Joe Satriani @Cirque Royal, Brussels BE – 30 October 2010

by g253, 30 October 2010

First of all I should say that I had only heard of Satriani, so I went to the show quite clueless about what to expect. I knew I would see a technically brilliant guitar player, but little else. So if any huge fans read this, forgive my candor. I was sort of replacing Ywannish at the last minute, for which I am very grateful, even more so now that I’ve just come back from the concert.

It’s metal Jim, but not as we know it.

On the one hand, Satriani has been a huge influence on many metal guitarists, and everything about his music, the kind of riffs he plays, even the keys and scales he uses, sounds at the very least inspired by metal. On the other hand, the lady sitting in front of me kept falling asleep, even though she was obviously struggling not to. Now she may have been exhausted, but honestly: run a marathon, deprive yourself of sleep for 24 hours, take a couple of sleeping pills, then go to a Motörhead show and try to fall asleep. Try it, I dare you. You can’t, because Lemmy rocks too fucking hard.

I was initially disconcerted by the choice of venue as well: beautiful place, and I was privileged to have an excellent seat, but you see, there were only seats. No standing places whatsoever. The thought occurred to me that if I wanted to sit down comfortably, pick my nose and raise the occasional appreciative eyebrow, I would go to a jazz concert. The relatively advanced age of the majority of the audience did little to appease my worries.

But then when the show started, I completely got it: the acoustics at the Cirque Royal are stunning. The sound was loud enough yet absolutely crystal clear. And as for the rest of the audience, well I didn’t care, I was just glad to be among them.

While the opening act had struggled a bit to grab the our attention (it was the kind of band that is really good, yet you completely forget what they played the moment they finish), as soon as Satriani arrived on stage everyone was entirely into it. And I really mean as soon as he arrived on stage: one moment there was darkness and silence, the next there was rocking and soloing and lights and clapping of hands. It was like an instant hard-on, with no transition through semi-flaccidity.

The demoscene meets Pokemon.

During the show unfortunately, I kept being distracted from the music by the light show: a blend of mid-nineties computer effects (lots of bump-mapped tunnels and starfields, kinda cool), seizure-inducing flashes (annoying), and pre-recorded images of Joe playing, with lots of zooms on his highly skilled and agile hands (outright lame).

But the music, ah, folks, the music was stunning. In fact I felt like I should just close my eyes to filter out all the distraction. I had never heard any of his material, but if you have the slightest fondness for the electric guitar, it’s impossible not to be mesmerised and dragged away (incidentally, if you’ve ever tried to play one, it’s impossible not to feel jealous).

As I’m not familiar with Satriani’s discography, I can’t comment on the setlist – it was all a beautiful blur to me, constantly changing styles and tempo and jumping seamlessly from heavy rhythms to eerie melodies to shredding solos. There was the occasional chat with the audience, introduction of the musicians or of specific songs, but on the whole it was very tight and gripping.

A generous bout of wanking.

Joe Satriani seemed genuinely happy to be there, but I couldn’t shake off a feeling that I was just watching him play with himself. I think he’s just happy when he’s got a guitar in his hands frankly, and an audience is just a nice bonus. Nevertheless, they played for more than two and a half hours, and well, when you’re that talented you’re allowed to show off a little. Still, I thought it was a shame that only the keyboard player got a few moments to shine on his own, and I didn’t get that feeling of “we just play three chords but we’re having the time of our lives and you’re all a part of it” that can make some concerts so special. I was impressed and moved by the music, but I sort of wish Satriani was playing in a band, not with a backing band (also, Joe, don’t play with your teeth unless you’re high on heroin: it just looks like you wanna be in Spinal Tap).

Not just tasty, but subtly savoury.

To summarise, if you know and love his music, grab a ticket for a show, first chance you get. You won’t be disappointed. If you don’t, go anyway, you’ll be blown away. But go to listen to him, not to watch him. And don’t expect to be banging your head an jumping around: this is musical gastronomy, to be enjoyed as a special treat and dazzle your ears with hitherto unknown flavours, not a cathartic venting of collective emotions. This is an outstanding display of musical prowess from someone who is either a mutant or has sold his soul to the devil – not a metaphorical punch in the face. I for one have enjoyed this delicacy quite a lot.

With my thanks to my hostess for the hospitality, I bid you farewell.


Setlist: 1. Ice 9 2. Hordes of Locusts 3. Flying In A Blue Dream 4. Light Years Away 5. Memories 6. War 7. Premonition 8. Satch Boogie 9. Revelation 10. Pyrrhic Victoria 11. Crystal Planet 12. The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing 13. Dream Song 14. God Is Crying 15. Andalusia 16. Littleworth Lane 17. Why 18. Wind In The Trees 19. Always With Me, Always With You 20. Big Bad Moon – Encore: Crowd Chant, Summer Song


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