Sunday, November 16, 2008

Concert Review : Revisiting The Glory Days Of The Guitar Hero With Joe Satriani and Mountain

Joe Satriani
Mountain (Featuring Leslie West and Corky Laing)
The Kiva Auditorium
Albuquerque, New Mexico
November 8, 2008

Concert Review by Nightwatcher

If the era of the guitar hero is past, someone forgot to tell Leslie West and Joe Satriani as they rocked the near capacity house at the Kiva Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Featuring more tone, notes and musical talent than one stage should probably hold, this show was a guitarist's wet dream.

First up were heavy rock legends Mountain, whom, assisted ably by dreadlocked bassist Rev Jones, stormed through an all too brief 45 minute set which consisted of the same sort of heavy blues based riff rock which wowed stages throughout the world (including Woodstock) during the late 60's and early 70's, making fans of not only Hendrix but also Who guitarist Pete Townsend, who tapped one of the kings of tone, guitarist Leslie West to join the legendary British band while they were recording the sessions which became the seminal classic 'Who's Next' in 1971.

It was amazing to see this band, also featuring original drummer Corky Laing, playing such a short set, as during their heyday, three quarters of an hour could damn near consist of a single song, but very cool nonetheless. The perfunctory set still packed a wallop as the trio stormed through classics such as "Blood Of The Sun," "Never In My Life," The dedicated to the late bassist Felix Pappalardi "Nantucket Sleighride," The West, Bruce & Lang era's "Why Dontcha" and "Theme For An Imaginary Western" alongside newer tracks such as Bob Dylan's classic "Blowin' In The Wind," from the band's latest worthy tribute album to the musical legend, 'Masters Of War'. Finally finishing with what must be considered their signature song, the cowbell driven "Mississippi Queen," it was quite apparent that even after all these years, Leslie West remains one of the finest guitarists ever, a true master of his instrument whose massive tone has inspired players from Eddie Van Halen, Michael Schenker all the way through to more modern purveyors of heaviness like Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule.

If there was one drawback to the entire set it was the lack of organ and bassist Pappalardi during the crescendo of "Nantucket Sleighride", a track which grew to epic proportions during their marathon performances at New York's Fillmore East to reach almost 30 minutes in length. Even in condensed form, it still demonstrated considerable brawn, but even at over 7 minutes was akin to hearing a 4 minute version of Lynyrd Skynyd's "Free Bird," Deep Purple's "Child In Time" or UFO's "Rock Bottom" - just when it should've been warming up, it was over. But, such is the fate of being an opening act. Visual relief from the onslaught was brought by bassist Jones, who twirled his dreadlocked hair around so much in a circular motion, one could be excused for thinking he was due for take off any moment. All in all a fine set by one of the originators of what is now considered metal.

Next up was Satriani, whose guitar wizardry has not only spawned one of the most popular and successful solo instrumental guitar careers of the rock era, but earned the admiration (and employ) of legends as Jagger and Deep Purple. Opening in front of a modernistic, almost techno looking background, onto which throughout the show flashed images and photos with the arena rock sounding "I Just Wanna Rock", the guitarist effortlessly cajoled awe inspiring fleet fingered runs from his trusty Ibanez, punctuated by squeals and squawks influenced by Hendrix courtesy of his mastery of the tremolo bar, which in lesser hands could appear show-boaty, yet somehow he held it together all night.Featuring a crack band which included master bassist Stu Hamm (whose bass solo which segued into an instrumental, acoustic sounding version of Zeppelin's "Going To California" was a definite crowd pleasing highlight of the show ) and long time Satch drummer Jeff Campitelli, whose grooves and intricate rhythms combined with Hamm to form a solid backbone for Satriani to soar, the band was incredibly tight. Highlights included "Flying In A Blue Dream," the Van Halen like "Satch Boogie," "Ice 9," "Surfing With The Alien" and "One Big Rush" as well as the radio friendly ballad "Always With You, Always With Me," which is probably the most well known of all the tracks mentioned. Always more effective the more lyrical and melodic his playing is, one of the elements which makes his music more accessible than say, his former student Steve Vai, throughout the over 90 minute set Satriani walked a thin tightrope between hum-able melodies and indulgence, but whatever side your tastes lie on, there is something on display for everyone interested in great musicianship.

While the lack of vocals may be off putting to some, and probably has hindered Satriani in progress in his commercial success since the 80's when his star hit its zenith, if monster guitar playing is what you crave, you will find a lot to be inspired by. With the inclusion of songs on the mega popular 'Guitar Hero' video game, and his current involvement in the "Chickenfoot" project with ex Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar, bassist Michael Anthony and Red Hot Chili Pepper drummer Chad Smith, Satch may find his star on the rise again, and the guitar world will be all the better for it.

Here's some fan produced footage of the opening song by Joe Satriani, "I Just Wanna Rock" live at the Kiva Auditorium, Albuquerque, New Mexico November 8, 2008 :

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