Joe Satriani
Steve Morse Band

August 31, 2013
The Orpheum Theater
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

With Chickenfoot on break, guitarist Joe Satriani returned to the studio to record Unstoppable Momentum, his 14th solo album. And like any self-respecting musician with an album to promote, he hit the road for a late summer/early fall tour, supported by a band that includes Frank Zappa alumnus keyboardist and guitarist Mike Keneally, drummer Marco Minnemann and bassist Bryan Beller. The Steve Morse Band was added as opening act for most of the dates. The tour’s third stop was in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theater, and the guitar fanatics were out in full force to see two of the best who, each in their own way, have practically redefined the instrument and what it is capable of.

Steve Morse, on a break of his own from Deep Purple’s nonstop touring schedule, and his ever-ready band comprising bassist Dave LaRue and drummer Van Romaine, played a joyous 40-minute set that grazed a little bit of everything from their extensive catalog, including several from the last studio album, 2009’s Out Standing In Their Field. LaRue popped and funked away through the tumbling introduction of “John Deere Letter” before Morse’s guitar countrified the delivery. “Name Dropping” and ‘Rising Power,” two more from Out Standing In Their Field, had the whole band firing on all cylinders with little exhaust.

"Highland Wedding," from Morse' 1989 solo album High Tension Wires, found the guitarist picking out an intricate Celtic pattern that seemingly dazzled and delighted, whereas the poise and pure musicianship that he and LaRue exhibited on “Baroque 'n' Dreams” simply mystified anyone within earshot. A stab at the Dixie Dregs classic “Cruise Control” sealed the deal as completely as anyone could expect, given the time and circumstances. Undoubtedly, one of the best opening acts (a headliner in my book) I’ve seen in years.

Satriani and his band certainly had their work cut out, but it became clear from the outset they weren’t going to hold anything back. Out the gate, Satch bravely went long with a new one from Unstoppable Momentum, “Jumpin In,” which couldn’t have been any more apt for an audience hungry for big, angular chords and screaming leads. Keneally lurked in front of his multi-tier keyboard rig, but would soon step out front with his green Strat to back up and trade leads with Satriani.

For his part, Satriani, all in black sporting his trademark wraparounds, immersed himself in the magic of the room, making his music soar and bounce off every crevice of the theater’s ornate interior. He enthusiastically greeted the audience, remarking how the tour was at its start, unusual for Los Angeles, and the band was fresh. The title track from the new album took a firm grip with a jazzy cadence that soon opened up for Satriani to apply his masterstrokes. Keneally stood idly by, playing rhythm for the most part, but harmonizing on the lead lines with Satraini at the intervals. The large screen spilled over with images of a cityscape surrounded by mountains, resembling Portland, Oregon.

Satriani and Keneally also locked in like long-lost fraternity bros on “Ice 9,” the first of many on the setlist from the revolutionary Surfing With The Alien. Some might try to lump “The Crush Of Love,” a light and catchy romp, in with the Surfing crowd, even though it was originally released on a four-song EP with three other live Surfing tracks. And, of course, as the night went on, “Satch Boogie,” “Always With Me, Always With You” and “Surfing With The Alien,” with a landlubbing alien popping up on the backdrop, were trotted off to the delight of the audience.

Just as many songs from Unstoppable Momentum were slotted in. “I'll Put A Stone On Your Cairn” gave Satriani the opportunity to sauté the airwaves with a light, fluid yarn with little accompaniment. “Shine On American Dreamer,” which Satriani introduced as a “psychedelic song,” is cast in a similar mold as the songs of Surfing, revealing much about Satriani’s penchant for writing tunes that could be just as easily interpreted without the guitar. A rolling highway on the big screen, Keneally manning the keys and Satriani’s piercing, definitive tone — it was bolstered up with wheels to spare.

Marco Minnemann’s drum solo served as a cool reminder that Satriani knows how to fill the ranks of his band with the best players available (undoubtedly made easier by the fact that the drummer, Keneally and Beller have a band of their own). After the obligatory Surfing With The Alien showstopper, the band (without the rumored Morse on board) encored with “Summer Song,” from 1992’s The Extremist. What an appropriate ending on the final Summer Saturday of the year. And what a night of mighty guitaring and unrivaled musicianship at one of the classiest and coolest venues in LA.

 

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