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Steve Vai mesmerizes Scottsdale audience with his guitar wizardry

Sharlene Celeskey, Contemporary Culture Editor, Puma Press

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The lobby of Virginia G. Piper Theater in Scottsdale on Dec. 12 emits a celebratory buzz with a crowd that is an eclectic mixture of a wide range of ages and genres. I spy more over the knee boots tonight than at any busy mall during the holidays. I enjoy watching the myriad of fashion styles on the women in attendance as the attire varies from festive holiday outfits to throwback ‘80s wear and hipster chic. I really enjoy the short line for the women’s restroom, especially when I see the line for the men’s is 25 persons deep. This is a perk when going to a concert that attracts a predominantly male audience. I have to applaud the theater for charging only $2 for a bottle of water and soft drinks when others charge $4 or more.

Tonight, one of the top guitarists, Steve Vai ignites Scottsdale with his furious and expertly played music. He will perform his highest charting album, “Passion and Warfare” in its entirety. Vai neither sings nor has a vocalist in his band, so it will be pure instrumental hard rock that hypnotizes us.

Stepping inside the theater I am awed by its construction and setup. Deep stadium seating provides a perfect view even when I sit behind a longhaired man with a hat. Modern style red wood panels, state of the art equipment and seating for only 850 provide the perfect intimate setting to experience this guitar virtuoso.

The last time Vai performed in the Valley in 2013, he played at the Ovation Theater at Wild Horse Pass Casino to an audience of die-hard guitar fans. He put on an impressive show and pulled out all his guitar tricks that showed his extreme practice sessions that can go over 10 hours a day. Tonight he used a backing video that features fellow guitarists playing along with some of his songs.

The show begins with a short scene from the ‘80s film “Crossroads” projected above the stage. The audience immediately claps and cheers, as they know this film features Vai’s famous guitar battle. Then Vai emerges onto the dark stage in a fluorescent hoodie and with a guitar covered with lights. He plays the solo from the movie both in person and on the screen. This proves to be a very effective technique throughout the night. He continues to perform live to video of famous guitarists from his past: Queen’s Brian May, Joe Satriani (his early guitar teacher), John Petrucci, Tommy Emmanuel and Frank Zappa.

Shortly after his spectacular entrance, he launches into “Liberty,” his first song off “Passion and Warfare” and continues to play the album in its entirety. The highlight of the show is his performance of the album’s “For the Love of God.” The dramatic companion video plays in the background and adds an emotional and spiritual element to Vai’s most beautiful song. His rendition mesmerizes and awes the crowd, and I feel a meditative like energy fill the theater.

When he finishes the entire album he plays Frank Zappa’s “Stevie’s Spanking” to an appreciative audience. (Vai was a member of Zappa’s band when he was young.) He ends the set with “Racing the World” and comes back for the required encore.

What makes the show stand out from other concerts is that Vai not only demonstrates his wizardry on the guitar but also entertains by throwing in a few unexpected guitar tricks like blowing on the guitar strings to create music. This is his last stop on his 25th Anniversary tour of “Passion and Warfare,” but he still plays with intensity, love and passion.


5 Responses to “Steve Vai mesmerizes Scottsdale audience with his guitar wizardry”

  1. Bill BoBaggins on December 15th, 2016 4:20 am

    The film featuring Steve’s “Head-Cutting Duel” was Walter Hill’s “Crossroads” starring Ralph Macchio, who played the role of “Eugene.” Two completely different films starring the same actor. Also, it’s John Petrucci, not Joe. Other than these errors, a thoughtful review on a great artist. Glad you enjoyed the show.


  2. Kevin on December 15th, 2016 5:37 pm

    Good article. I just saw him perform in STL. The movie scene you are referring to is not Karate Kid… it is Crossroads


  3. Jeannie Hall on December 15th, 2016 5:40 pm

    My 18 yr old and I saw him in Ft. Lauderdale in November. He and his band are just amazing! He’s such a personable guy as well! By the way, the movie clip with Ralph Macchio is from “Crossroads”. He was so beautiful back then!


  4. Rafael on December 15th, 2016 5:53 pm

    Steve played the same show a couple nights before here in Albuquerque NM. It was truly amazing. For being in his 60’s he can still rock the house! Glad Scottsdale enjoyed it! ?


  5. Pete on December 23rd, 2016 1:28 pm

    Nice review!

    Thought I was going to see all the material from Passion & Warfare alone, so the addition of some of my favorites like Crying Machine, Tender Surrender, Gravity Storm and Taurus Bulba were icing on the cake.

    One thing I hadn’t expected at all was how funny Steve could be a couple of times when he took the microphone, and it was great watching him chase cameramen, or giving Thomas a hard time during a guitar swap.

    It should be noted that the first song of the night was not the one from “Crossroads”, even though there was a shared intro between the guitar duel scene and Bad Horsie, the actual performance number.

    While waiting in line I almost asked one of the other concert-goers if he shouldn’t be back stage. Sure enough, about half an hour later, Phil Bynoe comes walking down to the stage!
    So much for not trusting my gut on that one.

    Phil seems to be living his Bongo basses and it was interesting to note that all three were using amps that a lot of the public may not know: Steve-Carvin, Dave-Friedman, and Phil-Aguilar.

    Great tone Dave, and it’s good to see you and Phil playing as seriously as ever, but also laughing and having fun at times too.

    Steve coming out into the audience during one of the last songs was a fine way to end one of my favorite concerts ever.

    Jeremy delivered the thunder and perfect counterpoint and proved once again why Steve has kept this rock solid performer as his drummer of choice.


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Steve Vai mesmerizes Scottsdale audience with his guitar wizardry