I tend towards social media sound bites when compiling a review at the actual venue. I email myself two and three-word descriptions unless my thought process absolutely warrants more. So it was with some amusement on Saturday morning when I read the opening gambit from last nights flurry of emails.
Old school sweeps. Esoteric winged horse imagery.
In this, the age of tweets, acronyms and limited word counts thus would probably be enough to describe Uli John Roth’s portion of the 2018 G3 world tour. It would certainly not be fair or judicious to such a well respected and influential guitarist. This is as diverse as G3 gets, for many years Joe, John and Stevie have been the mainstay of the American and European legs of the tour with the odd change here or there. Uli, who’s influence was the major portion of Malmsteen's early learning was one of the first devotees to the neoclassical sound, now made most famous by the aforementioned Swede. Roth is first and foremost famous for his time with Scorpions, those of “Wind of change” fame. Unfortunately, that fame was to come long after Roth had departed the band. Roth has the look of a Buck Rogers character, spacey, hippy a bit like he owns a brigade of robots, that on single command can produce a symphonic prog-rock battle hymn.
The Manchester Apollo is a grand theatre, an Art deco cinema that stopped showing films in the 1970’s. It still has a cinematic feel, the seats are low and the stage is wide. The backdrop for the tour, a wide screen, projecting various imagery important to each guitarists was a perfect choice for this venue.
Roth trips through a few sweeps, he is the most undistorted of the three, his legato is flawless, and as you would expect from a player who is less shred and more rock, he rips through pentatonic hammer-ons and bends. He is far less chromatic than Petrucci and a lot more restrained than Satch. The songs thus are given an orchestral flair, building into majestic crescendos (Sky Overture). The background a psychedelic blur orbiting Roth’s winged horse logo. Roth comes across really well, he clearly enjoys the Apollo and states as much, he berates the number of notes that we will be subjected too with a laugh.
Zeno, Uli’s brother passed away, recently it turns out. Roth introduces “We’ll burn the sky” as a tribute to his brother. It’s not melancholy at all, it’s a European eighties cock rock tapestry. By the fourth song I was starting to pick out a few unusual influences, I think Vai may have had some impact on Roth, those more colourful phrases, the big keyboard sounds. It was good to see, someone who is clearly keen to keep learning, keep improving. His signature axe, the sky guitar, made by Roth himself is a large, partially mirrored beast. He elicits the sounds of the Luftwaffe as they swoop above our heads from speaker to speaker. It shakes the seats and is an actual marvel to hear. Roth’s portion of the show draws to a close, I was left bewildered but definitely impressed.
I suspect, and I could be wrong, that the audience was quite evenly split down the middle in it’s primary reason for attendance. There was the Satriani camp and the Petrucci Camp and Uli John Roth was the unknown entity. This in of itself shows how far Petrucci has come since first picking up his guitar with Dream Theater. A complex mix of progressive, avant-garde virtuosity trying to find it’s feet in a metal scene that was being drowned out by hip hop.
Petrucci is an honest guitarist, he very rarely wavers from that very rigid style of playing, lots of chromatic runs, elegant sweeps and two whole tone bends at the end of the bar. The real enjoyment of Petrucci comes in that most thunderous chug, and the ability to write, play and articulate such complex rhythms. I’m not saying we aren’t there for the immaculate picking and sweeping, we are. What differentiates him though is the thunder, and the Majesty no pun intended. His signature guitar is a masterpiece of guitar engineering and design and really needs to be played to be believed.
His newest and most expensive guitar was used to showcase a song not on any album, Glassey Eyed Zombies, a sinister F# major riff with a touch of auto-wah, played in a striking and unnerving time signature. The pace of which lumbered on relentlessly, building until finally you are that zombie, nodding looking for more guitar to feast upon.
Damage Control is a prime example of what Petrucci does best. A gargantuan rhythm peppered with complex melodies, themselves further dissected into superfast runs and sweeps (with the occasional pentatonic widddle thrown in). You can hear that Petrucci has an ear for the more exotic musical landscapes as his music is littered with eastern, European middle eastern scales. It’s so evident on first listen but the depth is there. Petrucci’s logo is basic and looks home-made, the screen projects scenes of the night sky and changing landscapes, he ends the night with a song called Glasgow Kiss, a celtic tribute that isn’t a million miles away from Satch in his later years. Petrucci is the smoothest guitarist I think I’ve ever seen, he is flawless and for everyone here that means something, striving for a level of technique only appreciated in classical music, but you’re a rock star.
Let’s be clear from the outset, I am in the Joe camp. Deep, very deep in the Joe camp. When the ok was given for press/photo access I’d already started writing glorious words for the great and wizardly Satriani. Alas, professionalism and intellect kicked in. Just wait. “Satch boogie” might be shit live. I can’t emphasise enough how important Satch was when I was a whipper snapper. I had Ibanez posters on my wall, not rock stars, pictures of Joe Satch’s Guitars. I wanted one so badly. When I eventually got my hands on one it was rubbish (An RG variant) and it was sold.
Joe roared onto stage with his mirror JS Ibanez and sunglassed baldness bouncing around the wide platform of the Apollo. The difference between Joe and other guitarists is he really doesn’t need to look at the fretboard ever, not for runs, or tapping or even the trademark whammy dips and trills. The guitar is truly his voice. His music has for the most part been head and shoulders above other instrumentalists, mostly due to his compositional ability. In any given song, he will have a familiar pattern of writing, but his guitar sound will vary, the style will vary, not just complex lead but interesting rhythm and tunings. It’s what’s made joe so special over the years.
By the time "Satch Boogie" swings into life I’m in full nostalgia mode, he runs through some classics, "Circles", "Always With Me, Always With You" from "Surfing With The Alien" and "Summer Song". If somehow you wandered over to Rockflesh.com and are not totally familiar with Joe satriani’s work or influence, he taught Steve Vai how to play guitar, Steve Vai! If that isn’t enough and you happen to be a bemused metalhead completely unfamiliar with this kind of shred guitar, he also taught Kirk Hammet (Metallica), Alex Skolnick (Testament), Larry LaLonde (Primus), Rick Hunolt (Exodus) and David Bryson (Counting Crowes).
I’d never heard "Always With Me, Always With You" played live before, except when I played it, poorly along to a backing track. It’s a beautiful song, it’s stayed with me for all these years. There isn’t a week that goes by it doesn’t get an airing. Back then, when Flying in a blue dream came out, it was very difficult to get access to footage of musicians like Satch. His music and others like it was considered niche. He toured the states, but the likelihood of coming over here where none. I remember BBC Two airing a programme of live music from Spain called guitar legends. It featured Steve Vai, Joe Satch, Nuno Bettencourt, Joe Walsh and Brian May. That one show probably launched a thousand failed but incredibly happy guitarists, and quite a few of them where nodding and clapping along tonight. This middle-aged audience, likely fuelled for the next six months of shredding and Youtube lessons, fat on all the notes devoured through the evening. The highlight of the set was "Thunder High On The Mountain", I won’t say why, just go and listen to that riff.
The last part of the G3 gig is a jam with all three guitarists, their band mates join intermittently. "Highway Star" was the first choice and a staple in the multi guitar jam world. A simple riff with ample room to show off, the sound man was clearly caught off guard as Satch was almost completely silent and Petrucci was louder than the drums (That Majesty I tell ya). I stood at the back, it was fun, and it was good to see such luminaries having fun themselves. The jam looked reasonably improvised, this brings the good and the bad.
Next was "All Along the Watchtower", an often covered Hendrix/Dylan classic. I have heard a number of bands try this to varying degrees of success, personally feel Dave Mathews bands cover is the best so far. Alas this was a jumble of styles and timings in which Roth came out the most unscathed, a natural rock guitar player with a touch of shred sensibility best suited to sixties and seventies rock music was in his element and it made Poor John Petrucci look very stiff, while Joe Satriani played tambourine.
They played us out with a spectacular piece of poor judgement, the trio decided upon the "Immigrant Song" as the next track to Jam. It lost its way really quickly and the vocalist (Roth’s, other, other guitarists (a six-piece band!!!)) was the end of his ability, especially when Satch started harmonising with the guitar. A weird ending to what was a very enjoyable gig.
Written by Paul Flett
Photo by Johann Wierzbicki