Guitar hero Steve Vai celebrates 25 years of ‘Passion and Warfare’ at Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
What: Steve Vai’s ‘Passion and Warfare’ 25th Anniversary Tour
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Dec. 9, 9:30 p.m.
How much: $38-$263.50
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Steve Vai is on most any “Greatest of All Time” list of guitarists. He’s won three Grammys. He played with Frank Zappa as a teenager and with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake during their 1980s rock’n’roll zenith.
And yet, until now, the metal virtuoso has never toured in support of his signature record, “Passion and Warfare.” To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Vai is finally taking it on the road.
“I always wanted to,” Vai said from a tour stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, “and I thought this 25th anniversary would be a good opportunity to go out and play the entire record from beginning to end.”
On this celebratory tour, which stops at Belly Up Aspen today, he is doing just that — playing the whole 14-song epic in sequence, bookended by a few additional songs at the beginning and a few more at the evening’s end.
The “Passion and Warfare” shows also showcase Vai virtually jamming with a handful of recorded musical guests who appear on-stage on video (they include moments with Vai’s mentors Joe Satriani and Zappa).
When he went into his Hollywood Hills studio to record “Passion and Warfare” in 1990, Vai was coming off years recording and touring with Zappa, then Roth and then Whitesnake. The triumph of “Passion and Warfare” emerged out of his being creatively untethered in that moment and confident in his bold vision in a way only a heavy metal guitarist in his mid-20s can be.
“I was feeling a lot of freedom and I was fearless in a way,” he explained, “because I was coming from a lot of big rock star-type success.”
It was a side project, definitely a little eccentric and a bit of an oddity — all-instrumental guitar records aren’t usually hard-charging rock and speed metal affairs like “Passion and Warfare.” The record announces itself with an opening call of “Heads up!” followed by a dramatic drumroll and then Vai’s high-drama guitar wails and noodles on “Liberty.” Throughout, there are strange sonic dramas, touches of rock and metal and blues and avant-garde composition and there are off-kilter spoken-word samples that anticipated the tropes of today’s electronic dance music.
After being a team player for years in other bands, he was eager to let loose his own musical vision. He’d been thinking about the music that would become “Passion and Warfare” since the early ’80s.
“I had this music in me that I really wanted to make, and there was nothing about that record that was conventional, in comparison to most things that were happening at that time,” he said. “It didn’t have a genre to fall into. … I was just going to do something for me.”
But it was a hit became a gold record, much to Vai’s surprise. In the two and a half decades since, “Passion and Warfare” has become a sacred text for guitar geeks.
Going back and listening to the record in preparation for the tour, Vai said he was taken aback by how uncompromising he’d been and how much detail he put into his compositions.
“I thought it was my own private vision and that it didn’t really matter,” he said. “I thought it was the end of my career, really.”
To the contrary, it was still the beginning. He’s continued making envelope-pushing records, touring and lending a shredding hand as a guest with other bands, while also operating his vaunted Vai Academy guitar camp.
Just last weekend, he performed for President Obama and assembled guests at the Kennedy Center Honors, where he performed the guitar solo from “Hotel California” during a tribute to the Eagles.
“It was phenomenal,” Vai said. “It was one of those things that evolved over many years of making contributes. It wasn’t something I focused on wanting, it’s just something that appeared as a result of years of creative process.”