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Guitar Legend Steve Vai Is Back on a Roll at the CMA Theater in Nashville

by Rich and Laura Lynch

Nashville has patiently stood by for the twice delayed Steve Vai Inviolate Tour with great patience and the wait was most definitely worth it. After pandemic related delays scrubbed the initial outing early last year it was a broken down bus that kept the six-string evangelist away in the following fall. But, by the time Steve and his band hit the stage at the CMA Theater on July 25, 2023 - him and the boys in his band were clearly on a roll and hitting on all cylinders for their fans, friends and peers in Music City.


Steve Vai and the custom triple-neck Ibanez Hydra guitar in Nashville.

Steve and company have been and will continue to be on the road for months to come spreading the gospel of innovative guitar playing to the world. Vai is a composer, producer and songwriter. He has accumulated plenty of accolades including three Grammy Awards during his lengthy career. The tour is scheduled to canvas much of the United States for the rest of the year with visits to Japan, New Zealand, Australia and China also posted on the calendar.

At age 12, he started taking guitar lessons from Joe Satriani. By 18, Steve was transcribing for and playing with Frank Zappa. Vai has recorded and toured with Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth, Experience Hendrix, G3, Mary J. Blige, Whitesnake and more. He has also enjoyed much success as a solo artist. His most popular album Passion and Warfare (1990) was described as the richest and best hard rock guitar-virtuoso album of the times. Vai has also worked with orchestras and in films.


This digital signage outside the venue welcomed fans to the CMA Theater.

For the Inviolate Tour - Steve is performing with a band [Dante Frisiello (guitar & keys), Jeremy Colson (drums) and Philip Bynoe (bass)]. They opened with the animated "Avalancha". Vai used a guitar with a fretboard of blue lights which added to his flashy guitar work. He also fully utilized stage lights and visuals for an overall unworldly presentation. As you would expect, Steve switched gear frequently for an array of textures paired with tricky techniques and effects. "Giant Balls of Gold" rolled on giant guitar riffs and rhythms which set the pace for much of the evening.


Steve was caught smiling at several points during the long night of epic guitar playing.

"Thanks for coming to the show," Steve said after a few songs. He mentioned that if they can they like to get a day off in Nashville and they spent Monday in town. He also acknowledged missing his last gig in Music City to some light heckling from the crowd that included at least one other legendary guitar man in the form of Adrian Belew. Vai outlined his extensive upcoming itinerary and introduced the band before presenting "Tender Surrender" and "Lights Are On" as softer tunes yet they were still potent instrumental pieces.


Dante Frisiello and Philip Bynoe in Music City.

During one jam Steve smiled as he traded licks with Dante before they strolled off for the rhythm section to strut their stuff. Returning, Vai took center stage alone and at times it looked like he even surprised himself with the sounds coming from his instrument. Dante followed with a strong guitar solo before the band came back. We also enjoyed "Greenish Blues" which creatively combined elements of space with traditional blues.


The full band in action for a full house on Demonbreun.

Watching and listening to Vai at the CMA Theater, we found ourselves thinking is he alien? Interestingly, in 2020 he hosted a webcast called "Alien Guitar Secrets" where he delved into various aspects of guitar playing. It was followed by a second series "Under It All" where Steve explored more esoteric concepts.

Vai's signature instruments include the Ibanez JEM guitar, which he designed in 1985 with unique features such as the floating tremolo and the monkey grip (alien technology?). He also invented "The Universe" which is a 7-string electric guitar that had a big bang impact in the metal realm in the mid 1990's. Vai used an arsenal of axes at the CMA reinforcing our alien impressions.


Jeremy Colson and opener Larry Mitchell were both very expressive in their own way.

The Inviolate record released in early 2022 received critical and fan acclaim. There was also a lot of buzz regarding its cover which featured Vai holding a custom triple-neck Ibanez Hydra guitar. A video of him performing "Teeth of the Hydra" has been viewed over 6.7 million times so far. In the film it looks like the three necked guitar is floating. Fans were thrilled as he unveiled the beast and played the tune live at the CMA Theater. Vai had one other trick to reveal. Steve shared that their monitor tech Danny is an opera singer, so he sang with the quartet towards the end of the band's set. Their encore "Fire Garden IV - Taurus Bulba" brought the unworldly show to a stellar close.

Opening for Vai was Larry Mitchell a Grammy award-winning producer, engineer and performer. Larry had an innovative guitar style that suited Steve's audience. He used some backing tracks for rhythm while layering expressive leads in complex compositions. Mitchell has nine solo records to his credit and has worked with Tracy Chapman, Billy Squier, Ric Ocasek and Miguel Bosť.


The Inviolate Tour was worth the wait in Nashville.

Related Links: For more information on STEVE VAI and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Steve Vai | Steve Vai Celebrates Silver Anniversary of Gold Record in Nashville | Larry Mitchell | CMA Theater


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