age of the triumvirate marquee may be 57, but the amplified acrobatics of Satriani, Petrucci, and Collen made these casino concertgoers feel like they were 17 again.
The guitarists probably felt that way, too.