Last night I went to the Joe Satriani concert at Ruth Eckerd in Clearwater, Fl.  30 minutes from my house.  THIS is why I don’t live in the middle of nowhere.

Joe is touring for his newest album “Shockwave Supernova.”  This was the third time I’ve seen Joe Satriani in concert.  I must be a huge fan, right?  Not really, not a huge fan.  I am a fan, though.  I like Joe’s music, especially when I’m driving in the car and I don’t want to think.  It’s like a soundtrack for me.  Of all of the “rock guitar gods” (Vai, Satriani, Eric Johnson, Guthrie Govan, and 20 other guys that can play at sickly fast speeds,) Joe is my favorite.  His songs are basically rock songs with a guitar melody in place of a vocal melody.  I prefer vocal music.  But I can be very entertained by Joe.  And I was, at the show last night.

The lighting and video effects were top notch – higher quality that I’d imagine they’d be for a rock guitar god.  I was grateful – the video and lights really did make the show better.  The show started with a big white screen in front of the whole stage, which displayed an animation action sequence based on Joe’s own artwork.  Then band kicked into the title track, the screen fell, and the awesome light show was blinding and impressing us with its power.  I had goosebumps.  It was COOL.

Joe Satriani is timeless on the stage.  He’s got the rock guitarist poses down, and he’s moving around, smiling, laughing, really appearing to enjoy himself.  He can play every lick as good as ever.  I might be in error, but I did not hear a single wrong or even iffy note all night, and there certainly were a lot of notes.  I went with my brother-in-law John, a fellow guitarist and all around great guy, and after the show he deadpanned “If only Joe had played some guitar solos.”

Joe did two sets, an hour and ten minutes each.  There was no opening act.  His band was tight, and they appeared to be having a lot of fun.  Most of the (male) crowd also appeared to have a lot of fun.  Not sure how many audience members were fellow guitar players, but my guess would be almost all.

Joe did music from the past 30 years.  Like I said, he played effortlessly and flawlessly, which is an even bigger achievement when you consider the fact that he’s 59 years old.  As I said, he looked timeless on stage – you’d never guess how old he is.

Equipment?  Joe had three Marshall half-stacks.  And a ton of different Ibanez guitars, all of which pretty much sounded very similar.  He used a wah, and one of those red pitch-shifty pedals.  Yes, I know what they are called.  He also had some chorus/flange stuff at times.  If you want to read about his gear, there’s a great post on the gear page about it.

I had a lot of fun – always do when I see Joe.  But it was waaaay too loud.  After 20 minutes I put my earplugs in, and was immediately sorry I didn’t put them in after the first song – it was much, much better.  Since I know there are some younger readers who have yet to learn about volume, I shall ring the bell and begin the lecture.  Gather round, kids, and listen to Uncle Richard tell you about volume.

When you are a teenager and you play guitar and you listen to rock, you like it loud.  And if you are in a band with a real live drummer, you are used to loud.  Real drums are fucking loud.  The drummer in my high school/college band wore ear protection when he practiced.  That’s called “smart.”  Anyway, you like your music loud.  And seeing a live band in a great outdoor venue, there’s nothing like feeling that kick drum punch you in the chest.  It’s awesome.  You love it.  So do I.  Guitars sound huge, bass sounds huge… combined with the light show, it’s an amazing experience.

But in an indoor venue, here’s the thing: mid and high range frequencies will bounce off solid flat walls and create a very harsh, annoying sound.  And if loud enough, the sound will start to ping-pong between flat surfaces, even non-parallel surfaces, and create an even more harsh, even more annoying sound (flutter echo.)  But it’s not just a question of nasty echoes.  The real issue is that the echoes can drown out actual real notes.  So at the show last night, I was listening as hard as I could, but some of the notes Joe played were drowned out and I couldn’t hear them.  All I heard were some of the notes and a whole bunch of harsh flutter echo.

This isn’t “my opinion.”  There was so much flutter echo, you couldn’t hear some of the notes.  It’s a scientific observation in the same way that you can say it’s raining.  I put in the ear plugs, which seriously dampens the high end mid frequencies, and suddenly I could hear every note.  I didn’t push them in as far as I could, though – I did let a little leakage through.  The side effect was that it did sound a little dull, but I could hear everything Joe played, which is why I was there.

Yes, it’s good to protect your ears against damage.  Eddie Van Halen has serious hearing loss in one of his ears.  That doesn’t make him cool – it makes him a dumbass.  He’d probably be the first to admit it.  If not, he’s dumber than I thought.  Most modern musicians wear in ear monitors and control the volume that way.  As I type this, Brian Johnson of AC/DC was told to stop doing shows immediately or risk losing all of his hearing.  So yes, you need to be careful.  But I’m also trying to make the point that you can sometimes use ear protection to make the concert sound better.  Not usually.  I almost never use ear protection, but I see people like John Mayer and Maroon 5 and Lyle Lovett.  For any kind of hard/heavy rock show, I bring earplugs.

If this sounds like I’m bitching about the show being too loud, I’m not.  I would prefer bands to turn down so the guitars don’t sound like shit, but for this type of music I know they won’t, so I bring earplugs.  But I do wish I’d bought some of those really good earplugs that are supposed to keep the whole frequency range intact and just reduce the volume.  What is more interesting is that from what I saw, 95% of the audience did not have any ear protection.  It’s too bad.  They would have heard all of the notes better.  They might have thought it wouldn’t look “cool.”  But “cool” means you don’t give a fuck what other people think – you do what you want.

Sadly, I am now craving a guitar with a locking trem.  Happens every time I see Joe.  Damn.  Maybe I can add one to one of my budget guitars.  My Epiphone Les Paul would be a good candidate.  Hmm… I’m off to do research.  If you ever have a chance to see Joe Satriani, do it.  And bring some earplugs.