There used to be a time when I’d revise the back catalogue of a band/artiste prior to watching a gig. I suppose that behaviour is pretty commonplace. Listening to some bootleg Dylan on the motorway to Newcastle, that’s what we did a couple of years ago.

Well, not this time. I’ve not listened to Steve Vai’s nor Joe Satriani’s current albums. I suppose I kinda prefer their older material. Typical. I felt I should just wing it this evening. Let the music carry my senses to another level kind. Heh!

I bought the tix for the G3 gig in Nottingham a couple of months back and I felt lucky to have bagged myself a decent seat in the house. I’ve watched the Fillmore DVD where they had Yngwie Malmsteen on the bill. I was, however, expecting Robert Fripp to be a totally different kettle of fish.

A different kettle indeed. Fripp’s soundscape was gently laid down just like as if an artist was painting on canvas. No, not trying to sound pretentious here. This was avant garde. Of the relaxing kind. Hypnotic swirls of colours illuminated the background while the processed sound of Fripp’s Les Paul filled the hall with an orchestral feel. Fripp didn’t appear to do much apart from stepping on a switch or two while holding a note. I have to say I wasn’t expecting this on a G3 gig, although this progressive guitar playing was actually expected from this veteran from King Crimson.

Fripp’s short yet interesting set ended to be continued promptly by Steve Vai. Little Stevie Vai, such a nice little boy. With Billy Sheehan on bass and Jeremy Colson on drums in tow, they kicked off with Sheehan’s Shyboy. Sheehan’s mic wasn’t switched on which was an absolute fuck-up by the front of house engineer. Sheesh.

Vai’s guitar acrobatics were simply astounding. How the hell did his Ibanez JEM stay in tune with all that whammy abuse? Vai does have long fingers, and I bet he could spread them up over 7 or 8 frets. I found that I was mouthing every single note that came warbling out from Vai’s guitar throughout his set. *Sad* but I didn’t care 😛

Tony Macalpine and Dave Weiner formed the rest of Vai’s entourage. Macalpine also doubled on the keyboards (he is an accomplished pianist in addition to being a guitar virtuoso). They rattled on with tunes like Answers and Bangkok, with Weiner handling the oriental sounds on the coral sitar.

Whispering A Prayer was superbly done, with Vai playing the notes with every available ounce of energy. And For the Love of God. How can you top that? I saw Vai 11 years ago on the Sex and Religion tour with Devin Townsend, and bloody ‘ell, he’s definitely not lost that touch. If you think you’ve seen it all before, live or on DVD, well I saw it last night.

There was a 20-minute break while the road crew sorted out Satch’s set. With a synthy intro by Robert Fripp, Joe Satriani, Jeff Campitelli, Matt Bissonette and Galen Henson came on stage to rock us with Hands In The Air followed by Satch Boogie. The actual album lineup! Stu Hamm was on bass duties when I last saw Satch at Wembley Arena in 1996. Satch was clad in his (?)funky red sunglasses and this lampshade-ish fishing hat. Though with his guitar playing, he could wear a hula skirt for all I care!

Cool #9, Always with Me Always with You, War and Is There Love in Space were some of the song titles that I could remember. That’s what happens when one hadn’t listen to the current material. Unlike Vai’s set where the entire band were able to showcase their fret-wanking skills, Satch basically ran the show on his set. Whilst Bissonette is a brilliant bassist, I felt sorry for Henson who quietly played his G&L and Les Paul in the background. The finale came with Flying in a Blue Dream, which words just couldn’t describe. Probably one word. Excellent.

The G3 jam went on with Satch’s band providing the backbone of the set. I wondered how Robert Fripp would fit in the grander scale of things that is the G3 jam. I’ve seen how Malmsteen arpeggiated his way through Voodoo Chile on the DVD. But Fripp? The jam commenced with Satch’s own Ice 9 from his Surfing with the Alien album. Nice touches from Vai in the licks section I should say. I wished they had brought in Billy Sheehan for the jam as well. Oh well, too many bassists spoil the mix (?). They went on to perform Red from King Crimson‘s 1974 album, well, Red. To be honest, I’ve only listened to a King Crimson album only once in my life. Like 7 years ago, and that was The Court of the Crimson King lent to me by my professor who used to be this hippie dude when he was a student in Cambridge.

Rocking in the Free World which for me is a staple ditty of a Pearl Jam set list as a tribute to the godfather of grunge, Neil Young, was the finale of all finales of the evening. Fripp’s solo was bizarre albeit refreshing as opposed to Vai and Satch’s straight on rock solo that we all know and love. After more mind-boggling shredding, the gig was finally over. Apparently i could’ve met Vai and Satch if I had waited in the concert hall. It was a school night. I had work the day after. Perhaps in the foreseeable future.

One thing I have to say, whatever your inclination as a guitar player is, experience a G3 gig once. It’s simply an unbelievable experience.

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham set 29.6.04 – Robert Fripp: Threshold Bells / Paradise / Paradise Lost / Paradise Regained Steve Vai: I Know You’re Here / Giant Balls of Gold / Answers / The Reaper / Juice / Whispering a Prayer / Bangkok / I’m The Hell Outta Here / For the Love of God Joe Satriani: Hands in the Air / Satch Boogie / Cool #9 / Gnaahh / I Like The Rain / Up in Flames / Always with Me, Always with You / Searching / Is There Love in Space? / War / Flying in a Blue Dream G3 [Robert Fripp, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani]: Ice 9 / Red (King Crimson cover) / Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)