Review by Paul H Birch, photos by Mark Lloyd
Sauntering casually on stage, the Matt Schofield Trio eased into the blues, adding New Orleans shuffle rhythms and a warm, laid back funk vibe along the way. They also rock-it-up some on numbers like ‘Live Wire’, but the focus each time was on the song at hand. So much so that Schofield took his time before leaning into his sunburst finish Strat and striking his first solo of the night, one of several that were fluid and jazz-tinted or in the case of their set-closer imbued with the fiery power of the late Freddie King; Schofield’s versatility demonstrating why he’s won the British Blues Awards Guitarist of the Year since 2010. Drummer Evan Jenkins and Hammond organist Jonny Henderson also got to share solo time, but it’s how the Trio work together that held my attention, notably as the epic tempered slow burn of ‘Where do I Have to Stand?’ moved into passages of wailing frenzy.
After a short intermission those not already in their seats were soon on their way as lights went down, weird noises stirred from the PA, machines poured dry ice in from the sides of the stage and Marco Minnemann laid into his drums as the rest of the band took up positions before a smiling Joe Satriani walked on, strapped up and they let rip with the jazzed-funk rocking ‘Cool #9’ – Within seconds the guitarist was pulling on his whammy bar and dive-bombing like he was ready to invade Planet Earth, stretching out riffs and making his fretboard work overtime while looking like the coolest demon-android you want to get a stage distance away from, decked out in black strides and t-shirt with Ray-bans permanently affixed to his shaved head, throwing shapes and even playing his red Ibanez with his teeth within the first few minutes.
‘Devil’s Slide’ thrashed out nicely next, but the classic ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’ is what raised the crowd’s applause level – It also featured some effective video footage across the back of the stage, as did a number of the songs, working well in conjunction with the light show. Visually, the musicians weren’t the kind of guys you’d expect to see sharing a stage: Bass player Bryan Beller resembles a Bay Area trash metal merchant auditioning for the lead role in a movie about Frank Zappa, keyboard player/guitarist Mike Keneally looks like he’s already working part-time as the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons cartoon show, when playing Satriani acts as if he’s not of this world and Minnemann actually seems pretty normal (and that’s worrying because he’s the drummer!).
Here to promote the new Unstoppable Momentum album assorted tracks were given an airing, notably the title one and the strident cheeriness of ‘A Door into Summer’. In between numbers Satriani changed guitars and chatted amicably to a somewhat subdued seated audience before getting back to entertaining them with some stunningly creative soloing over a series of songs lasting around seven minutes each, making his six string sing lyrically, scream without repentance, and take us on a crushing melodic metal fusion journey, ably assisted by Keneally trading guitar licks with him – There was a certain rehearsed quality to the stage performance but it needed it to play that precisely, and the main man looked cool throughout with the only noticeable sign that he was grafting hard being when he again raised his axe to play with his teeth and there was sweat stain across his t-shirt branded in the shape of the guitar’s body (bet that would fetch a few bob on eBay!).
The crowd themselves became more animated during ‘Satch Boogie’, rose from their seats come ‘Surfing with the Alien’, and let their hair down for some serious audience-participation during ‘Crowd Chant’. I went to the show something of a Satriani virgin but after seeming him live happily confess the depth of his abilities are considerable, and left Wolverhampton upbeat with the sounds of ‘Summer Song’ ringing in my head.
1. Cool #9
2. Devil’s Slide
3. Flying in a Blue Dream
4. Unstoppable Momentum
5. The Weight of the World
6. Ice 9
7. The Crush of Love
8. I’ll Put a Stone on Your Cairn
9. A Door into Summer
10. Lies and Truths
11. Satch Boogie
12. Shine On American Dreamer
13. Three Sheets to the Wind
15. Jumpin’ In
16. Jumpin’ Out
17. A Celebration,
18. Always with Me, Always with You
19. Surfing with the Alien.
Joe Satriani Website: www.satriani.com