Steve Vai played House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Saturday, October 1, 2022.
Since his coming into the public eye in the 1980s as part of Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth’s Band, and Whitesnake, Steve Vai has made a name for himself as a virtuoso shredder. Having moved on with a solo career in which he’s recorded various instrumental solo albums, Mr. Vai is keeping busy, still touring the world to entertain countless enthusiasts. This gig at the House of Blues was his long-awaited return to Las Vegas. And it would be my first time seeing him live in concert, despite having been a fan for years.
While I’m certainly a fan of Vai, I will admit that I don’t own too many of his instrumental solo releases, and that my knowledge of his career is mostly limited to the bands he played in back in the 80s, which remain some of my favorites. I was also curious as to what kind of gig we’d be getting. Would it be just Mr. Vai with a guitar? Would he have a backing band? Would there be vocals, or would this be an all-instrumental show depicting Vai’s solo career output? It wasn’t long before I got answers to those questions, and a whole lot more.
Vai took the stage with a trio of backing musicians. His band consists of second guitarist Dave Weiner, bassist Philip Bynoe (wielding a six-string bass, no less), and drummer Jeremy Colson. Playing with Mr. Vai certainly requires talent; his shredder skills mean he’s not an easy man to keep up with! But the three fellow musicians on stage quickly proved themselves capable and up to the task at hand, giving these instrumentals some needed atmosphere.
I don’t get to see a lot of all-instrumental shows, so Vai’s gig was certainly a departure for me, although I mean that in the best of ways. Watching one of the world’s greatest axemen cut loose and do his thing was worth the metaphorical price of admission alone. His ability to keep things fresh throughout was remarkable; how many different sounds this guy can achieve with his axes. He also wielded several of them; this fan eventually lost count of how many different guitars he used throughout the evening! And we certainly saw some interesting ones along the way.
The on-stage atmosphere looked fantastic, largely due to the atmospheric lighting, fog machines, and a massive video screen, with the latter often depicting psychedelic background scenery and Vai’s “name logo.” Things like this can work against an artist if they’re incorporated in a distracting and annoying way, but Vai’s crew had the right idea, creating visuals and atmosphere that enhanced the set rather than taking away from it.
One aspect of this show that Vai greatly impressed me with was that he gave his bandmates a chance to show off. All too often, guys who back “solo artists” are just that – hired guns and nothing more. Vai’s no egomaniac, and even lets his backing musicians to have extended solos of their own, allowing them to show off their musical skills. For me, one of the major highlights of the show was Vai letting guitarist Dave Weiner cut loose on the guitar himself; that this guy isn’t headlining shows in his own right is crazy. Vai’s main Weiner man definitely didn’t fail to impress during this moment, and neither did the two members of the rhythm section in their respective times.
If there’s one minor complaint with the otherwise stellar set, it’s that I would loved to have gotten some instrumental versions of songs that Vai played on with other artists. Why not get full-length instrumental takes on “God Blessed Video” by Alcatrazz and any one of those many Whitesnake songs? I understand Mr. Vai want’s to show off material uniquely his own, however, and am certainly not upset with the show I got.
Steve Vai shreds like he always has. That’s one of the few certainties in this ever-changing crazy world, and I’ll never get tired of watching him do his thing. Bynoe, Weiner, and Colson are fantastic bandmates, and brought their best to the forefront as well. I’ve seen many nights of rock and roll in 2022 packed with killer guitar solos and riffs, but Mr. Vai’s was one of the best! Absolutely go see him if he hits up your town.
Live photos by Courtney Ware for ZrockR Magazine 2022. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.