G3: Joe Satriani + John Petrucci + Uli Jon Roth
Wednesday 25th April
Hammersmith Apollo, London
Hot on the heels of world-renowned guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani releasing his 16th solo album 'What Happens Next' at the beginning of this year, Satriani revived his G3 Tour entity in the middle of March, with the tour ending this Monday in Birmingham. Playing shows in many European countries, including the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland and more, Satriani landed at London's Hammersmith Apollo on Wednesday night with Dream Theater's John Petrucci and the former Scorpions guitarist guitarist Uli Jon Roth - each guitarist performing their own set which was followed by a brilliant G3 jam at the end of the show. The last time we saw Satriani was also in London, with Chickenfoot at Brixton Academy way back in January 2012, so our sense of expectation was naturally heightened as we sat waiting in our seats with Sammy Hagar's Montrose classic 'Rock Candy' blasting out from the Apollo PA.
Step forward German guitarist Uli Jon Roth, best know as Scorpions lead guitarist and one of the earliest contributors to the Neoclassical Metal genre - although the 63 year old's official tenure with Germany's famous Rock son's actually ended forty years ago. With his trademark (blue) bandana and his white moustache, Roth had strength in numbers with his six piece set up, opening with the Proggy instrumental 'Sky Overture' - an immediate opportunity to showcase one of his transcendental "Sky" guitars, all of which contain extra frets. "Good evening London" - Roth welcomed the crowd - using that well know German expression of "stating the bleedin' obvious" that they were in for a guitarfest tonight. And the signs were certainly good given the quality sound, lighting and backdrop of a big screen - even Roth's long hair was blowing and flowing as they launched into the driving Scorpions Rock and vocal harmonies of 'Sun In My Hand'. Uli Jon dedicated Scorpion's 'We'll Burn The Sky' from 'Taken By Force' to his younger brother and fellow guitarist Zeno who tragically died just over two months ago - its poignancy not only hitting home because of Zeno's photo projected on the big screen, but also the fact that Uli's girlfriend Monika Dannemann had written the lyrics in conjunction with Rudolf Schenker and that indeed Monika took her own life in 1996. That live, almost tangible, organ reverb that we love so much heralded Roth's 'Scorpions Revisited' improvisation 'Rainbow Dream Prelude' before this intro gave way to traditional Michael Schenker Scorpions fare, namely, 'Fly To The Rainbow', Roth needing no excuse for this solo guitar shredfest - a cacophony of sound bouncing and drilling all around the auditorium. Uli rounded off his storming set with the heavy and mystical Scorpions feel of 'The Sails Of Charon' - with a great vocal and yet another outstanding guitar solo. This was already becoming a night of why play just one guitar note when you can play ten. Follow that John Petrucci.
We first saw Dream Theater on the main stage at High Voltage in London's beautiful Victoria Park in July 2011. Our critical opinion that night being "If technical Progressive Metal is your thing then this lot are the genre leaders. If, however, you desire a party band to bring High Voltage to its natural conclusion then the US act are wholly unsuitable. File under opinion divided." Fast forward just under six years later to London's Hammersmith Apollo and our opinion hadn't changed: "The prowess of guitarist John Petrucci shone through again and again ..... This was Prog Metal at its finest and was as good as this author has seen them". Well you can take the boy out of Dream Theatre but you can't take the Tech Metal out of the boy as Petrucci's power trio opened up with a Prog instrumental version of the recent Wonder Woman theme tune 'Wrath Of The Amazons', Petrucci pumping his fist in the air before the heavy bass line of 'Jaws Of Life' from his solo album 'Suspended Animation' - with its to die for solo guitar ending. Wow. "Hello London" - the black bearded Petrucci greeted the crowd - "This is the Metal part of G3!" And he hammered home the point with some unbelievable fret work on 'The Happy Song' which did exactly what it said on the tin making the audience feel like they were on 'Cloud Ten'. The heavy riff of 'Damage Control' - which Petrucci recently admitted he struggles to play live (although it didn't show) - highlighted his awesome engine room, namely some neat sticks work from his Boston Dream Theater mucker and the baseball capped Mike Mangini plus a pounding bass guitar solo from Floridian Dave LaRue. Petrucci finished off his frenetic six song set (well this was Prog after all) with his arm raised in the air for the unreleased 'Glassy Eyed Zombies' and 'Glasgow Kiss', another from 'Suspended Animation' - although the latter was more of an Irish head butt with its Lizzy twang - which, credit to Petrucci, even managed to get a few Proggers present out of their comfy chairs. Now you cannot say much fairer than that!
Since its debut in 1996, Satriani's G3 tour has featured the worlds greatest guitarists (everyone from Steve Vai and Eric Johnson to Steve Lukather and Robert Fripp) and has become a consistent concert hall sell-out attraction in the U.S., South America, Europe, Australia and Japan. This year's G3 US tour finished at the end of February before G3 hit mainland Europe in March in Moscow with Roth replacing Def Leppard lead guitarist Phil Collen on this European leg. The cool shades wearing Satriani made his way on to the Apollo stage fronting his four-piece, opening with the first two tracks off his latest, instrumentally electrifying album, the aptly named 'Energy' - a dynamic opening track full of Rock from start to finish, followed by 'Catbot', more of a drum based track, slowing down mid-track to show-off Joe’s undoubted guitar talent. With an iconic Marshall stack behind him, Satriani enticed the crowd on 'Satch Boogie', from his hairier 1987 album 'Surfing With The Alien', with Joe playing up to the crowd, effortlessly strumming his guitar with his pick in his mouth before the obligatory playing with his teeth. Just to prove there was no lasting damage, Satriani welcomed his Apollo faithful. "It's so good to be here", and then proceeded to introduce his band, namely the keys and extra guitar of the hatted Mike Keneally, Bryan Beller on bass guitar and new Pennsylvanian guy Joe Travers on drums.
Coincidentally the album also features Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple/Black Country Communion) and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), the latter reuniting with Satriani for the first time since their work in the supergroup Chickenfoot. So no pressure then as they launched into 'Cherry Blossoms', a single from the album, full of changing tempos - think Rock ballad meets Focus Prog instrumental - once again complemented by yet another amazing Joe guitar solo. However, it was the the majestic crunching Highlands riff of 'Thunder High On The Mountain' that got the Apollo clapping, with its thumping Hard Rock intro, eventually bowing down to a slower more melodic sound from Joe’s shiny red guitar - the stand out so far. Needless to say, another from the new album 'Super Funky Badass' passed the trades description act with flying colours, as Keneally stepped up to the plate proving that he could play a mean guitar as he dueted with Satriani. Amazing. That was the final song from 'What Happens Next' as Joe decreed "It's time for a little time travel" and a return to 'Surfing With The Alien' with what can only be described as the psychedelia of 'Circles'. However, the delicacy and tenderness of 'Surfing With The Alien's classic 'Always With Me, Always With You', showed, just in case anyone was in any doubt, that Satriani does have a softer underbelly. Yes this man has it all. In contrast, Satriani saved his best for last with his Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammy Award winning 'Summer Song' from 1992's 'The Extremist', where Joe quite simply made his guitar sing.
"Put your hands together and make some noise" demanded Satriani as he welcomed back Roth and Petrucci back on stage for the G3 jam. "We're gonna play a little Deep Purple for you" as vocalist Niklas Turmann joined them on stage for 'Highway Star'! It was three for the price of one as Satriani, Petrucci and Roth proceeded to blow away a holy trinity of guitar classics that also included Hendrix's 'All Along The Watchtower' (with Roth on vocals) and Zep's "Immigrant Song" (with Turmann back on vocals). And that was that. Indeed, our review of 'What Happens Next' concluded that it was a great instrumental album played by great musicians. Well, what actually happened next was that we were privileged to witness G3 - not only a great excuse for a self-indulgent shredfest, but also a brilliant showcase featuring a plethora of awesome musicians. G3 certainly reached its summit tonight.
AJ (photos courtesy of Laurence Harvey)