Symphonic Shred: Unique Live Performance from Steve Vai

As a guitarist, I may love blues and the more subtle (not that blues has to be subtle) part of the electric guitar, but I'm not going to lie to you and say that I don't dig those insanely good shredding moments as well. And not all insanely fast guitar pickers are created equally. I'm not going to knock any, but personally a few seem to strike me as more than just your average player. These guitarists really demonstrate not only an incredible amount of technical aptitude and an incredible dedication to the instrument, but also an incredible dedication to expression on the instrument and the subtleties that make the electric guitar one of, if not the most emotional instrument on the planet.

One such guitarist I consider in this category is Steve Vai. I'm not only extremely impressed with his technical prowess on the guitar, but his overall approach to the instrument and the unique flavor of his playing.

During one of my few free moments I happened to find this little clip of Vai's performance of "For the Love of God" with the Metropole Orchestra (according to the caption) and thought it was worth sharing with all my fellow guitarists.

If you've never really been into Steve Vai's music, that's ok, it's not for everyone... just like the music of Frank Zappa and Jeff Beck (two other guitarists I rate very highly as well). I still think you can take a thing or two from this video.

First, there's the song itself, which I think is one of his best. Emotional, sweeping and orchestral, with an actual symphonic backing it does seem to take on a bit more of the feel of a true composition... as opposed to just a rock instrumental. Although other bands have performed with orchestras before, there's just something special about this match up that seems to work really well. It's interesting because I'm normally against such composed rock music... I guess I think it many cases it just seems melodramatic and forced. This song though, does not. Instead it seems less like rock, and more like a progressive symphonic composition, just for electric guitar, and so I don't think it suffers from some of the more cliché symphonic rock moments.

Second, there's Vai's performance, which is of course chopped full of techniques I will probably never be able to master, but is also extremely expressive. "Shredders" or "Virtuosos" if you prefer, often get a bad reputation as being too sterile musically and lacking both subtly and emotion. I don't think that stereotype applies to Steve Vai as you can physically see the emotion he's putting into the music in the way he man handles it... talk about playing like the instrument is an extension of your soul.

Overall, just a unique and very moving performance and definitely some great guitar work, demonstrating another application of the electric guitar and it's sonic possibilities.


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