G3 - April 11, 2007 - New York, NY @ The Theater at Madison Square Garden
By: Christa Titus
With Triple Crown season upon us, it's appropriate to liken this year's G3 to horse racing. Plunking down money for a ticket was a sure thing. The lineup had the makings of a champion: Joe Satriani brought the speed, John Petrucci contributed the stamina and Paul Gilbert was the versatile jockey enjoying every moment of the ride. And by the time they crossed the finish line, all belonged in the winner's circle.
Little has been heard from Gilbert in mainstream circles since he left Mr. Big. With his North American live appearances being so rare, he probably could have had the crowd—"Guitar World" readers, tech-heavy musicians, Dream Theater fans—eating from his talented palm just by showing up. Large headphones protected his ears from further tinnitus damage as he performed songs like the chugging "Rusty Old Boat," the Led Zeppelin-ish "Down To Mexico" and "Get Out Of My Yard," the title track to his new album.
People were already shouting for Racer X tunes (they seem to be the Holy Grail of Gilbert's material) before he granted their wish with "Scarified," a pure bolt of rock'n'roll lightening. They went rabid for dynamic neo-classical piece "Scit Scat Wah" that was a finale in itself. Gilbert's clean picking style was evident even as he burned through "Twelve Twelve," which he slowed down for a nostalgic moment to gently pluck the solo of "To Be With You."
Gilbert's tall, lanky frame, along with his wide eyes and "gee, thanks" gratitude contrasted with the more intense vibe Petrucci gave off as he wrought cuts from his solo album "Suspended Animation." Heightening the mood were his stripped-down accompaniment of deft bassist Dave LaRue and drummer Mike Portnoy. Petrucci's advantages were a hometown crowd and his Dream Theater bandmate amping up the percussion—Portnoy juggled twirling his drum sticks and making rah-rah expressions while manning his impressive kit.
Petrucci's dogged endurance never flagged during his 40-ish minutes onstage. It's a good thing, since his compositions are built to sprawl. He dug into the tight chops of "Jaws Of Life," stalking out his territory by planting a foot on a monitor and eyeing the audience as he played. It warmed him up for the more lighthearted "Glasgow Kiss" that let him stretch and flex by blurring and throttling its notes. The mood briefly turned quiet for love song "Lost Without You," which Petrucci navigated from a mellow croon of loss to a wailing protest. The rest of his set ("Curve," "Wishful Thinking," "Damage Control") was a three-way jam with each player getting a chance to shine.
The audience as still savoring Petrucci's set before the headliner put on his own magic show. For Satriani, looking cool is means the battle half-won. Compact, head shaven, eyes hidden behind ever-present shades, he strolled about like the most carefree guy on the planet. A grin constantly split his face, and why not? Like Petrucci, he's a Long Island kid who landed his dream job.
Satch took the stage with "War"—appropriate, because he clearly blew the room away. His fingers' speed and dexterity that unfurled his leads over his band's galloping rhythm were simply jaw-dropping. After whipping through "One Big Rush," "Flying In Blue Dream" brought him to cruising speed. As he glided through the now-classic tune, Satriani's ever-present smile was as satisfied as an itch you finally get to scratch.
Besides hitting 85 mph on his fret board, Satriani's other tricks included scratching on his guitar like a turntable for bluesy "Cool #9" and sliding his hands as slick as oil for "Satch Boogie." He offered temporary respite from the velocity with "Circles," whose gently meandering intro soon burst into another blaze of speed. After two more hard-charging blitzes ("The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing" and "Surfing With The Alien"), Satriani again called a reprieve with the emotive "Always With Me, Always With You."
The easy-going but rousing song signaled the G3 jam, as Petrucci and Gilbert returned to the stage to alternately solo and harmonize with each other. Then the trio kicked the sentimental mood aside with a Jimi Hendrix melody that did the legend proud. Gilbert handled the vocals for "Foxy Lady" and a walloping "Purple Haze" whose voltage was almost too much to bear (in a good way) with three guitars cranked up to 11. Each player reached into their bag of tricks for the "Voodoo Child" closer and were trumped by the sheer goofiness of Gilbert rubbing his guitar with a power drill. Our only criticism is they could have lopped off "Goin' Down" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" after the Hendrix tribute. We were already thoroughly rocked by the time "Voodoo Child" faded away.