“There’s going to be lots of guitar playing,” grins Uli Jon Roth, welcoming the audience to Eventim Apollo.
As far as understatements go, his is right up there with “We’re going to need a bigger boat”; for the next three hours, three of the world’s leading guitarists each play their own set before teaming up for an epic jam session.
It’s a simple formula but one that’s seen the G3 series thrive since Joe Satriani first came up with the idea of touring with fellow virtuosos Steve Vai and Eric Johnson back in 1996. Over the ensuing years he’s been joined by other bonafide rock gods like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Morse, Michael Schenker, and, for this first European trek since 2012, Roth and John Petrucci.
They’re an inspired choice, and not just because they’re both G3 veterans able to perform inconceivable feats with a plank of wood and six strings. Like Satriani himself, they each have their own signature sound and, even more importantly, the ability to convey undistilled emotion through their music and performance. They clearly know there’s a lot more to this guitar hero business than speed and technique.
Roth is the first to demonstrate this. Joined by a five-piece band, including guitarists Niklas Turman and David Klosinski, the German plays with a fluid calm that matches his flowing bandana and the feather floating below his headstock. The only extravagance comes in the form of an occasional flamboyant swing of his right hand. But beneath that calm exterior is a man unafraid to give his whammy bar a fierce workout as he glides through a set comprised mainly of hits from his mid-’70s tenure with the Scorpions.
The bluesy groover Sun In My Hand, with Roth on lead vocals and some fine soloing from all three guitarists, makes way for We’ll Burn The Sky. Dedicated to his younger brother Zeno Roth, who passed away in February, and sung by Turman, it features some lightning fast fingerwork on the fretboards as well as atomic drumming from Michael Ehre. But it’s Fly To The Rainbow, which begins as a floating instrumental duet between Roth and keyboard player Corvin Bahn, and culminates in what sounds like a dive bomber hurtling down on Hammersmith, that truly impresses, not just technically, but viscerally.
John Petrucci hits even harder. With his long hair and impressive beard complemented by an equally black T-shirt and jeans, he quite literally brings the metal, visually and musically. The turbulent Jaws of Life sets the tone, a gargantuan prog rock beast that sounds like it’s being performed by at least six musicians, not three. Petrucci has the ability to lay down a brutal riff that’s then continues to be suggested by his rhythm section as he layers savage solos on top of sudden time changes.
The 10-minute Damage Control is even more sprawling, giving drummer (and Petrucci’s Dream Theater bandmate) Mike Mangini a real workout during a hyperkinetic middle third that even has room for a solo from bassist Dave LaRue.
The majestic Glasgow Kiss, which sets the template for those ambitious epics Iron Maiden have mastered over the past decade, ends Petrucci’s set on a moving high.
Nestled between these three songs from his only solo album, 2005’s Suspended Animation, are Glassy Eyed Zombies and brand-new The Happy Song. Both living up to their titles, the former lumbers along like the undead but breaks out into flashes of violence; the latter is a positively upbeat toe-tapper, and the closest Petrucci will ever come to matching the mood of Satriani’s Summer Song.
That bonafide instrumental classic from 1992’s The Extremist wraps up Satch’s set over an hour later. But first the godfather of G3 barrels through a selection of highlights from his three-decade career and vigorous new album What Happens Next. Recorded with Glenn Hughes on bass and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, the LP is his hardest rocking in years and, although the all-star rhythm section haven’t joined Satriani on the road, its vitality has seeped into his live performance.
Blasting off with the unstoppable momentum of Energy, as the virtuosic Mike Keneally beefs up the six-string attack, Satriani then powers into another new song, the stomping Catbot. Anchored by Joe Travers’ drumming and Bryan Beller’s pulverising bassline, the futuristic boogie is all about intergalactic guitar tones, flashy soloing, and even some playing with his teeth.
An all-out Satch Boogie is recreated with as much intensity as it was back on 1987’s Surfing With The Alien before an exquisite Cherry Blossoms brings us back to the present. The prettiest and most melodic of the new offerings, lets Satriani make his guitar cry and Keneally play guitar, synth, and keys (sometimes all at once).
Thunder High On The Mountain begins with the lithe performer hitting his guitar to create the necessary rumbling of distant storms, before embarking on a ridiculously complex run of notes that twice descends into riffing so dark and heavy even Petrucci could learn something.
Super Funky Badass is, well, funky but primarily stands out for the intense to-and-fro soloing of Satriani and Keneally. Circles, with some massaging of the fretboard to create another selection of extra-terrestrial sounds, and a smooth rendition of the instantly recognisable Always With Me, Always With You mark a return to Surfing With The Alien, before a bright and breezy Summer Song sees the lights come up.
But it’s not time to go yet. Joined on stage by Roth, Petrucci (and sometimes Turman and Klosinski), Satriani and his band bring on the finale jam. Deep Purple’s Highway Star, Hendrix’s take on All Along The Watchtower, and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song each get the all-star treatment, with the well-known classics providing a perfect framework for three masters of their craft to have some fun together. Smiles abound, on stage and in the audience, as they trade looks and licks with obvious joy.
Live review of G3 @ Eventim Apollo on 25th April 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Edyta K.