Words can hardly convey what three of the finest guitar icons rocking today accomplished over the course of more than three hours on Friday at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem, OR.
It was an extraordinary evening featuring Phil Collen of Def Leppard, John Petrucci of Dream Theater and the influential instrumentalist Joe Satriani each playing individually then together as G3 shredding through solos, guitar wails and intricate harmonies only the gifted can master.
Collen took the stage promptly at 8 p.m. laying out six songs for about 30 minutes. Nary a sound of his regular band Def Leppard, Collen started with two fast breaks highlighting his lightning speed rhythm technique before slowing it down for two blues-infused tracks. He finished with two straight up hard rock anthems.
Collen, who played as part of his side project Delta Deep, sang on three of the tracks and got backing from the wonderful Debbie Blackwell-Cook who also took lead on two others showing a vocal range that competed for high notes with Collen’s guitar. It would not be the last of these two before the end of the night as Collen, effectively the opening act for G3, stepped aside for the resonance of Petrucci, founder and guitarist for Dream Theater, who also brought along bandmate and drummer Mike Mangini.
There was no mistaking it, these two helped bring a little Dream Theater, a band that belongs in a class all its own, to the Elsinore Theatre but it was all Petrucci who played six solo efforts including “Damage Control,” “Glassy-Eyed Zombies,” and “Glasgow Kiss.” He opened his set with a photo montage of breath-taking scenery which perhaps served as visual hors d’oeuvre to the auditory meal he was about to lay down.
The man somehow plays with four hands, yet he just has two, and after the second song I realized he was using a seven string guitar. Who does that? John Petrucci, apparently. It was nothing short of a phenomenal performance and while Petrucci said, after wrapping the heavier “Jaws of Life,” off Suspended Animation, “This is the most fun a guitar player can have on tour,” it was perhaps the most joy a fan of intricate guitar work and rock music can have at a concert.
A term must exist that describes a guitar solo within a guitar solo – it has to, because how else do you describe Petrucci’s handicraft? From nearly the opening note of every piece he already sounded mid-song and in melodious rapture. I often got so wrapped up in the music I forgot to keep tabs on noting the setlist. (So my apologies for its abscence.) Petrucci mesmerized for 45 minutes then stepped aside to allow the main event on stage after a mere 15 minute set change as Satriani got right into it.
If you’ve never seen this man grind an axe, drop what you’re doing and see his live act. I was first introduced to Satriani many, many years ago when my college roommate told me about this ripping instrumental guitarist. He said I had to listen to this one song that was a perfect representation of summer. “Can’t you see us outside throwing a Frisbee” he said while “Summer Song” played. Indeed, I could.
Satriani played a 12 song set including two of his classics “Surfing With The Alien” off the 1987 album of the same name, of course that summertime favorite that tuned me on to this prodigy, “Cataclysmic” off his 2015 release Shockwave Supernova as well as a few new tracks from What Happens Next his new album that dropped Friday. He was quite happy announcing his latest release and “Cherry Blossoms” off the new album is an outstanding, technical song that gives and gives melodically. Satriani ripped through an hour or so of his work before ending his set with “Summer Song” and bringing G3 on stage for the final act.
Satriani, Petrucci and Collen brought the goods for three songs including a jam to end all jams on Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” and a searing version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” as Blackwell-Cook brought her soprano to talk to the guitars. Sorry, Stevie, G3 turned your number into a 10 minute rock saga as the three traded back and forth on solos each taking the lead offering their personal fretboard flavor.
Satriani began the G3 tour in 1995 as headliner and always invites a number of popular and formidable musician’s musicians on guitar. Petrucci is a veteran with the G3 but this is the first year with Collen on board. It’s a thoroughly attractive concept welcoming popular rock legends in small venues as openers and bringing them back for what is effectively an encore to give fans an unprecedented opportunity to see three powerful guitar players on one stage.
A few songs into his set, Satriani addressed the crowd and said, “Every night is mind blowing stuff.”
Yes. Yes, it was.
By the way, the Elsinore Theatre is a nearly 92 year-old marvel. It’s a wonderful venue, provides great sound and the ornate interior easily takes you to some Gothic style castle only found in England. Excellent choice.