July 19, 2001
The Tabernacle-Atlanta, GA
Guitar freaks from around the South converged on The Tabernacle in droves on a Thursday night to be regaled with pure flash and six-string pyrotechnics from the three uber-guitarists featured on this years G3 bill. Opening the show was Dream Theaters John Petrucci. He and his band displayed their neo-classical metal chops with lightning dexterity and amazing precision. While stage presence was severely lacking (except for his drummer), no one in the sold out crowd seemed to mind. They stared enraptured like an audience at a jazz show, enjoying the nuances and smiling at each other with each new fret-board firework.
Steve Vai was up next and he was way out there. Recently reunited with bassist Billy Sheehan from their days with David Lee Roth, they stormed the building with red sirens and a blistering take of Shyboy. The bassist and guitarist harmonized ungodly fleet fingered licks and Sheehan sang as Vai ran around like a man possessed. The guitarist alternated caressed and tortured his instrument through new tunes like Great Balls Of Gold and Incantation. The former was a throwback to Vais early days with Frank Zappa (was that a bit of Andy thrown in there?). This tune featured a Zoot Allures style melody and a strong emotional guitar hook that took it way beyond the usual noodling guitar hero instrumental. Another former Zappa sideman, Mike Keneally, provided the keyboards and second guitars when necessary. Incantation saw multi-national flags drop behind the band and a more tribal vibe spread through the room. Vai soared effortlessly. Several movements into the song later, he aurally simulated a wind storm before dropping a hypnotic feedback/harmonic section into the tune. The strange thing was that he didnt use his fingers he used his tongue. He acknowledged the ridiculousness with his smiles, but it was clear that he was staking his claim as the nights champion. The musical highlight was a breathtaking and delicate rendition of Whispering A Prayer. Vai is an amazing showman. Reunited with Billy Sheehan, they are at the top of the instrumental rock game.
Joe Satriani arrived bespectacled and shiny headed. While not as flashy (or as entertaining) as Vai, he neither confirmed nor denied whether his position as headliner this evening was warranted. Stating early in the show the he just came to play his guitar, he did just that by performing one fan favorite after the other. The three-piece band also featured the amazing bass playing of Stu Hamm who was arguably more interesting than his leader. Hamm stomped around the stage looking like a cross between John Goodman and Robert Plant and seemed to have a great time. However, the bassist couldnt single handedly pull it away from the execution at the cost of vitality feel that permeated this performance.
Unlike the Vai band, the soul and fun seemed to be missing from Satrianis set. It was like watered down Van Halen without as much humor. His playing was perfect, and the renditions of the tunes were right, but it lacked the feel that great instrumentalists should have. Even throwing in a brief instrumental take of Zeppelins Rock And Roll didnt make things livelier. No matter, the audience stuck with him throughout. Summer Song is famous for its commercial background music status so it got a nice approving roar, but Flying In A Blue Dream and Surfing With The Alien got the biggest response. Still by the end of his solo set, it was clear that Steve Vai had dusted the headliner this evening.
For the four encores all three guitarists and Billy Sheehan returned to the stage for a staggering run-through of a few classic rock staples. ZZ Tops La Grange started it off. Sheehan again took the mic as the guitarists mugged with each other and traded licks. They encouraged one another and tried their personal bests to one up their axed bethren.
None of these guys would be as celebrated as they are without the lingering ghost of Jimi Hendrix, so Voodoo Chile and Little Wing were not surprising choices. Steve Vai actually did an admirable job of the vocal on Little Wing and (no surprise) Voodoo Chile was a free-for-all showdown with John Petrucci doing his best to keep up with the guys on either side of him. Satriani seemed more alive in this environment and did a good job of not letting Vai show him up or was Stevie holding back? Who cares? It was fun. The night ended with the blues of Im Going Down as Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan played off and with each other. By this point, the 3 in G3 were simultaneously soloing and the crowd was left at a fever pitch when the musicians took their final bows a few minutes later. (Chris McKay/concertshots.com)