The Steve Morse Band kicked into gear prior to the 8 p.m. start time, hoping to sneak a few extra songs into their skimpy opening allotment. While Morse spends most of his time playing with Deep Purple, this was a chance for him to play with just his longtime bass partner Dave LaRue and skins pounder Van Romaine. All three are monster musicians, and Morse’s instrumental compositions gave plenty of room to show off their abilities.
Sadly, the mix was muddy and much of Morse’s jaw-dropping runs were drowned out by the drums. Still, Morse’s punchy classics like “On the Pipe,” “Cruise Control” and “Rising Power” were delivered as tight slabs of instrumental rock, broken up nicely by a chicken scratch country romp and an elegant baroque piece. Morse’s versatility and humility surely opened the eyes of those only familiar with the main event.
After a quick sound check and drum kit clearing, stunt guitarist Joe Satriani took the stage to rowdy applause. By the time he broke into the second track, “The Devil’s Slide” with its eerie “X-files”-like tone, Satriani’s volume was cranked and he was obviously having a good time. The crowd was, too, though in typical Paramount fashion they reserved their displays of affection for in between songs, staying glued to their seats for much of the show.
Satriani does strange and torturous things to his guitars. Not only does he coax them to wail, cry and laugh, he makes them sound like mating dolphins, dental drills and police sirens. And with this nonstop onslaught of instrumental pyrotechnics, Satriani — like many guitar heroes — flirts with allowing his master displays to become excessive or monotonous.
But two things save the “Joe Show Circus” from becoming tedious — his addictive melodies and the talented players supporting them. The melodies of “Flying in a Blue Dream,” “The Crush of Love” and “Ice 9” are so catchy and memorable they propel the songs forward despite the madness Satriani lays over the top of them.
And then there’s the guys on stage. Appearing more mad scientist than musical genius, stealth bomb Mike Keneally looks terribly out of place… that is until he’s trading licks evenly with Satriani on guitar and stunning the crowd with his skills on the keys.
Then there’s stickman Marco Minnemann, who brings a jazzier approach to the somewhat stilted percussion on some of Satch’s studio albums. He’s twirling sticks to dizzying effect and hitting parts of the drums you’ve never heard before. And he’s locked in with bassist Bryan Beller, who projects a subdued stage demeanor but plays rock solid all night long.
The raucous “Satch Boogie” gets people to their feet, while “Cryin’” holds them in a daze. Satriani wisely bounces around his catalog, delivering diversity and pacing that keeps the crowd engaged. They close the regular set with an accelerated version of “Surfing With the Alien” that takes Satriani to his knees and the crowd out of their seats with an overextended, chaotic big ending.
The lights go out. They leave the stage. And the audience chants, “Joe! Joe! Joe!” Their persistence predictably pays off when the band returns to play “Hands In the Air,” featuring a call and return sequence between Satriani’s guitar and the mimicking voices of the crowd. It’s very ’80s arena, but fun, nonetheless. And then the whammy bar and wah wah pedal madness is let entirely loose as they close with one of Satriani’s best pieces, “Summer Song.”
Alan Cox is the president/creative director of Cox Creative, a Highlands Ranch-based creative shop. He works too much, sleeps too little and spends every free moment coaching baseball, shooting images and hanging out with his rowdy sons and rowdier wife. Check out his photos here.
Jason Bullinger is a graphic designer, illustrator and photographer and a new contributor with Reverb.