It is the mark of a true professional that when things go wrong the show just keeps on going, and there’s no one more pro than Joe Satriani and his band.
Take their recent show at the Muziekcentrum, in Enschede, Satch’s second of a three-night run in the Netherlands. The band are taking the electric guitar into orbit on Surfing With The Alien classic Ice 9, when 2:45 into the track Satriani’s guitar cable breaks.
Sure, they could have brought things to a halt but the band are four songs into the set, and had found a groove. Why stop now? So they don’t. And while Satriani waits for his cable to be swapped out, keyboard player Rai Thistlethwayte does what any good graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s jazz piano programme would do in such a situation, and vamps up a solo on stage piano with drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist Bryan Beller holding down the rhythm.
Satriani claps along with the beat side of stage. But you can see he is holding the count and the key in his head, itching to join in.
Upon Satriani’s return, he takes a moment to give Rai a shoutout before joining in with the jam. And they take a moment. There’s no hurry, no need to force reentry into the atmosphere and pick up where they left off on Ice 9. These cats can read a room, and so why not pick up where Thistlethwayte left off on his Nord Stage 2 HA88? Satriani tees him with some easy blues on his Ibanez JS signature guitar. Thistlethwayte responds in kind. The pair go at it, dialling up the intensity, the technicality.
When Satriani spoke to MusicRadar in 2022 about the writing and recording sessions for The Elephants Of Mars, he spoke of how his band had the talent to take the craziest musical idea and make sense of it all, and help make them human. A track such as Pumpin’ would be sent to the band programmed. Satriani wasn’t even sure if they would dig it.
“That is one of those songs where I didn’t know if anyone would want to play it,” said Satriani. “I was putting my guitar in the backbeat, sitting on top of it. It has got these three really weird sections that almost don’t go together, but it was all programmed, and so, when I sent it to Bryan, I said, ‘Can you actually play something like this and make it sound comfortable, or is it too automated?’
“The drum loops that I had going were totally inhuman, so Kenny’s job was to sort of make it human-sounding, y’know, and so, it’s funny, when we sent it off, when we finally had a really good version of it, we sent it off to Rai and we had no idea [what to expect]. I never told Rai what to do and what he played I just thought was so perfect.”
Satriani says Thistlethwayte, who also fronts Aussie pop-rockers Thirsty Merc, has exactly the sort of chops and musical sensibility to come up with something unexpected and thrilling.
“He has a way of just playing the deepest musical lines, even though it can have an uplifting and bright kinda attitude, which is really part of his personality,” he said. “He is just a fantastic human.”
These gifts are all evident on this fan-shot footage from Enschede. But there comes time in every jam to bring it back down and get the show back on the setlist; check out the video at the top of the page to see how seamlessly Satch and friends wind it back and get into the Ice 9 groove again. It's 100 per cent pro.
Satriani’s Earth Tour is in Italy right now, and picks up tomorrow 26 April at the Teatro Augusteo, in Naples. See Joe Satriani’s website for full dates and ticket details.