Polyphia take a blues-rock turn in blistering guest spot with Steve Vai

Steve Vai performing with Tim Henson and Scott LePage
(Image credit: Stanley Allen/YouTube)

Earlier this year, Polyphia announced they would be embarking on a guitar collaboration for the ages when they revealed electric guitar legend Steve Vai would have a cameo on a track from their upcoming album, Remember That You Will Die.

That track, Ego Death, arrived to confirm what everyone at the time expected: the six-string triumvirate of Vai, Tim Henson and Scott LePage proved to be one the hottest guitar link-ups in recent memory.

Lucky for us, the Vai/Polyphia union wasn’t just a one off, with Vai recently inviting the prog-rock pioneers for an impromptu jam during his Inviolate tour show at Dallas’ House of Blues on Saturday (October 8).

Captured via fan footage, the six-minute jam session saw Vai, Henson and LePage take center stage for a fiery exchange of licks, taking it in turns to dazzle the crowd with explosive fretboard pyrotechnics and technically baffling exchanges.

It will come as no surprise that both Henson and LePage delivered a classically awe-inspiring display of their trademark tricks, though not without including a series of bluesier – and, dare we say, “boomer bend”-tinged – upper-register left-hand warm-up drills.

In fact, during the opening minutes, every harmonic chime and box-breaking Polyphia passage was met with a blitz of blistering pentatonic licks. The result – particularly when the trio start playing together – is pretty mesmerizing, with the six-string power trio composing a lead tapestry of the highest order.

What was equally surprising was Henson's rig, which had room for a wah pedal. Usually a champion of crystal cleans and tight gain tones, Henson seized the opportunity and went to town on some decidedly wah-flavored exchanges.

There was plenty of electric guitar eye candy on display as well. While Vai wielded his classic white Ibanez JEM, Henson and LePage opted for their custom AZ-style models.

Unfortunately for those hoping to hear Ego Death live, there was no room for the latest Polyphia single on the setlist, which mostly comprised tracks from Vai’s own most recent studio album Inviolate, such as Teeth of the Hydra, Zeus in Chains and Candlepower.

The trio recently discussed their monumental team-up in the latest issue of Guitar World, during which Vai revealed he was initially unsure whether Polyphia actually liked his contributions due to the fact his take had been chopped up and manipulated in production.

“Usually when I do something for somebody, they just take it the way it is,” Vai noted. “These guys are very creative, and they like to manipulate things. Which is fine, I told them, ‘Do whatever you like. Here’s what I’ve got.’

“It didn’t really matter – it’s not sacred. It was chopped in a way that met their creativity demands, and I wouldn’t want them to do anything else,” he added. “When I first heard it, though, it was so different. I thought, ‘Maybe they didn’t like what I did!’ 

“And then I thought, ‘No, this is just the way that they work.’ At first, I felt uncomfortable saying, ‘Featuring Steve Vai,’ because I thought, ‘Well, I didn’t really do anything.’ I didn’t feel like I really contributed something, and then when I listened to it again, I said, ‘Of course. It was just a stupid humility kind of thing.’”

However, Henson reassured the guitar legend, insisting his take had been instrumental to the creative direction of the song.

To read the full conversation, check out the new issue of Guitar World from Magazines Direct.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.