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Guitar star Steve Vai eager for China encore

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

15:13, July 19, 2013

Steve Vai will stage two shows in China as part of his Story of Light world tour. (China Daily)

When Steve Vai gave his first show in Beijing in 2004, he didn't know what to expect because he had never been to China, which "always seemed so out of reach", recalls the US guitar master.

However, besides the feverish reaction from nearly 1,500 fans, two things impressed the musician most. One was the local guitarist Chen Lei from an established Beijing-based rock band, Tang Dynasty, who opened for Vai's show.

"I remember that he had very nice smooth tone and great vibrato," recalls 53-year-old Vai, referring to Chen's solo performance of Lan Hua Hua, a folk song of Northwest China.

Vai was also overwhelmed by the local security for the show. He recalls that the police held guns and looked very strict. "I thought I might be thrown out at any time," he says. "However, by the middle of the concert, they were rocking nice and hard. It was really a wonderful experience."

The show also attracted many local musicians, including Chinese godfather of rock 'n' roll Cui Jian and guitarist Li Yanliang.

The experience made Vai excited when he had a chance to return to China. He will give two shows, in Shanghai on July 24 and Beijing on the 26th, as stops of his Story Of Light World Tour 2013.

The long-haired guitar legend, who has sold more than 15 million albums and won three Grammy Awards, will perform with Jeremy Colson on drums, Dave Weiner on guitar, Philip Bynoe on bass and Michael Arrom on keyboards.

The Story of Light, his eighth studio album, which is the second installment of songs in a quadrilogy, will be introduced to Chinese audiences.

As usual, he covers a lot of genres: big blues, Broadway, Irish traditional music as well as a huge dose of his own incomparable style.

Through the quadrilogy, he tells a story of a man who does something that causes him great guilt and pain, and he eventually goes mad. He goes back to his town and is seen as an outcast. Vai constructs a world hoping the listeners will see the story unravel through the man's eyes.

The first record of the series was his last studio album, Real Illusions: Reflections, which has the main character, Captain Drake Mason, presenting a book that he wrote to the townspeople. The name of the book is Under It All and the first chapter is called The Story of Light.

"The Light that is referred to is the light of consciousness. The title just came to me," Vai says.

He practices like a scientist, testing elements from world music, blues, folk and Celtic, and applied them to the guitar.

"When I create songs I don't put up any parameters as to how to do it," he says. "I let ideas roll over me. Many times I will go back and listen to little pieces of ideas that I had captured before and then expand them into songs."

The beauty of being a musician for him lies in challenging himself to do something that has a unique moment or idea in it. Though he has never envisioned this journey, he recalls that he liked lying in bed and listening to music and imagining that he was performing it onstage like a wizard when he was a young teenager.

"I would imagine my body moved with the guitar and the music was magical, uplifting," he says. "It wasn't until later in life that I discovered the strangest secret: We become what we think about."

It all began when Vai, at the age of 13, listened to Jimmy Page's solo. His first album, Flex-Able, was made in 1983 after he left musician Frank Zappa's band.

In the 1980s, he performed in the David Lee Roth band and then joined Whitesnake, noted for being physically expressive as he performed. His self-designed seven-string guitar also became his trademark.

He believes that "all the brilliant inspiration of the entire universe is within us".

"We just have to surrender to it and let it come out without getting in the way. I'm still working on this," he says.

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