An Evening with STEVE VAI at The Ritz in Manchester, UK
Words and Photos by Rob Stuart
I arrived at the venue around 7-ish after a 300-mile drive in the morning. Traffic, hot weather, and two stressy kids in tow made my journey amazing (note the sarcasm). I was determined to make this gig, under no circumstances was I going to miss it. It was my first time at The Ritz in Manchester, quite an intimate venue (in my opinion) for the likes of the legend that is Steve Vai.
Upon arriving at the venue, I entered the room full of all ages, which surprised me as it was the 25th Anniversary of Steve’s Passion and Warfare album, not something you would expect 17-year-olds to be into nowadays, which proves that excellent music will never die! However, that’s a story for another day.
I grew up, listening to Steve Vai, courtesy of my Nans fella many years ago. So, for me to be photographing Steve in an official capacity, and watching one of my heroes after never having the opportunity to see him play is something that will stay with me forever.
You could feel the excitement as you entered. The heat was stifling but this didn’t put anyone off though. I battled my way to the front of the stage, got a drink and hung around for 20 minutes soaking up the atmosphere before entering the photo pit.
On the massive screen behind, the infamous guitar dual scene from “Crossroads” starts to play, which provokes almighty cheering from the crowd as they know what is coming!
Lights down, silence fell across the audience as Steve walked out onto the stage like a god, wearing green neon sunglasses and a YMYW fiber-optic hoody, portraying him quite aptly as the neon, space, mythical guitarist he is. Opening with the first song of the evening, Steve thunders into ‘Bad Horsie” which gets everyone pumped! I forget for a second I am supposed to be photographing this guy, his stage presence and the commitment he puts into his craft is amazing to watch. Steve followed ‘Bad Horsie‘ with ‘The Attitude Song,’ ‘Gravity Storm,’ and one of my favourites, ‘Whispering a Prayer.’
Passion and Warfare was in the making 30 years ago, however, I wasn’t aware that Steve had never toured with the release of the album 25 years ago. I assumed he had, as it’s one of the most popular albums that he has released. Anyway, following on from the spectacular opening of the show, Steve ditched all the neon stuff, changed his guitar and opened the next phase of the show with ‘Liberty’ off the Passion and Warfare album, which if anyone doesn’t know was inspired based on a series of dreams that Steve had when he was younger. Steve summed this up as “Jimi Hendrix meets Jesus Christ at a party that Ben Hur threw for Mel Blanc.”
Now the ‘Build Me a Song’ part of the show was cool. I wouldn’t have expected Steve to get audience members on the stage, and I couldn’t work out why at first as he didn’t announce that it was ‘Build Me a Song.’ The audience members basically had to provide mentally creative tunes off the top of their heads, one for the bass and one for Steve himself. Steve, by doing this, showed his skills as guitarist by basically playing anything that anybody sang at him regardless of how crazy it was. He let the two audience members stay on the stage for the remainder of the last song.
From the opening, right to the very end of the show, Steve held his audience in a way that only Steve Vai can. I, for one, was captivated by the sheer showmanship, from the heavy, dirty chunky riffs of ‘Bad Horsie’ to the delicate notes of ‘Ballerina,’ there wasn’t a note out of place all evening. Pinch harmonics, use of the tremolo arm that I thought were going to break his guitar; he even took it off at one point and used his guitar like a xylophone. The guy’s got skills!