Steve Vai illuminates The Pabst

Instrumental guitar virtuoso Steve Vai stormed The Pabst Theater in Milwaukee late in the month for yet another fantastic performance dotting the fall season in the Midwest. Supported by singer/songwriter Beverly McClellan and here eye-popping blues rooted vocals, the Milwaukee crowd was witness to two great musicians in one historic venue.

You may know Beverly McClellan from NBC’s “The Voice”. Now on the road with Steve Vai, she is causing a big stir with her stellar vocals on some very challenging songs. Using her voice to compliment her guitar talent and piano skill, Beverly energized the crowd with Steve Vai’s electric harp player Deborah Henson-Conant, and McClellan’s very own guitar tech.

Beverly McClellan was a great opener for Steve Vai. Usually openers don’t get a lot of attention from fans, but I think Beverly broke through that barrier, really getting fans into her performance and at times getting them to sing along for a bit. The instrument change ups also kept fans interested, as there was always something new going on, and for a newer artist, keeping fans eyes on you is crucial. Beverly had no issues with that thanks to her charisma and talent.

Of course, Steve Vai isn’t anywhere near short on charisma nor talent either. For an instrumental guitarist, he draws quite the crowd. With 80% of the crowd probably being guitarists themselves, there was a lot of technical guitar talk and music being talked about before the show.

Once Steve took the stage though, it was all-quiet except for frantic cheering and clapping.

Vai has a large crowd to please these days. He’s got fans from back in the 80’s and newer, younger fans. Some know his early music and some know his modern music such as this year’s late summer release The Story of Light.

Through the years not only has his music changed, but so has the technicality of what he plays. All of his music is extremely intricate and difficult for any average guitarist to play, but it has evolved into more than just guitar playing. Newer albums feature lavish bands and some exotic instruments that compliment and at times rival Vai’s own guitar playing. And with all those albums and endless instrumentals comes A LOT of material for Steve to draw from.

“We’re gonna play for like 5, 6 hours!” Steve’s words were welcomed by loud cheers. “Yeah, you say that now, but you’re gonna be asking when’s he gonna be done?!” Fans loved when Vai started dancing around on stage too. He and his stylish pants were a sight to see.

“Alright I’m an instrumental guitarist, what am I doing dancing?!” “Last tour I had two violin players, and this time I really had to think of how to throw you guys off; so I found an electric harp player!” Vai’s occasional commentary and warm-hearted talks were welcomed by the crowd. If Steve wanted to play, the crowd let him play, if Steve wanted to talk, the crowd let him talk. They were like little kids when Steve was jamming on stage.

The relationship Steve Vai has with his guitars is like nothing else. He has almost become one with his instrument and can play nearly anything his heart desires, and he does it flawlessly. He’s also a great entertainer, taunting fans and dancing around. Steve can most often be seen with his white Ibanez or if you’re lucky, his mirrored faced guitar with illuminated inlays.

There was not a disappointing second throughout Steve Vai’s set. Everyone was happy and feeling good as they left The Pabst. Hopefully Steve Vai will be back very soon!

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