By Christopher Scapelliti
If you’ve performed for as long and as often as Steve Vai has, you’re bound to have had some gigs that were memorable for both the right and the wrong reasons.
“I’ve had some real tankers, but the one show that sticks out was in Italy,” Vai says. “Actually, it was two separate gigs in a row, a couple of decades ago. This was when they were just starting to understand how to regulate the voltage that went into your equipment. Now that stuff’s easy to deal with—you have voltage regulators and you can keep everything consistent and level—but they didn’t have these things at the time, and it could be a problem. We got to Italy and discovered that the voltage was so erratic that it created this intermittent devaluation of the wattage of my amplifiers while I was playing.
“We noticed the problem during soundcheck, but we couldn’t figure out how to deal with it or fix it. The weird thing was, it affected my equipment and a few of the other people in the band, but not everything. So it created a real mess. It was like a perfect storm of technical crap.
“I went on stage knowing this could be an issue, but again, I thought, ‘The show must go on.’ I would play, and for about 10 seconds the sound would be great, but then the power would go down and with it went my sound level by about half. Instead of sounding full and powerful, it sounded like a deranged mosquito. It went back and forth like this all night. Notes wouldn’t come out right or they would be buried. It was awful. The audience could tell something was up—they were like, ‘What the fuck was going on?’ At one point, I walked off stage while people tried to fix it, but nothing worked. We just couldn’t find a solution to the problem.
“It was a nightmare, and I felt terrible. I’ve had bad shows before, but this was like a rat gnawing at my face. I had to tell the audience, ‘Hey, technical problems.’ I got through it, but at the end of the night, I wanted to go up to everybody and give them their money back. I wanted to kiss their asses and apologize.
“This continued the second night. During soundcheck, it wasn’t so bad, so I thought we might be OK, but once the show started, it went nuts again… And, of course, I was crucified in the press, but there was nothing I could do.
“Like I said, I’ve had bad gigs, a few real lulus. We all have ’em. It’s a case-by-case basis. But those shows in Italy were really bad. You think back and you go, ‘Shit man, that really sucked.’”
You can read the full interview, including Vai’s recollections of his best gig, over at MusicAficionado.com.
To buy tickets for Vai’s Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary tour, visit Vai.com.