music / Reviews

Joe Satriani with Mountain – House of Blues, San Diego (CA) 11/12/08

November 16, 2008 | Posted by MP Schroeder

It’s a cool night in downtown San Diego and going to a gig feels just right, at least for the queue of people outside the funky House of Blues. While in line waiting for the doors to open, people exchange stories about guitars, gigs, albums, songs, solos, venues, and other rock-related evidence of devoted fandom. You can see the majority of the crowd is rooting for the guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani; Mountain comes up in conversation as an afterthought, an added bonus that only makes coming to see Satriani for the tenth time worthwhile. Little would they know what was waiting for them, little would they know how many good things Mountain would bring out of Satriani and thus concoct one hell of a blues-drenched, jammed-out gig worth remembering.

Mountain is a power trio and they’ve been around for more than thirty years (they played at the original Woodstock) and they are best known for their hit “Mississippi Queen” (which appears in Guitar Hero and Rock Band). The band’s stalwarts are Leslie West (guitar) and trusty sidekick Corky Laing (drums). Filling in for the late Felix Pappalardi (his wife shot him in 1983) on bass, for the current Masters of War tour, we have Rev Jones of the Michael Schenker Group.

Joe Satriani is a guitar virtuoso whose technique, speed and musical arrangements have placed him among the shredder elite; he has taught and played with such legends as Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett, and he has gone on tour with veterans such as Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, among others. His band is never short on top-notch players and the line-up for his current tour is no exception: Stuart Hamm (bass), Jeff Campitelli (drums), and Galen Henson (rhythm guitar).

At first glance, Satriani and Mountain don’t seem to be a good match. Mountain’s a ‘60s blues-based band and Joe Satriani is a ‘80s instrumental-metal shredder. Only after the night’s concert would I find out that they have more in common than I thought.

As the guest band, Mountain opened the concert. Their set was amazing. From the very beginning, Leslie West’s signature fat tone filled the venue with a rumble, Corky Laing beat his drums with such force that he was constantly breaking his drumsticks, letting splinters fly into the air and making him more of a lumberjack than a drummer, and Rev Jones came to the fore with his head spinning round but never missing a single beat. Complete rock ‘n’ roll insanity.

The set started with “Blood of the Sun” (a number from the pre-Mountain days) and all hell broke loose; the locomotive riffing set the place on fire and every nonbeliever who thought Mountain was just going to go through the motions or try to revive their glory days had their eyes opened: this is Mountain better than ever before; even Leslie West’s voice was in top form (given that I had read all over the internet that he couldn’t sing anymore) and his tasteful guitar playing was as good as ever.

Next came “Why Dontcha”, a song from the short-lived West, Bruce & Laing project. It was a pleasant surprise to see Mountain dig deep into their catalog and bring back material from a stage of the band only the hardcore fans know about. After the song ended, Leslie started talking and joking with the audience to introduce “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” (a song about whaling) and then he unleashed a barrage of whale sound effects with his guitar before getting full-on into the song. Here’s where my only gripe about Mountain’s set comes about: songs like “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” and “Theme from an Imaginary Western” (which would be next in the set) include keyboard arrangements in their original versions that give the songs an enhancing atmosphere, but the band brought no keys along with them and that lack of atmosphere is really missed.

As mentioned above, “Theme from an Imaginary Western” came next, and the missing keyboard atmospheres took away a lot of this incredible song’s nostalgic power, add to that the fact that the song was sung by Leslie (who’s got a raspy voice) and not by Felix Pappalardi (who had a higher register and a cleaner voice but couldn’t make it to the show for obvious reasons) and you have a disfigured song. Rev Jones switched to upright bass for this song to try to compensate for the lack of keys, but what made the whole thing work and brought quite a few spine-tingling moments was Leslie West’s amazing soloing; tasty, fluid, overdriven licks took center stage and blew everybody away with awe. To end the song with a bang, Corky Laing let loose a drum solo that relied more on his skin-hitting power than on his dexterity, nonetheless, a feast for the eardrums. What Corky could certainly do with ease was entertain the audience; giving the finger to those who dared fire him up, dropping his cymbals on purpose to make his drum-tech break a sweat, and flinging drum sticks into the audience at random (I got to catch one), Corky kept a sense of mischief onstage.

Before getting into what would be the only song off their latest Masters of War album (an album consisting only of Bob Dylan covers), Leslie took some time to joke a bit more with the audience and dedicate the upcoming song to the soldiers in Iraq. “Blowin’ in the Wind” started with Leslie alone, strumming his guitar and singing in a high blues-preacher voice. Not too different from the original. But when Corky and Rev joined Leslie, any acoustic subtlety from the original version fucked off and in came the heavy riffage and bulldozing drums. An incredibly heavy cover version of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” made the audience go nuts; and then came the cowbell…

“Mississippi Queen” closed Mountain’s set with a satisfying climax. Everything was turned up to 11 and they ripped through their most known song as if with a vengeance. The usual pick-flinging came at the end of the set and the boys left the stage leaving an already pumped up hoard of rock fans waiting for the main course to come.

Joe Satriani took the stage as soon as all of Mountain’s gear was removed and a luminous display was set at the back of the stage. He let everyone know his true desire for the night starting his set with “I Just Wanna Rock”, a song off his latest album Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock, that sounds dumb on record but exciting live. His set would be heavy on material from his latest album (five songs) and you could see he was eager to play the stuff live because we went straight to “Overdriver” (also off the new album) after “I Just Wanna Rock”.

I started to notice that the rhythm guitar was barely audible in the mix, which really bugged me because the songs didn’t have that crunch that was needed to create a full sound. And especially on the following song “Satch Boogie” which really needed that extra guitar to sound right. Apart from the technical kinks, Satriani was on fire that night, he really wanted to be there playing and you could see he was very excited to be on tour with Leslie West. Of the three times I’ve seen Satriani live, this has been the best yet. Why? We’ll get to that further on.

After revving the audience up with “Satch Boogie”, he stuck to Surfing with the Alien and played “Ice 9”. The band was on fire just like Joe, very tight and solid; they even jammed a bit in between songs to segue with whatever came next. “Flying in a Blue Dream” came after one of the aforementioned jams which followed “Ice 9” and, as always with “Flying in a Blue Dream”, displayed a much more impassioned Satriani.

What followed was another song from Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock that got to be a digital bonus track and is not on the CD, a song called “Ghost”. Joe took the time before playing it to explain where it comes from. Apparently, it’s about a ghost he saw; plain and simple. I was very impressed by this song; it’s a whirlwind of riffs and ghostly sound effects made by Joe’s guitar, it’s definitely worth checking out. He then played another new song called “Revelation” and then took one step back in his catalog and played “Super Colossal” off his previous album named just like the song.

Something very special happened before he went into “One Big Rush”. The blues has always been a part of Satriani’s sound, so he has told, but this side of his sound has always been paled by his harder, more metal side. So he explained before “One Big Rush” that that night he had the urge to play like John Lee Hooker, and I’m damn sure that when hanging around with his G3 gang, such fancy is frowned upon. Hanging out with Leslie West has brought the bluesman in him, and that night he couldn’t keep it in any longer. He tore through “One Big Rush” and then came the beginning of the apex of Satriani’s set.

The blues, indeed, took over him in “Cool #9”. Wow. He played his heart out on that one. So much as to play the guitar with his teeth! I looked around me and the crowd was on. Everybody had gotten into the same groove as Joe and was enjoying every second of it. He then played “Time Machine” and now it was Stuart Hamm who was caught in the middle of a rush of musical adrenaline for he let loose an incredible bass solo which included Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California”. Once finished, the band reassembled to play “Andalusia” off the new album. An “Always with Me, Always with You” that sounded almost like the recorded version followed. Then they played the last song of the set before the encore.

“Surfing with the Alien” burst through the amplifiers and closed the set. The audience roared for an encore and they got it. The designed-for-audience-call-and-response song “Crowd Chant” got the people pumped up again before unleashing “Summer Song”. Could there be anything better than this? Oh yes there could: a blues jam with Leslie West. Joe grabbed one of Leslie’s guitars and invited him to the stage to play “Stormy Monday”, a blues standard. You can imagine the instrumental fireworks that went on. They played one more song to close the night “Going Down”, but this time they were joined by local guitarist Stevie Salas (who also used one of Leslie’s guitars to jam). And thus one incredible night of rock music came to an end.

Mountain set-list:

Blood of the Sun
Why Dontcha?
Nantucket Sleigh Ride
Theme from an Imaginary Western
Blowin’ in the Wind
Mississippi Queen

Joe Satriani set-list:

I Just Wanna Rock
Satch Boogie
Ice 9
Flying in a Blue Dream
Super Colossal
One Big Rush
Cool #9
Time Machine
Always with Me, Always with You
Surfing with the Alien
Crowd Chant
Summer Song

The jam:

Stormy Monday
Going Down

The 411: An incredible concert with a Joe Satriani who let loose and indulged in the blues, and a Mountain with enough power and volume to be taken seriously and not as a nostalgic act. Both set-lists had surprises and the atmosphere within the audience was euphoric. A highly recommend combination of acts for those who are looking for high-quality rock.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  9.0   [  Amazing ]  legend

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MP Schroeder
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