Ten years on from his last visit to Dublin, the spellbinding Steve Vai makes his long-awaited return to the capital in support of his remarkable new album Inviolate.
Steve Vai, The Academy, Dublin. 10 June 2022
Words: Brian Boyle
Photo: Dan Butler
When the line ‘Clapton Is God’ was spray-painted on a wall in an Islington underground in London during the swinging sixties, it was most likely a red rag to a bull to those of a deep religious persuasion.
But on a purely musical level, the bold statement that was thrust upon the then-emerging guitarist went on to live up to its audacious billing. And many would say Steve Vai deserved some kind of biblical vandalism in his name, considering the impact his playing has had on his peers and beyond.
His memorable stint as David Lee Roth’s wingman in the glorious decadence of ’80s rock is where he cemented his reputation with gargantuan performances on the Eat Em’ And Smile and Skyscraper albums.
Such is the admiration for the New Yorker that even his ill-fitting stint in Whitesnake didn’t hamper his standing as one of the most forward-thinking guitarists on the planet. And his iconic 1990 award-laden Passion And Warfare is still one of the most influential guitar albums of all time.
And while there’s no ‘Vai is God’ or ‘Vai is the third coming of Jesus Christ’ plastered around Dublin walls, the punters who packed The Academy all came to kneel at the altar of a modern-day genius.
Naturally, this is a different-looking Vai to the one who threw a dozen shapes a second in those colourful Roth videos for Yankee Rose and Just Like Paradise, but he’s ageing nicely.
And following some spacey visuals and a side stage snippet of the aforementioned Yankee Rose, he casually follows his band on stage with his blue LED fretboard to launch into the new song Avalancha. With the surge of excitement in the room palpable, the reaction at its finale shook the light fittings.
While most people in the crowd would have seen Vai before and pretty much know what to expect, what he does with an axe in his hand never ceases to amaze. With Great Balls Of Gold, he left jaws scraping the floor with his effortless sonic tapestries.
A psychedelic trip with another newbie Little Pretty gave punters a chance to breathe before a blues-pumped Tender Surrender saw Vai unleash more notes than your average guitarist would do in a month.
Having just turned 62, the fresh-faced maestro conducted an affectionate happy birthday, to which he jokingly remarked, “you sound ridiculous but thank you very much.”
Unlike a lot of his peers, and they don’t need naming, Vai is pretty much devoid of an ego, and he proudly shows off his scintillating band with masterclass solo slots, and rhythm guitarist Dave Weiner showed why he is the perfect partner for Vai.
With Dublin awash with torrential summer shows all day, the heat in the city was still at a sticky level, and with 800 patrons crammed into The Academy, the sweat was teaming off the four walls. But the fan-assisted Vai was still a ball of energy, tearing the place apart on Building The Church, where his whammy bar was worked to the bone.
Before Bad Horsie, audio and visuals of a 26-year-old Vai in a guitar duel with Karate Kid Ralph Macchio in the 1986 movie Crossroads added a comforting element of nostalgia to the evening.
The Grammy-nominated and Ireland-inspired Whispering A Prayer felt right at home in its Celtic surroundings, and its homely tones struck a chord with the transfixed audience.
A roar of “you wanna a few more songs” was met with expected enthusiasm, one quick-witted punter replied, “who gave you permission to talk”. Vai took the hint and hit the crowd with two slices of his Passion And Warfare album, the free-spirited Liberty followed by For The Love Of God, where the song’s elaborate promo video displayed above added to the majesty.
Tonight was an honour and a pleasure to breathe the same air with one of the finest musicians to pick up a guitar. Simply stunning. I think he’s getting the hang of it.
Steve Vai – Setlist:
Giant Balls of Gold
Lights Are On
Building the Church
Sandman Cloud Mist
Whispering A Prayer
Zeus in Chains
For the Love of God
Fire Garden Suite IV – Taurus Bulba