Review by Angelina Pelova
Photos by Rich Ward
Joe Satriani’s Earth Tour hit the UK with the gig that blew the roof off Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. It came to us on the back of a successful European leg which saw many dates sold out. Although not quite to capacity, Birmingham was fairly full and happily crowded.
The tour promotes Satriani’s most recent album, 2020’s The Elephants Of Mars, however it is so much more than a CD promo. This is, instead, a celebration of his entire amazing career. The impressive setlist consists of two hours of music traveling across time through his entire collection, including the best hits from his early days. The way it has been compiled left no room for boredom, with varying moods, styles and genres, not letting you think you could possibly predict what may come next. There was a bit of everything, making it a perfect all round repertoire.
Listening to the rock God’s albums, as much as it is enjoyable, does not begin to touch the feeling of witnessing this as a live experience. Some artists simply have to be seen on stage to appreciate just why their influence over the course of rock history is so immense. It is not just the speed of his fingers and the arsenal of mind blowing techniques, but the whole package that has you glued to your seat in an effort not to miss a beat. It felt as if we were mesmerised watching the Maestro work his magic, which is also what makes you realise that the choice of venue, whether intentional or not, was actually spot on. This was not the headbanging type of gig, but, instead, one that envelopes you entirely and makes you want to take each single detail in.
Whether by yourself or with a friend, you’d have found yourself being a part of one big whole: the unity of the band with the audience. Unlike other famous artists I’ve seen on this stage with snobbish, somewhat offstandish pride of being at a ‘proper’ classical venue, Joe and his crew fused the atmosphere into a big warm bubble pulsating with energy. His chemistry with the band was so obvious it charged the gig with happiness. It was only natural for the other band members to get the attention they deserved, too, including the obligatory solos: drums by Kenny Aronoff and keyboards by Rai Thistlethwayte (who also switched to guitar every so often).
Like any true legend, Satriani came across as this wonderful guy who somehow doesn’t seem to realise, or care, just how big he actually is. He clearly doesn’t let it get to his head, which made the concert such an amazing, all-consuming experience.
Naturally, with no vocals, there is no frontman to the band as such, but it sort of makes you wonder if it is Satriani who is the frontman, or is it his guitar (technically, the entire dozen of them, since he went through a gazillion of his signature instruments). His impossibly, inhumanely skillful fingers narrated the stories of his songs just as well as a human voice would. Just take ‘Faceless’ as an example (off the latest album): could you say there is no story and vocal? The weeping melody is so expressive that there is no need for lyrics, or voice: the guitar says it all. The light show, as well as the motion pictures projected on the screens behind, contributed to the music perfectly and gave it that extra narrative dimension that lack of words could potentially require.
The end of the concert couldn’t have arrived faster, and what better finale could there have been than ‘Surfing With The Alien’.
Setlist Part 1
The Elephants of Mars
Thunder High on the Mountain
One Big Rush
Blue Foot Groovy
Flying in a Blue Dream
Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws
E 104th St NYC 1973
Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me
Luminous Flesh Giants
If I Could Fly
Always With Me, Always With You
Surfing With the Alien