Since 1996, guitar-slingers Joe Satriani, his former student Steve Vai and a third designated guitar hero have been touring as G3 — not to be confused with the Apple Computer chip of the same name. Saturday night, the third slot was filled by another hotshot from the 1980s, Yngvie Malmsteen, whom Vai once replaced in Alcatrazz. As one might have anticipated, their styles were compatible, the competition was fierce yet friendly — and nearly four hours and 50 million notes later, many hard-rock guitar fanatics in the crowd were still begging for more.
All three soloists played 50-minute sets with their own bands and then united in front of Satriani’s band for more than a half-hour — a much more generous span than most concert-closing summit meetings offer. Yet while they are all still virtuosos in their 40s, they remain guitar heroes on the second tier, not as celebrated as the previous generation (Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Page, Santana, etc.), nor as original or innovative.
Of the three, Malmsteen set the fastest speed records, assimilated the most influences (with old J.S. Bach in the lead), had the flashiest stage presence — and produced the least amount of real music.
For all of his astonishing dexterity on a series of 1967 Stratocasters, he attacked much of his set in only one way — full speed ahead — and aside from some blues and a brief flamenco-based episode on a mounted acoustic guitar, a lot of his playing came off sounding like mere exercises.
While Vai was no slouch at shredding and did not shy away from gimmicks like playing with his tongue, he displayed more taste, offering some majestic, lyrical note-bending and dynamic contrasts on a couple of tunes.
But on this night it was Satriani who was the most musical of the three — hitting his stride on “Starry Night” with a marvelously flowing solo and controlling feedback and fingerboard-tapping techniques with the most finesse — plus he had the best backing band. Satriani’s drummer Jeff Campitelli gave him a deeper, more solid groove compared with the usual thrashing around, and that made a significant difference.
Together, the G3 thundered in a blur on “Rockin’ in the Free World,” paid tribute to their master with a pair of Hendrix tunes — including a blistering “Voodoo Chile” — and closed with a ZZ Top super-boogie. It was a noisy, exhilarating jam among essentially kindred spirits, a throwback to a time before samplers and sequencers when guitar heroes were the gods of the music biz.