Gig Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

Joe Satriani brings his guitar buddies for another overdose of steller G3 solos at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.

Joe Satriani loves playing Hammersmith, it’s clear for all to see and he reminds us of that fact several times during the show as this isn’t the first time he has brought 2 great guitarists out to play in London on his G3 road trips. Previously we have had virtuosos such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert and even Satch’s former student Steve Vai. This year the G3 are complete with previous inductees John Petrucci (Dream Theatre) and Uli Jon Roth (70’s Scorpions). Joe has a new album to play and we are off with a very early start with Uli John Roth first to the stage at a prompt 7:30pm.

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Dressed as a supreme hippy guru, Uli seems to space out on his tunes with just a raised hand every now and again to emphasise the lead breaks. He has feathers dangling on his guitar and long grey hair that floats against the head wind supplied by the electric fan at his feet. Even he says to us “You’re going to hear a lot of guitars tonight” and he wasn’t wrong, but I didn’t expect it to be to the point where you start to question – When is the soloing going to stop?, Why should songs get replaced by relentless virtuoso fretwankery, surely there should be some lyrics and a decent vocalist too. Thankfully there was, and his name was Niklas Turmann, when he stepped up to the mic his vocals were immense, the high octaves hit with pitch perfect precision – surely this guy has his own band (he does – Crystal Breed, check them out!)

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Don’t get me wrong, Uli was great tonight and the space backdrop reminded me of Pink Floyd at their most psychedelic with the added lead breaks on the opening number ‘Sky Overture’. We do get to reminisce over a few old Scorpions tracks and ‘We’ll Burn The Sky’ is dedicated to Uli’s brother Zeno who sadly passed away. Niklas adding his own vocals here as well as playing additional lead. Have to say that Uli Jon Roth’s band is a very accomplished set of musicians with no less than 3 guitarists all adding their talents to the evening and during the track ‘Air’ and the G3 encore, they all took turns in the spotlight. Final track of Uli’s set was another Scorpions number ‘Sails of Charon’, this is a huge tune and Niklas more than covers the Klaus Meine vocal duties, Roth is sublime here and at the end we have several on their feet cheering.

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John Petrucci is a different animal, dressed all in black and he states up front, he’s here to bring the metal to the party – prompting a big cheer from the Hammersmith faithful. He is backed up by his regular drummer in Dream Theatre ‘Mike Mangini’ and from the band Dixie Dregs a dazzling bassist called Dave LaRue. Together the three play some much more contemporary and darker music, changing drumbeats reminding me a little of Neil Peart from Rush and it is very much a metal/prog sound they have going. First track was an extended version of a Wonder Woman theme tune. Not the Lynda Carter version (although that would have been funnier), this was the ‘Wrath of the Amazons’ an altogether meatier and deeper blood curdling number. Petrucci scowls out at the audience and powers some heavy riffs and screaming solos, wave after wave came crashing over the seated audience – frequently the horn hand signs came up from those happy to have their faces melted by the shredding from this guy. This was a master class of powerful melody, and it was distinctly more melodic than Roth’s earlier efforts. “This is a happier song than the last two, and it’s called ‘The Happy Song’”. Who says metal guitarists don’t have a sense of humour, and he was right, it was more of a toe tapper or headshaker, than the last two. It didn’t stop the backdrop videos of dark empty warehouses and rotting bridges, with the occasional faceless girl staring at walls, desolate dystopian scenarios always work for metal bands, even when it’s a happy song!

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Another new track called Glass Eyed Zombies which could have quite easily have been a score for the latest Walking Dead episode, lots of changing of pace and some superb bass work from Dave LaRue and the the last song ‘Glasgow Kiss’ which is the opening track on the last G3 video in Tokyo, has some amazing Celtic jig sounds coming from Petrucci’s guitar. It’s another great set and we still haven’t had the main man on stage yet – at the end Petrucci stands and waves at the audience – most of whom are on their feet applauding.

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These turnarounds are quick and there is barely enough time to get to the bar and back before the lights dim and we see the baldheaded bug like alien figure of Joe Satriani, dark shades and a big smile and boom we are into ‘Energy’, the opening track of his new album. The production seems to be much better, maybe it’s Satch’s tone, he is much more animated than the others, pulling some amazing facial expressions, even playing the guitar with his teeth at one point, and he is pumped up to be playing on one of his favourite stages. He has a 3-piece backing band which includes incredible guitarist and keyboard player (sometimes he plays them both at the same time) Mike Keneally, who is no straightforward backing musician, a talent in his own right and shows this several times during Satriani’s set. ‘Satch Boogie’ is such a great fun tune live and gets the biggest cheer of the early numbers.

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Beautiful new track ‘Cherry Blossoms’ was a definite drop in pace and much needed after the earlier thumping, Joe able to deftly show tenderness and emotion through the strings and we even get some Cherry Blossom on the video screen to back it all up. Close up it was great to be able to actually see his fingers move around the frets rather than the usual blur. On ‘Super Funky Badass’ Keneally delivers some outstanding guitar work which Satriani just stands and applauds before giving double back to him in the next solo. In just less than an hour we have had the headline set as ‘Always With Me’ and ‘Summer Song’ close this section, but instead of the usual walk off and back on again, Joe simply introduces Uli and John back on stage and they rip into Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’, thankfully Niklas is able to provide the Ian Gillan vocals as well, and probably sounds better than Gillan does at the moment. This is what I came for, all 3 guitarists on stage at the same time, playing some great rock songs and extending the solo work. It was a never-ending run through of 3-minute lead guitar breaks from each guitarist in turn before Satriani closed the song.

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The second encore jam was Uli Jon Roth’s turn to play some Hendrix, which he does with ease and ‘All Along The Watchtower’ was astonishing, Roth looking more relaxed and the whole thing worked really well. Similar situation with the 3-minute solos and everyone taking turns again, a simple nod to the next person and they passed the imaginary relay guitar baton. Final song was an immense ‘Immigrant Song’ with Niklas again providing some Robert Plant vocals. Not only did they run through some blistering solo’s each one building on the last, but they threw in the other guitarists too and we had 6 individuals all taking turns. A fitting climax for a superb evening to celebrate the electric guitarist, in all their different forms, from the hippy guru of Roth, the darker metal of Petrucci and finally Satch the Alien. 
For those in the audience that came to hear a lot of lengthy guitar solos they were more than satisfied at the end of the night, for those that wanted more songs – well they probably ended the night early dribbling in a guitar coma corner somewhere at the back of the Apollo. I was in the former camp and I can’t wait for the next G3 encounter.

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SETLISTS:
Uli Jon Roth: Sky Overture, Sun In My Hand, We’ll Burn The Sky, Air de Aranjuez, Fly To The Rainbow, The Sails Of Charon
John Petrucci: Wrath Of The Amazons, Jaws Of Life, The Happy Song, Damage Control, Glassy Eyed Zombies, Glasgow Kiss
Joe Satriani: Energy, Catbot, Satch Boogie, Cherry Blossoms, Thunder High On The Mountain, Super Funky Badass, Circles, Always With Me Always With You, Summer Song
G3 Jam ENCORE – Highway Star, All Along The Watchtower, Immigrant Song

LISTENING: Joe Satriani – ‘What Happens Next’ album released January 2018
WATCHING: Immigrant Song – G3 Encore from Paris

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