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Q&A and Photo Gallery: Steve Vai at Copernicus Center November 16 • Chicago

| November 18, 2022


Steve Vai arrived at the Copernicus Center on November 16. See Edward Spinelli’s photo gallery below.


Hey, Chicago: guitar extraordinaire Steve Vai wants to make it up to you for canceling his concert in March of this year at the Copernicus Center. Due to personal injuries (undergoing two serious surgeries), his Inviolate Tour 2022 was postponed and rescheduled to the new date of Wednesday, November 16. As Steve explains, he couldn’t be happier that he gets the chance to return to the city. “I love Chicago; I love performing there,” Vai enthuses during a recent phone conversation. “I get to see family too. My brother Michael lives there, and he’s got a couple of really great restaurants. Chicago has always been a sweet spot ever since my Zappa days when we would tour there. And the audiences are fantastic; it’s a great city.”

The three-time Grammy Award winner started his music career in 1978 at eighteen years old as a transcriptionist for the legendary composer/musician Frank Zappa, then later as his guitarist in his band from 1980 to 1983. According to Vai, getting to know Zappa is something that he will always cherish. “Those were very formative years, so I was like a sponge,” Vai explains. “Frank was Frank, and he was an explosion of freedom. I had a front(row) seat to a creative genius, and how he worked, and how he marched to the beat of his own drum. I absorbed everything I could, and there are principles that I learned and protocols from then that have stuck with me for my whole career up to today.”

Vai then embarked on a successful solo career starting in 1983 and released his first album in 1984, going on to record and tour with established acts such as Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake, as well as artists such as Public Image Ltd, Alice Cooper, G3, Zappa Plays Zappa, the Experience Hendrix tour and more.

Vai’s latest recorded masterpiece is Inviolate, released on January 28, 2022, on his Favored Nations label. One of the highlights of his 10th studio solo album is the opening track, “Teeth of the Hydra,” inspired by Vai’s new Frankenstein-constructed guitar creation, the Hyrda. The triple-neck guitar encompasses a 7 and 12-string guitar, a 4-string 3/4 scale length bass, harp strings, and other accouterments. Vai will be bringing this alien-esque instrument on the road with him for the first time on this current tour. 

Vai spoke to us about his love for Chicago, his recent surgeries, the new album and more during a pre-tour phone interview.

IE: Due to personal injury, the Inviolate Tour was postponed earlier this year, including the Chicago date at the Copernicus Center. I understand you had two major surgeries, (a torn bicep tendon and a ruptured flexor tendon in your thumb).  

STEVE VAI: About four years ago, I started having some shoulder pain and went through the conventional attempts to heal it. Physical therapy didn’t work; it got worse. After they took a look, it looked like a hand grenade went off in there. I think probably when I play the guitar, I’m in a particular position that might have had something to do with it over the past 50 years. I had the first surgery, and it went well; they fixed three of the tendons. It takes about a year to heal from something like that. Also when I had the first surgery, I had a trigger finger, which it’s not a very uncommon kind of thing. And it was a very simple surgery on my left thumb. A trigger finger just starts actually triggering. It has to do with the cables that run through your arm and they get frayed, and then it just froze up. But otherwise, I’m 62 and I seem to be in really good health.

IE: Talk about the composing and recording of the new album Inviolate; I understand you were actually working on a solo acoustic album with vocals before this album. How did you shift gears from it to this album?

SV: Before the lockdowns, I was working on the third installment in the series of records — a quadrilogy, actually — that I was writing called *Real Illusions*. And I started to find time on my hands. And I use it the best I could to reach to the fans. I launched a couple of live streams, and one of them was called Alien Guitar Secrets, where we talk about guitar and this kind of thing; another was called Under It All, where I discuss more esoteric principles and stuff. I uploaded a piece that I filmed in my studio of a song called “The Moon and I” of me just playing acoustic guitar and singing, which I’d never done before. And I was very surprised at the response. So I thought, well, I got the time, and I always wanted to record a solo acoustic vocal record. And I had this material, “Knappsack” and “Candlepower,” and I thought, “I’m going to make a pretty focused instrumental guitar record and get on tour.” I was really itching to tour; I just love being out there on the road. And I wanted to get a record together so I can go out and support it. So that’s when I put all my focus on completing Inviolate. And the songs started to flow nicely.

IE: Your first solo album, 1984’s Flexible, just received a high-quality re-release with up-to-date vinyl mastering to celebrate its 36th anniversary. You were 22 years old at the time and just left Zappa’s band. Were you still discovering who you were as a musician?

SV: It was a period of time where I was in a very innocent state; I had no expectations for the future. I just know that I loved the guitar, and I loved writing crazy music. So I built a little studio, and it didn’t matter what I recorded, I didn’t think anybody would ever hear it. It was just for me and my friends. At that time, I was going through some huge psychological changes; I was coming from a very bad mental kind of space and finding my footing again and my emotional equilibrium. And that record was very cathartic for that. Because I was in an environment where I had no responsibilities, no email, no cell phones, nothing. And I was just able to do whatever I wanted without any excuses or any expectations.

IE: At 62 years young, what more would you like to achieve or accomplish? What are the rest of your plans for this year since this tour actually runs till December 3?

SV: After that, we’re looking at Africa and India, potentially in December. And then, in February, I kick off a full South American tour, then an Eastern European tour, and then another American tour, and then all of Asia and Australia. By the time I’m done, it’ll be about 250-260 shows around the world. I’m lucky because there’s guitar fans all around the world. You don’t have to have a hit single. You just have to get to them somehow. And I’ve been one of the fortunate guitar artists that have been introduced to that community all around the world. I can go any place, and guitar fans come out. It’s been a really charmed career for me. 

Steve Vai appeared at the Copernicus Center on November 16. See Ed Spinelli’s Photo Gallery from the show

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