A Joe Satriani Tribute: Surfing With The Alien
Cam Blokland @ Live on Light Square
8:00pm, Wed 29 Feb 2012
My first musical love? The Electric Light Orchestra. At eight years old, I heard the thumping beat of Don’t Bring Me Down (ironically, their first song without a string section), and I was hooked. I nabbed my brother’s new copy of Discovery on tape and, before my tenth birthday, had accumulated the entire back catalogue. Sure, I didn’t appreciate it (especially the phenomenal early album On The Third Day) until much later in life, but it still formed my musical bedrock.
My second musical love? Early eighties British pop (erring on the New Wave side of things). HoJo, Nik Kershaw, Tears For Fears, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The instrumentation of the music didn’t really bother me that much; I was attracted by the beats and rhythms and lyrics. But I grew up in country South Australia, and a common Saturday night for teenagers at the time was to pile into someone’s car, acquire some illicit alcohol and firewood / white posts, and have a boozy bonfire on the beach with a car stereo straining to the tunes of Cold Chisel and AC/DC. And I really, really didn’t understand the fascination with those bands, and always felt musically distant from my peers as a result.
But in my final year of high school, my pop music leanings were met with quizzical (rather than hateful) scorn from one classmate; the ensuing discussion led him to reach into his schoolbag, extract a cassette, and shove it in my hand. “Try this,” he said, “If you don’t like it, you won’t like anything with guitar in it.”
I looked at the cassette cover, a cartoonish mess of primary colours featuring the Silver Surfer, and gave it little chance of providing me any education… a lesson learned.
Because when I put that cassette in my beloved stereo, the title track of Surfing With The Alien played… and it opened my ears to a whole world of music I’d previously dismissed.
That was an admittedly long preamble to explain that Surfing With The Alien (the album, but more significantly the song) holds a very special place in my heart… and so when I spied mention of it in the Guide, I was sold. I was there.
Unfortunately, not many other people were. Maybe a dozen paying punters, all of us verging on middle age, none of us likely to start thrashing around in delirium at imitations of Satriani licks. But eventually we quietly filed in, to be greeted by Cam Blokland standing onstage with his guitar, sporting rock-star authentic sunglasses-at-night. His band – there were no introductions at all, just a simple greeting and some quick chit-chat – consisted of a rhythm guitarist / keyboardist, bassist, a drummer, and the requisite laptop. A tap of the keyboard, and the crowd noise that opens the album swelled over the speakers… and we were off.
I’ve seen couple of album anniversary shows – Numan’s The Pleasure Principle, HoJo’s Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action – but despite the fact that it wasn’t Joe Satriani on the stage, this was as close a reproduction of an album as I’ve ever heard. In fact, Cam’s playing on the title track was cleaner than Satriani’s own playing during this workshop – beautiful, crisp, searing notes, played with the passion of a true fan – even if the guitar grimaces felt a little over-the-top at times. The band were as tight as a duck’s chuff, and pushed the album along with perfunctory precision.
Every track on the album was there, and it was played in order – but it’s a short album, weighing in at under forty minutes for the ten tracks, so whilst the show was exactly what was promised, it felt like the performance was over too soon. But when the only discernible difference between this show and the original material was the manner in which end-of-song fades were substituted for more clinical closures, it’s pretty hard to criticise it at all.
And the congregation of middle-aged punters? We drank it in: some peering at the technicality of Blokland’s playing, some just drinking in the familiar sounds. And, judging by the looks on their faces at the end of Echo, no-one left unhappy.