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STEVE VAI In Ottawa, Canada

By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Monday, August 21, 2023 @ 9:44 AM


Guitarist Leaves His Mark At The Bronson Centre On August 6, 2023

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Smashes!
Thrashes!
And.....opera?

Steve Vai, the other elder faculty member of shred, had found another institute of higher learning to school the O-town crowd for the second time as of late on the first weekend of August. His latest studio album Vai/Gash is nearing its eight-month anniversary and he's been making up for all of that lost pandemic time with some serious promotional road work. He'd been fresh off from his Central/South American tour for about a month when he'd booked a full North American tour - with a strong emphasis on "north". According to Vai himself during one of his brief engagements with the listening audience, he insisted to his manager that they book a lot of Canadian dates as we've been the nicest audience he's ever had the pleasure of performing for. Whether he'll use this same speech for his Asian fans when he resumes his tour out in the Far East could be anyone's guess. But for this one particular night as, on the insistence of his wife that he "engage with the audience a bit more", the famed guitar virtuoso bore his soul as we got to know his backing band, a crew member who was a former MMA fighter who found his calling in opera, and a former motorcycle enthusiast/close friend named Gash.

With his talented backing band of bassist Phillip Bynoe, guitarist Dante Frisiello and drummer Jeremy Colson playing in front of a giant backdrop screen beaming his logo, Vai kicked off his set with "Avalancha" from last year's Inviolate. A blood-racing and cascading instrumental, it riled up the crowd of about 2,000-plus who were ready for an onslaught of similar fret-happy numbers such as "Great Balls Of Gold", "Little Pretty" and "Tender Surrender" as hypnotic watermark-like digital images danced, bobbed and flew past the overhead screen. And not all of the show's vivid imagery came from the screen to captivate the crowd; a team of four guitar techs came out and joined Vai and his crew for a well-synchronized version of "Incantation" and another special guest who was introduced as Danny G and part of the road crew also took the stage and gave the 30-year old riveting instrumental ballad "For The Love Of God" not just a voice but a strong, fiery operatic voice.

Interestingly enough, throughout the entire performance, the setlist appeared to include not a single song from the recently-released Vai/Gash. Maybe Vai would be waiting for the right moment to perform those songs which were well over three decades old? Whatever those reasons were in holding off the album from the current tour setlist - my presumption would be that the setlist had been finalized long before the album had seen its release date - it was an album whose origins appeared to be shrouded in mystery.

Until, that is, Vai finally introduced its origins and the identity of the person who inspired it.

Gash was more well-known as Johnny Sombrotto, an accomplished vocalist and an equally accomplished motorcycle enthusiast from the LA area. By all accounts, he was a careful biker, having only suffered only one other accident in 1977 at age 21 which bore him the literal scars and burns on his body and earned him the Gash moniker that Vai had bestowed upon him. The pair were introduced to each other by a mutual friend and soon discovered that they had a lot more mutual interests - specifically motorcycles - between them than they'd thought. They'd written and demoed about eight songs together around early 1993, mostly based on standard hard rock riffs Vai had composed and wanted to expand into songs inspired by the music of his youth. The writing/recording schedule for his third album Sex And Religion at the time unfortunately confined those songs to relative obscurity for the next three decades. And, tragically, Sombretto himself was killed in a crash five years later, leaving Vai too despondent to even listen to their work at one point for a significantly long period of time. He was, as Vai had described him, the greatest rock singer whom everyone would have wanted to know, and while a small sample of his work would've been great to hear live that night, it also would've been understandably difficult to hear and appreciate Gash's own voice and soul coming out from someone else from the perspective of anyone who knew him as well as Vai did.

With that said, Vai and his band put on a show that gave everyone in the Bronson Centre the genuine feels - including himself. And there by both the grace of God and Gash did he go by the sound of rapturous applause that night.

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Setlist:

  • "Avalancha"
  • "Great Balls Of Gold"
  • "Little Pretty"
  • "Tender Surrender"/ band introduction
  • "Lights Are On"
  • "Incantation" (with guitar techs)/ bass solo
  • "Candlepower"/ guitar solo
  • "Building The Church"
  • "Greenish Blues"
  • "Bad Horsie"
  • "I'm Becoming"
  • "Whispering A Prayer"
  • "Dyin' Day"/ drum solo
  • "Teeth Of The Hydra"
  • "Zeus In Chains"
  • "Liberty"
  • "For The Love Of God" (featuring Danny G on vocals)
Encore:
  • "Fire Garden Suite IV - Taurus Bulba"


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