After more than 40 years in the music industry, including stints with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, Steve Vai has performed in many a cavernous arena.
However, the American rock guitar virtuoso said there was something about the intimacy of particular venues that he embraced - namely, the ability to look the audience directly in the eye.
"Arenas, they're nice because you get paid a lot," he laughed, speaking to the Mercury while on tour in Memphis.
"But I've done arena tours where I played arenas five times a week for six months. And they're great, but there's no personality. You just look out into darkness and you see the first few rows or whatever.
"So it's all good. But my favourite is more like 1000 to 1500-seat theaters."
Vai is a renowned guitarist, composer and producer, considered by many as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
He's sold more than 15 million records, won three Grammy Awards, and recorded with music legends like Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake.
Vai has also toured extensively and recorded live projects with G3 (collaborating with different touring line-ups including Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Lukather) and Generation Axe, a supergroup he formed with Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tosin.
He's also collaborated with Canadian heavy music maverick Devin Townsend.
Now, the veteran player is bringing his Inviolate tour to Australia.
Over the past two years, Vai released a new studio album, Inviolate, and a record titled Vai/Gash, which he had been holding in his archive for three decades.
In support of both releases, Vai embarked on a world tour in 2022 that will take the better part of two years and result in the band playing in excess of 200 shows.
"People react differently all around the world," Vai said of life on the road.
"It's one of the things I've noticed from touring for 43 years. You can even be in America and go from one state to the next. And the way that people take in the shows and express themselves are very different.
"I'm happy to say that Australians kick butt."
Inviolate was released in January 2022, spearheaded by the single Teeth of the Hydra; the Hydra in question being his eye-catching, three-necked Ibanez guitar.
"When you see somebody performing that, I don't think you need to be a guitar fan to appreciate it," the axeman said.
Obviously such a sight will be impressive to both the musicians and non-musicians in the audience, but the Mercury asked Vai how he crafts an overall live show that all of his fans can embrace, whether they can play the guitar or not.
"Well, I try to build the tempo of the show, the dynamics of the show as if I was in the audience watching it," he said. "And I ask myself, 'okay, I know what I can do. I know what songs I have, what kind of a show do I want to see?'
"First and foremost, I see myself as a service provider. I'm an entertainer. I'm one of those people that enable people to dream while they're awake. You get an opportunity to leave your world for a minute, leave all the bills and the job and any drama and politics and everything. And you come to a live show and you just surrender to it. And it's very uplifting.
"That's one of the things; I want my shows to be uplifting. I want people to leave feeling good. And that's in the melodies and it's in my performance.
"It's a great show. It's very melodious. I do a lot of shredding and whatnot, but there's a lot of melody. And for me, melody is king. And you will hear great melody performed by a tight band and a guitar player that's connected, that wants to invite you into his connectedness with the notes."
In recent years, Vai has collaborated with younger acts like progressive rockers Polyphia, and witnessed the rise of YouTube shredders and young instrumental maestros.
If Vai was coming through the ranks today, would he be a prolific YouTuber and TikTok personality?
"Sometimes I think I am," he laughed.
"I probably would have done what all these other guys are doing, using it as an initial platform to get my voice out. And that's what so many of them are doing.
"There's, like TikTok sensations, but once they reach a certain level... It's sort of like a TV show, like America's Got Talent or one of these shows where you have a contestant that gets their minute or a few minutes, and they're so great that they get a record deal and create an entire career.
"So I think it's kind of similar with the TikTok sensation."
-Steve Vai will perform at Anita's Theatre, Thirroul on Monday, November 6. Tickets here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.