August 24, 2002
Let me begin by saying that Im sick of solos. I know there was a time when every band member at every show got his 10 minutes in the spotlight whether he deserved it or not, and Ive always been thankful because that day has passed. I cringe whenever a seemingly innocent breakdown morphs into a mind-numbing showcase of musical masturbation. Not surprisingly, I was hesitant about attending this years guitar god fest at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. It was going to take more than the standard solo to win me over.
Opening the night was disillusioned-former-almost-Christian band Kings X. Ive been a fan for a long time, but I was disappointed with their set. Its depressing to see a formerly great act devolve into a mediocre bar band. This was the fifth time Ive seen Kings X, and each show has been not as good as the one before. Tonight was no exception and that has left me hesitant to see them again. With only a half-hour time slot, the band focused on their more popular songs and played nothing from the last 8 years. Although I was glad to hear some old favorites like Its Love, Kings X seemed apathetic about the songs, as if tossing the audience dried out bones. Ty Tabor did win over some of the guitar worshippers in the audience with an extended guitar solo during Cigarettes.
The sound was bad, too, with occasional feedback and a faint buzzing that permeated the entire set. Singer/bassist Doug Pinnicks voice has been deepening with every tour, and tonight it was lower than ever. When I had a chance to speak to Pinnick later, he asked me what I thought of the show. After a pause, I decided to tell him the truth. When I mentioned that I thought the harmonies were off a bit, he explained to me that studio effects make them sound good in recordings but that they always screw em up live. The fact of the matter is that I saw them do an acoustic show years ago, and the vocals were perfect! They have been most times since. This time, Im afraid he was right. They werent there. Drummer Jerry Gaskill did the best job at finding his 3-part harmony notes even while playing his intricate parts, but it wasnt enough to stave off the feeling of staleness. Mercifully, there were no encores. (Cmon, guys. I know what you can do when you want to do it. Whats going on?)
For me, Dream Theater was the highlight of the evening. Somehow they managed to pull off what seemed like an endless succession of solos without becoming boring. Their performance was a swirling inferno of technical virtuosity. The songs themselves were adequate and actually improved during these displays of bravura. Everybody had a chance to show off, including the keyboardist. The drum kit was the biggest Ive ever seen (and Ive seen triple bass drums before), so naturally there was an abundance of complex drumming.
There was even a duel between the keyboards and guitar. Dream Theater was also fun to watch. The drummer playfully tossed sticks back and forth to a crewmember in the wings while keeping the beat, and an impromptu soccer game erupted when someone threw a ball onstage. It was as if these guys were goofing around and just happened to be that talented. The bassist and guitarist kicked the ball back and forth while trading off stunning licks. Eventually, virtuoso guitarist John Petrucci won by kicking the ball out of reach and into the audience. However, the energy of their talents dissipated somewhat any time the hirsute singer came out to do his job. Although his vocals were impressive, the band seemed to be lodged somewhere in the late eighties whenever he sang. His Fabio/Cowardly Lion (or is that White Lion) appearance only punctuated this.
By contrast to the passionately histrionic Dream Theater performance, Joe Satriani was not able to overcome the inherent dullness of constant soloing. His songs were little more than instrumental background music even in a live setting. Perhaps this is partially because they were played so perfectly. Theres nothing wrong with perfection, but I wanted to see some spontaneity or some indication that Satriani was feeling passionate or inspired or that the notes had meaning to him. Isnt rock music meant to be raw and wild? Satriani thoroughly domesticated the genre.
I was in a stupor by the third song. Many people around me had a glazed over look. Whether this was from boredom or sheer amazement at the axe work was difficult to determine. One guy even had a pile of drool on his chest as he stared vacantly at the stage. (Im not kidding.)
The most interesting part of the set was Midnight, which Joe performed without accompaniment. Slightly reminiscent of Eddie Van Halens heyday instrumentals, it stood out amongst a lot of the same. Overall, though, it was difficult to distinguish individual songs as one blended into the next. To his credit, Satriani played brilliantly, but he made his point early in the show and could have explored new territory over the course of his full set. He did appear to be having a good time and played with a smile that belied the uninspired sound. After seeing Satriani live, I understand why hes adored by thousands of guitar geeks, but I wish some of his likable personality could have brightened his music. (Amanda Stahl/concertshots.com)