“I just hope Steve doesn’t sing” was the worry I confided to the others on our way to the Hammersmith Apollo on a chilly London winter night.

Like many long-time Vai fans I’ve always tended to gloss over the time when Steve was “learning to use his new instrument” and I never really thought of the vocals on Flex-Able as singing in a real sense.

So when Steve launched into a lengthy explanation of the inspiration behind “The Moon and I” we awaited what was to come with some trepidation. It was fully justified — Steve is a poor singer — but the real revelation was that Steve knows full well his personal limitations. Mr Vai has a nice line in self-deprecating humour and if any confirmation were needed of this then it arrived in many forms, not least the night’s banter with drummer Jeremy Colson. His quip about Steve’s wanting vocal prowess had many a grown longhair giggling with mirth and yes it was scripted but really, who cared? This was one of many examples on the night of a warmth that would surprise anyone who hasn’t yet seen him in the flesh. But if that wasn’t enough then there was the failed big entrance for a track requiring an illuminated suit with laser-beam gloves: Spinal Tap territory to be sure and Vai knew it and when the move had to be aborted due to a bust guitar strap the man himself was man enough to admit it . . . we all guffawed but somehow found it so endearing it made the second attempt all the more impressive.

As for the guitar, need I tell you Dear Reader that it was the usual masterclass. A faithful rendition of “Tender Surrender” came early as did “Answers”, “The Audience is Listening” took things up a notch and of course “For the Love of God” ended the night. In between tracks included “Building the Church”, an innovative version of “Sisters” with Vai jamming the intro with his electric harpist Deborah Henson-Conant and a superb acoustic interlude from Vai backing guitarist Dave Weiner.



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