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Joe Satriani

June 19, 2012
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Joe Satriani has produced a bountiful collection of live-performance DVDs throughout his storied career. But he was still somewhat taken aback when filmmaking brothers Pierre and François Lamoureaux called out of the blue in 2010, asking to film one of his dates on the Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards tour. For one thing, he didn’t know them—although Steve Vai had forwarded a recommendation—and, for another, he’d have to prepare for shooting the concert in just a few weeks.

“It came right out of nowhere,” explains Satriani. “I said that we already had a fair amount of DVDs out there, and they were like, ‘Yeah, but I don’t think you guys have really made the one the fans want to see. Where you can really see how everybody’s playing—specifically how you’re playing those guitar parts. We’re never going to cut away at a crucial point, and we’re really going to follow the music.’ So I looked at some of their work, and they had done some stunning-looking DVDs that had an authenticity to them—a sense of realism— as if they paid attention to the way an artist feels the show is going. Their productions weren’t at all like filmed TV shows— flat and bland. So we went for it.”

The result was Satchurated: Live in Montreal, which was filmed in 2D and 3D, as well as 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound, and was actually debuted in movie theaters before being made available as a DVD release in late April. Although Satriani is no stranger to being filmed, the Lamoureaux shoot—which took place on the Metropolis in Montreal, Canada, on December 12, 2010 —presented a few challenges.

“First, I wasn’t capable of editing my show down to one-and-a-half hours for the theatrical release,” says Satriani. “I wouldn’t know what to cut, or what to leave in. I mean, any time you’re going to be filmed you’re giving away a lot. You can’t be a director and a performer at the same time. I can see how you can do it in a movie, where you can do 30 takes, but this is rock and roll, and we have one night to get the concert shot, and that’s it. So my job was to go out and be the best guitar player I could be that night, and entertain the fans. Also, it’s pretty painful for me to look at myself on film, so I need someone else to do all that editing. The Lamoureaux brothers are musicians, as well as filmmakers, so I knew they wouldn’t let any of the wonky stuff get by. So I really put my trust in these guys to carry through the promise of the film.

“Then, the night of the concert was the one-year anniversary of my mother’s passing, and as the date started to approach, I realized I was not even close to finishing a mourning process. The night before, I didn’t sleep, and I wasn’t feeling very good during filming. I think you can see it in my face during the soundcheck scenes. I’m not my normal self. Obviously, I didn’t want to break down in front of the cameras, so I had to somehow wall that stuff off. On film, it may look like I’ve got no emotion at all, but I’m actually trying to stem the tide.”

Making things even more difficult, the stage at the Metropolis was a lot smaller than what Satch and his band had been performing on during the tour.

“Suddenly, all of our moves and our positions were thrown off,” he explains. “We were kind of compacted—especially Allen (Whitman, bass) and Galen (Henson, guitar), who were almost on top of each other. It was annoying musically, as well. Generally, I have my feedback under control because I know all the places on stage to avoid, but there were a few whale noises that night because I stepped into the wrong spot.”

The necessities of shooting for 3D also somewhat invaded Satriani’s normal approach to rocking out.

“We had a direction,” he says, “that if we saw that 3D camera looming towards us, we had to make sure there was nothing between us and that camera—or else you get really goofy 3D effects. So we had to be aware of that, and not step in front of each other, or have a mic stand in-between one of us and the camera. But that was the only direction, really. They didn’t ask us to be actors, because that’s exactly the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. They really wanted to capture us being ourselves. I didn’t want to mug for the camera, after all, and we didn’t want to make a silly 3D film where I point my guitar neck at the camera, and stuff like that. We wanted to be free of all the 3D gimmicks that would ruin the content of the film, and really just turn it into some form of visual titillation.”

Given the emotional and technical challenges, Satriani had initially left the stage that night feeling pretty down, but co-guitarist Mike Keneally came to the rescue.

“Mike was really very excited about the whole show,” says Satriani. “But I said, ‘Oh man, I didn’t do all the things I always thought I was going to do on a performance like this.’ And then Mike said something very interesting. He said, ‘Well, you may not have achieved what you set out to achieve, but what you did achieve was something very unique and special.’ At the time, I thought, ‘Ahh, that’s a nice thing to say to a guitar player who is beside himself at the moment.’ But as I worked on the film months later, I started to understand what he meant. It’s just really hard to evaluate yourself. As [producer] Glyn Johns once said to me: ‘It’s not your job to guess or to tell people what to like. It’s your job simply to play guitar, and that’s it. And then you move on.’ Both those pearls of wisdom from Mike and Glyn really relate to the making of this film, and what I was going through.”

On further reflection, Satriani came to understand that, in any case, his entire career was not based on a series of spectacular performances— that it’s more important your hard work develops a pattern of consistency.

“I started to think about all the performances I had given since I was 14 years old,” he says, “and I came to realize that, in general, audiences see me play on an average night. Only once in a while, do I believe that I’m stellar, and someone was there to watch it happen. Most of the time, those amazing moments are when you’re in a hotel room or something, and you go, ‘Damn, I wish there was somebody here to document that. I finally played it right!’ So I realized all the success I’ve had has been based on my usual consistent level of performance. Performers are always trying to be the best version of themselves, and when we don’t get there, we’re totally bummed out. But you have to come to the realization that, over the course of your career, your fans don’t base their perception of your music on one stellar night.”

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