Review: Joe Satriani – O2 Academy, Glasgow

Any suggestions that after a rocky few years, the live entertainment industry is back to normal can be dispelled by a quick glance at gig listings. Yes, things are better. But even if one gig is listed as “postponed” or, worse, “cancelled”, that is one too many. Multi-national power metal outfit Warkings recently announced that they had to withdraw from a potential UK career-defining slot at Bloodstock Festival because rising costs and travel expenses had made the journey across the channel “unattainable”. All is not well, which means that when an overseas artist is rewarded – for taking the risk and actually putting a tour together – with packed houses, then that is a cause for celebration. And Joe Satriani has been packing them in for decades now.

After what seems like an eternal wait, Satriani’s ‘Elephants of Mars’ UK tour is finally underway and for the legions of Satch fans it is the long-awaited chance to reacquaint themselves with the man that they have been following for some time now. The “casual” Joe Satriani fan doesn’t exist. It’s all or nothing, and the roar that greets Satriani’s arrival is both respectful and loud. As is the noise from 1,500 jaws collectively hitting the floor as he launches into the opening song ‘Nineteen Eighty’ with a display of fretboard fireworks that suggests he might be packing a few extra digits on each hand. Lifted from 2020’s ‘Shapeshifting’ album, it’s the quintessential set-opener. The gradual build in tempo, the stellar cymbal work by drummer-extraordinaire Kenny Aronoff, and just as you are expecting the song to really take off, the thick, rumbling bass licks from Bryan Beller (which are sublime all evening) brings the music back down to earth in a Link Wray-plays-bass kind of way. Glasgow, it’s time to rumble. Can a song without vocals have catchy hooks and melodies? Of course, it can, and ‘Nineteen Eighty’ is a fantastic example of instrumental melodies that are easy to vocalise along with. Great opener, and within a few minutes it is easy to see why Beller has earned the nickname of “The Beast”.

From here on in, it is a two-hour-plus masterclass of how to build a set that tips the hat to new material as well as delivering the classics; with its delightful sweeping Middle-eastern tinges, new track ‘Sahara’ is an early standout and it’s easy to find yourself getting lost in the lavish guitar work from the maestro, as well as feeling every thud from the kick drum courtesy of Aronoff. Combining with the ballsier title track to ‘The Elephants of Mars’ (love the Bolero-esque drum fills from Aronoff that give way to Satriani flooring it before a mid-song jam from all) this is a killer one-two of new material. And to balance it all out, here comes the first visit to the iconic ‘Surfing with the Alien’ album (36 years old, really?) in the guise of the utterly hypnotic ‘Ice 9’. Another highlight in the first of two sets would be the dreamy tones of ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’ where the large screen behind the band is put to good use and later on when the bank of blue lights changes to warm reds and yellows for what else but ‘Summer Song’.

After a short interval, the second set arrives complete with solos from Aronoff and Satriani’s uber-talented keyboard player Rai Thistlethwayte (who also straps on a guitar to help out on the aforementioned ‘Summer Song’). The second set features an abundance of Satriani classics as the evening races to the encore section, but one of the standouts is a newer moment: the wah-wah fuelled ‘E 104th St NYC 1973’ which brings a Hendrix-like touch here and there. It certainly holds its own amongst a flurry of tracks lifted from ‘Shapeshifting’ including ‘Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me’ and ‘Teardrops’, and Satriani staples such as ‘Cool #9’, ‘Luminous Flesh Giants’, ‘If I Could Fly’ and of course main set-closer ‘Satch Boogie’ which still bangs one almighty wallop four decades on. Only one track could end the show and that is of course the always-incredible ‘Surfing with the Alien’ where Satriani proves time and time again why he is the one true King and the one to topple from the iron throne – a throne this time not made out of swords, but made out of guitars.

All current and forthcoming live shows from Joe Satriani are available here.

Live images – Callum Scott


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