Posts Tagged ‘Van Halen’

Like both the Blues and modern Jazz before it, the genre of Blues-Rock found its perfect expression in the early 1970’s. Heavied up by British rockers such as Cream’s Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and the hyperkinetic Jeff Beck, the highly innovative music of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon paved the way for Heavy Metal and all forms of Hard Rock (including, whether they like it or not, Punk Rock).

And, like both the Blues and modern Jazz, Blues-Rock has its evangelists – those artists who, through single-mindedness or outright religious zeal, feel it is their mission to bring the Righteous Word to their hungry flock. US guitar classicist, Joe Bonamassa travels the world, missionary-like, wielding his Les Paul like a fiery cross, his blazing sermons lighting up congregations at all points of the compass.

 

 

 

On October 5, Bonamassa’s church was Sydney’s State Theatre, as gaudily rococo a house of worship as there ever has been. After a wonderful and too-short warm-up by the Wizard of Katoomba, Claude Hay (his one-man band trip would be mere sleight-of-hand if not for his warm and entirely-engaging musicality), Bonamassa sat down with a stool and an acoustic guitar and we were his.

Joined by drummer Tal Bergman on conga set, he took us through covers of Bad Company’s ‘Seagull’ and originals such as the title track to his last album ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’. The acoustic set concluded with some jaw-dropping bluegrass flash which would have shook every guitar player in the audience (and there were many – later in the set Joe B asked us to identify ourselves and a forest of callus-fingered hands shot into the air).

But as sweet and earthy as the acoustic set was, we had come for the Power and the Glory, and when Bonamassa plugged his (signature, no less) Les Paul into an unholy trinity of 100w Marshall amps it was Heaven, of a sort.

Playing through the menacing Zep-blues of ‘Slow Train’ and the funk-noir of the title track to 2011’s excellent ‘Dust Bowl’, Bonamassa delivered the sermon we had heard so many times before, and would rush to hear again for many years to come.

Bonamassa covered all the bases – the gorgeous Gary Moore cover, ‘Midnight Blues’, which showed the subtle, multi-coloured blues voice behind the heavy rocker, and brought to mind the spiritual genius Peter Green, an influence on Gary Moore and Carlos Santana; the worldly Jeff Beck group blues ‘Blues Deluxe’ which featured his vocal, completely underrated and over-shadowed by his guitar-playing, but, like SRV, an integral part of his appeal; the delicious ‘Sloe Gin’, Tim Curry’s boozer-poem and a JB live staple since his 2007 album of the same name.

Bonamassa’s take on Mose Allison’s wry ‘Young Man Blues’ (via The Who) took his road-toughened band into guitar jam territory – with bass player Carmine Rojas trading some toe-to-toe riffage with JB. Electrifying shit, whichever way you slice it.

But it was not all tooth-and-claw blues and spitting Les Paul magma; Bonamassa can be a truly beautiful player, easily putting aside the histrionics and flash for sweet and soulful lines, making his instrument truly ‘sing’ with all the nuance and warmth that that suggests. The long, mountain-misty intro to ‘Mountain Time’, accompanied only by the keyboard strings of Sydney’s own (and JB touring stalwart) Rick Mellick brought to mind Jeff Beck’s more cosmic flights and took us all higher in every sense.

What, of course makes Joe Bonamassa so exciting is that he is part of the long line of electric guitar players – Hendrix, Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore – who revel in making a great big guitar noise. The encore of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ mixed in all sorts of big fun rock guitar, from its ‘Ain’t Superstitious’ (Jeff Beck) intro to snatches of Billy Cobham’s ‘Stratus’ (a tip of the hat to Tommy Bolin) and huge chunks of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused’.

To those who wanted a rock guitar masterclass, they got it; to those who wanted unadulterated rock par excellence, they got it; for those (such as your correspondent) who wanted a window into an era when the guitar ruled the known world, they got it. Joe Bonasmassa cannot be beaten, whichever rules he plays under.

 

Photo by John Snelson/Get Shot Magazine

 

Published October 2012 on liveguide.com.au

 

 

Nothing seems to divide modern rock guitar fans like shred-metal guitar. On one side of the rickety fence is the fragrant, hairy army of blooz-rock nuts who now and forever will believe Clapton IS God (with Duane Allman a wild St Peter) and no argument; they talk imponderables such as ‘taste’, ‘tone’ and ‘Fillmore’ etc. Over on the other side are the black-tshirted Van Halen freaks who cannot get enough insane speed, volume or distortion for their liking. It seems you just can’t like both. The blooz guys call the VH style tasteless and ‘widdly-widdly’ and much of the VH army barely knows one end of an Allman Brother from the other.

The Big Bangs of Rock Guitar are few but each has been nothing short of seismic, actually shaping almost all of rock music that came after. Chuck Berry’s boogie-shuffle, Kinks/Who powerchords, Jimi Hendrix’s atomic devastation of whatever had constituted electric guitar – and the last great stylist, Edward Lodewijk ‘Eddie’ Van Halen. Building on the Hendrix amp-overload template, Van Halen developed a singing, stinging style on a guitar he had bolted together from spare parts – he then set about inventing a range of techniques to exploit this impossible tone: string-tapping (and all its variants), harmonics, extreme use of the tremolo (or whammy) bar, etc.

All of this would have been ignored had not Van Halen carried it off with enormous musicality, humour and excitement (and David Lee Roth). Van Halen launched several armadas of truly awful guitarists (and some utter genii, such as Living Colour’s Vernon Reid) – and this is the rub with shred-metal guitar: How much is technique and how much is feeling?

Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion hosted three of the greatest living exponents of shred-metal guitar on Friday at the end of March. Touring as G3, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Steve Lukather treated the converted to almost four hours of fervent worship at the church of St Eddie.

Steve Lukather, a musical polymath who made his name with 70s soft rockers TOTO was up first. Despite being paired with Satriani and Vai for this tour, Lukather’s style is rooted more in the blues-jazz fusion style of guitarists such as Frank Gambale. He is one hell of a guitar player with a pedigree longer than most. Working through funk-rock and blues-metal material with his band, he laid out some gorgeous pre-Van Halen flavours with more than enough technique and flash for the shredheads.

Next up was the remarkable Steve Vai. Vai was discovered by Frank Zappa who first used him as a music transcriber and later for ‘Strat abuse’ on several 80s albums. (Long time Zappa keysman, Mike Keneally was also in Vai’s crack band tonight). A restless creative soul, Steve Vai is equally loved and loathed for his extreme technique and left-field personal philosophies. A contemporary and pupil of Joe Satriani, he has taken even Satriani’s extremes to the extreme. Eye-poppingly flash from the first note, Vai played hits from across his oeuvre – his rendition of the ballad ‘For the Love of God’ was proof that under all that dizzying space-circus acrobatics his musicality is beyond question: the arc of his solo was perfect in shape and utterly spiritual in voice. And the wonderful thing about a true virtuoso such as Steve Vai is they never appear to run out of places to go. I saw God, while the hairy gent beside me muttered “Fuck, he goes off”. Such is the appeal of Steve Vai.

Also, such is the over-egged nature of Vai’s style that when the true shred-master of the three guitarists, Joe Satriani, hit the stage, he seemed a little tame. But by the end of ‘Satch Boogie’ – a monster slice of metal-funk from his startling 1987 album Surfing with the Alien – Joe had put your head right. Satriani, more than any other guitar player has been instrumental (pun intended) in widening the Van Halen palette – a hugely popular artist, producer and teacher, he has spread the righteous word for years. It is worth looking beyond the amazing runs and unearthly fretwork at his music – this man studied with blind jazz-wizard Lennie Tristano, after all.

The G3 gig finished, as they all do (G3 has been an institution in rock guitar since 1996) with a series of triple-guitar jams. The Zappa connection continued with opening jam, FZ’s ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama’ – but cramming three larger-than-life guitarists into the same song can’t really work on any truly musical level. By the time the three had gang-banged Jimi Hendrix’s delicate and spacey ‘Little Wing’ to death, I was gone.

But what do I know? Everyone there utterly loved it – after all, excess is a key ingredient in this music – and went crazy for it. I am sure my hairy friend would agree that they fuckin’ went off. And they did.

Check out Katja Liebing’s great shots of the G3 show here

Also check Katja Liebing’s site here

Published April 2012 on theorangepress.net