Contemplating the level of virtuosity packed into the 3 and 1/2 hours of music that filled the Mainstage Theatre at UB's Center for the Arts on Tuesday night was a humbling experience.
Joe Satirani's "Unstoppable Momentum Tour," with special guests the Steve Morse Band, was the name on the proverbial marquee, but what really went down on Tuesday was a celebration of musicianship for its own sake. Nary a vocalist grabbed a microphone during the show, with visions of pushing the music in a more pop-oriented direction dancing through their mind. Nope, this was all about the high-level, technically astounding performances of the musicians, and the way in which, during the show's strongest moments, those musicians allowed their virtuosity to intermingle in service of something greater than mere individual glory.
The Steve Morse Band kicked off the show, and ended up stealing it, in a sense. Morse, whose storied career includes his work as a founding member of the country/jazz/rock fusion outfit the Dixie Dreggs and for the past 20 years as a member of Deep Purple, is that rarest of guitar "shredders" - he's a great composer of instrumental music, and a player able to balance flash against harmonicsophistication, dynamic control, and deep feeling.
Morse displayed these abilities with refinement, and he bounced ideas of his longtime Dreggs/Morse Band compatriot, bassist Dave LaRue, throughout the set, which was very well-received by the roughly 95% full house. His tunes displayed the influence of Aaron Copland, bluegrass music, the Allman Brothers Band, Jeff Beck and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but Morse's commingling of these influences yields a strikingly unique sound.
Satriani was the headliner for obvious reasons - he forsakes much of the subtlety of an approach like Morse's in favor of what might be described as "arena fusion" - Satriani's music really displays no jazz influence, but is instead essentially melodic heavy rock music with plenty of built-in space for incredible guitar solos.
We were granted too many of those to count on Tuesday, and Satriani's passion and commitment to the music was thrilling throughout. Adding to the power of the performance was the fact that Satriani's band for this particular tour is an all-star one, boasting the talents of multi-instrumentalist and composer Mike Kenneally, bassist Bryan Beller, and drummer Marco Minneman.
Kenneally - a former member of Frank Zappa's band, and a prolific solo artist and "hired gun," played both keyboards and guitar on Tuesday, and at several points during the show, he dueled with Satriani, trading his own far more esoteric and "out there" licks with Satriani's outer space pentatonic runs in a thrilling manner. Beller and Minneman kept things interesting in the rhythm section, adding embellishments and implying time signature shifts where there real weren't any.
Judging by the looks on their faces, the men on stage were having as mich fun as the audience. And that audience? They hooted, hollered, and offered standing ovations for guitar solos. That doesn't happen so much in contemporary music, outside of the jam-band scene.
The whole night was a blast.
- Jeff Miers