For some of the really fast passages, I could hear that they were using a legato approach—incorporating an abundance of hammer-ons, pull-offs and finger slides—but I had absolutely no idea how to play the guitar in that way or achieve anywhere near their speed and precision. It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before, so I always referred to it as “alien guitar.”
The scene at the House of Blues backstage lounge is not unlike a typical Saturday afternoon in many living rooms across the States. The band members are casually sprawled across the immense couches to watch the final moments of Game 3 of the Western Conference NBA quarterfinals.
Tosin Abasi strides into a Hollywood photo studio dressed in a crisp striped jersey, jeans and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses that make him look a bit like the young Dizzy Gillespie. He’s toting a pair of the Ibanez eight-string guitars that have become his stock in trade, sleek-bodied instruments with broad, massive necks that carry the heft and menace of weaponry.
Since they became a hot live ticket in the late Seventies, Rush have had little trouble filling the arenas and EnormoDomes of the world. But in the past few years, Alex Lifeson has noticed a change in their audience, and it’s not a subtle one. “We’re reaching a lot more young kids and teens,” he says. “You look out and see all these new faces, kids with their parents. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to see your music going from generation to generation.”
Once upon a time, video games were considered the nerdy domain of geeks, freaks and social misfits. Over the past couple of decades, however, the $65-billion gaming industry has become as ubiquitous and all-American as baseball and apple pie. The long-term cultural and psychological impact of gaming and the relentless pursuit of “the next level” will undoubtedly fuel countless sociology books and psychiatric papers, but for now one only has to listen to the ambitious, cutting-edge prog-rock of Periphery for a glimpse of how gaming is shaping art and music in the 21st century.
“I was always one of those guys who was a seeker after truth,” Steve Vai says. “I want to know what’s going on.” True enough. Vai’s relentless quest “to know what’s going on” has enabled him to plumb the transductive, vibratory mysteries of the electric guitar and come up with tonalities and techniques never before imagined. His place of honor in guitar history is secure. After all, of all the guitarists who emerged in the Eighties shred scene, Vai is quite arguably the most innovative.