If instrumental music is classified as a niche genre, then by conventional wisdom, virtuosic instrumental music should be something only a few music theory academics can appreciate. Or is it?

Championing the guitar slingers of this select group of individuals is the undisputed king of experimental lead guitar music – Steve Vai, a virtuoso guitar master with a largely unprecedented technical prowess, both in theory and in practice. He also has exceedingly large hands.

Most people first discovered Vai through the other works he’s done, rather than his solo compositions. Some of his most celebrated works include a six-string re-creation of popular video game Halo’s iconic theme song, dubbed the “MJOLNIR Mix”. Other times, he composes and records film scores.

Vai previously performed in Singapore in 1997 at the Hard Rock Café. The infamous concert involved so much pushing and shoving that he had to stop the show 3 times, as he recounted in a post on his own website.

His latest performance in Singapore, dubbed “An Evening with Steve Vai”, was the first show he’s done in nearly 4 months, and as a result, he promised to perform a fresh set. And boy, he sure did, on April 4 at The Star Vista’s Performing Arts Centre.

Understandably, the small venue was a conscious decision, given Vai’s limited audience. However, that’s not to say that his show was a pedestrian one – and far from it.

Unlike the 1997 concert, Vai’s performance this time round didn’t have any kind of pushing or bludgeoning at all, most probably because of the venue itself, or the wise audience has grown up. You can guess it would be admittedly far more awkward for a frenzied moshpit.

A gargantuan and vain reproduction of Vai’s latest album cover that featured his face was the stage backdrop. It became rather showy when the lights dimmed and an emblazoned depiction of Vai’s eye on the backdrop spewed a blinding spotlight onto the centre stage.

The band grooved to the tune of “Racing the World”, followed by a huge gust of wind revealing the star of the show, face partially veiled by his black panama hat. Vai shredded, swept and tapped away on his Ibanez JEM axe as he pranced about on stage, following the beat.

He later explained on stage that the lurid pair of pants he had put on for the evening was the culprit behind his exotic dance moves. It seems that even master guitarists have a sense of humour.

The flummoxed audience wasn’t all guitar-slinging music theory junkies like I’ve previously envisioned but there were also office lads, families, young couples and even elderly folks- an intriguing demographic for a supposedly niche music genre.

Following a couple of songs from his latest album, Vai presented us with some of his older and more popular hits. He had the ladies swooning over him with his evocative and sexy performance of “Tender Surrender”, from his 1995 album Alien Love Secrets. It’s a very classy song, characterised by climatic stops and dreamy chords.

While Vai is mostly known for his heavy usage of the Floyd Rose whammy bar, his live performance of the song “Gravity Storm” proved that his technical skills extended far beyond a reliance on technology. The song is an energetic and catchy composition achieved with nearly no usage of the aforementioned spring contraption, while still retaining ridiculous string bends.

Later on, he introduced us to his rhythm guitarist Dave Weiner, who stepped forward to perform a couple of songs from his acoustic guitar album. The beautiful, serene acoustic guitar music had us slip into reverie, and provided a revitalising change of pace from Vai’s high-energy guitar stunts.

For a concert featuring extreme technicality, it’s hard for the layman to truly comprehend and appreciate the work that’s gone into the music. Hence, Vai came up with a special performance segment, named “Build Me A Song”, that aimed to involve the audience.

Given the virtuosic abilities shared by Vai and his band, he invited 3 members of the audience to the stage so that they can write a song together, right on stage.

“This song is so new, it’s not even been written yet,” said Vai jokingly as he explained the concept to the audience.

Giving each of the 3 audience members a microphone, he asked them to vocalise a tune they’d like to hear the band play. Each member of the band then translated the vocalisations into played music, and the band merged the different tunes – almost magically – into a brand new song. The band’s display of confidence and virtuosic abilities was a joy to watch.

The lead guitar extravaganza was topped off with “For the Love of God”, undoubtedly Vai’s greatest hit to date. The audience’s extremely enthusiastic response to its hallmark opening riff should be an indicator of the song’s fame and acclaim. An encore was called for, and Vai’s band responded with “Taurus Bulba” before bidding Singapore goodbye. Let’s hope the crowd does not have to wait another decade or two for Vai to return – lurid pants included.

To have a feel of what Steve Vai’s solo compositions sound like, check out his latest album, The Story of Light.


Set List:

Racing the World


Building the Church

Tender Surrender

Gravity Storm

Weeping China Doll


The Animal

Whispering a Prayer

The Audience is Listening

The Moon and I

Rescue Me or Bury Me


Treasure Island

Salamanders in the Sun

Pusa Road

The Ultra Zone


Build Me a Song Segment

For the Love of God


Taurus Bulba


Photos Courtesy of Aloysius Lim and Alvin Ho of LAMC Productions