I caught this G3 tour, the first time around, back in 2001 at the magnificent Warner Theater in Washington, DC. I couldn’t have been more psyched about this show, as John Petrucci was my favorite "new-school" guitarist, based on his phenomenal work with Dream Theater, and Joe Satriani and Steve Vai were two of the greatest instrumental-rock guitarists on the planet. They still are of course. My wife and I entered the theater and ordered drinks from the full bar they had conveniently set up in the lobby, and then proceeded to our ridiculously comfortable, lower-level seats, only about twenty rows from the stage. Now that’s the way to see a concert, especially at my age. For the next three hours I was completely blown away. As we were leaving the venue, the first thing I could mutter, desides WOW!, was "they have to record this tour for DVD!"
Well my fellow guitar freaks, my birthday was last month, damn near the same day this baby was released, and guess what one of my best presents was. It may not be the 2001 tour, but it is the same lineup, which I believe is the best one yet. Live In Tokyo was recorded on May 8, 2005 at the International Forum in Tokyo, Japan and features the usual suspects Joe Satriani and Steve Vai along with their invited guest John Petrucci. I have also reviewed both of the previous G3 DVDs, which earned mixed results. The first G3 Live In Concert was outstanding. Satriani and Vai were at their peak and it was a big treat to see Eric Johnson play live. At a meager 68 minutes though, the DVD was much too short. With the Live in Denver DVD, none of the performances were particularly impressive, and Yngwie was annoying as hell. At least they increased the length a little though. With this DVD, you get it all – three killer performances, superior production quality, and almost two hours worth of material.
For once they actually programmed the performance order on the DVD to match that of the tour. It is always; guest, Vai, Satch, jam. On the heals of his first solo album Suspended Animation, Dream Theater‘s John Petrucci opened the show and nearly stole it out from under his masters’ feet. This DVD may not reflect that since only two of his song performances are included. On the tour, each guitarist performs about an hour set and then the jam session lasts another half hour or so. Why they have yet to include the whole show on any of their DVDs is beyond me. Maybe they’re holding out for a G3 boxed set that includes an entire show from each tour.
Petrucci’s performances of "Glasgow Kiss" and "Damage Control" were selected for this DVD and they were both mesmerizing. "Glasgow Kiss" starts off like a Scottish drinking song, transforms into a heavy blues jam, and then returns to form. "Damage Control" is more of a prog-metal number similar to the stuff on Dream Theater‘s Train Of Thought album. Did I mention that Mike Portnoy played drums on this tour? That just begged for some Liquid Tension Experiment material, which he did perform at the show I saw, but unfortunately we get none here. Petrucci combines flawless technique with beautiful melodies, ungodly speed, and plenty of memorable riffs. My only qualm with his playing is that he tends to be too robotic, like he was programmed for 100% accuracy, 500 notes per minute, and pointed towards the stage. "Now play my son…PLAY!". At the show I attended, there was more buzz in the air about Petrucci than the two headlining wizards, and he certainly delivered the goods.
The devil’s guitarist was up next and he couldn’t have been more different than Petrucci. Ever the flamboyant showoff, Steve Vai started things off in typically charismatic fashion with his classic "The Audience Is Listening" from his seminal 1990 album Passion and Warfare. With the stage lights still dimmed Vai "talks" to the audience with his guitar from backstage before walking out and kicking things off with a monster intro guitar solo. Whether you like his guitar playing or not, Vai is certainly one of the most compelling guitarist on the planet, able to create incredible sounds on his guitar as easy as I can snap my fingers to the beat. The final two tracks are from his brand new 2005 album Real Illusions: Reflections. During "Building The Church", Vai puts on a two-hand tapping clinic between each incredible solo, and then uses the whammy bar so impressively and thoroughly that it is like he has created a whole new instrument. "K’m Pee-Du-We" is a gorgeous, stripped down song, performed as a power trio, that breathes off the incredible interaction between Vai and his bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan. These are two of the best songs Vai has done in a while.
Satriani kicks off his set in rather lackluster style, slowly strolling out from stage right while playing some middle eastern sounding chords that eventually lead into his new arena-rock anthem "Up In Flames", from his latest album Is There Love In Space?. "Searching", from the same album, is a sprawling epic that moves between emotional ballad and power-rock solo showcase. Satriani takes you back to his 1992 album The Extremist next, and closes his set with one of his lesser know epics, fittingly titled "War". Power, glory, aggression, and bravado all bleed from this intense number, showing that the guitar can be just as expressive as potent lyrics through the mouth of a great singer.
The song selection for the G3 jam was outstanding. They kicked things off with the mandatory Hendrix number, this time being "Foxey Lady", featuring Satriani on the lead vocals. Now Satch is certainly no singer, but he does a pretty respectable job here. Portnoy comes back out to handle the drums on this song and they keep things pretty faithful to the original – minus the eight minutes worth of guitar solos. Next up was the ZZ Top classic "La Grange", which features Billy Sheehan on lead vocals. His extremely deep voice was a pretty good match for this number, especially the famous intro, "Rumor spreadin’ a-’round… in that Texas town". They closed the show with a performance that reinforced why it is one of the greatest rock songs of all time, Deep Purple‘s "Smoke On The Water". Petrucci kicked off the legendary opening riff, and when Vai and Satch both chimed in on the second go round, the intensity literally sent chills up my spine. What a monster riff – and yet so beautifully simple. Satriani’s bassist Matt Bissonette handled the lead vocals here and did an excellent job.
The jams were all excellent, but with each song meandering on for about ten minutes, they tended to get a little long winded. Each song basically turned into guitar solo riffathons after about the first four minutes. I know that is what most people came to see, hell, its what I came to see, but they got a little repetitive towards the end. I would have trimmed a few minutes worth of soloing from each song and then added another one. How about the three of them trading solos on "Freebird", or "Hotel California" for instance.
This DVD easily has the best production quality of the three G3 releases. The audio was crystal clear, and each instrument was mixed perfectly. It is quite impressive to get three guitarist, firing on all cylinders at once, sometimes with two bassists playing, mixed so well that you can distinctly hear every note and tone. The video was presented in high-definition widescreen and could not have looked any better. To top things off, the camera work was some of the best I have ever seen for this type of show. Slow, sweeping shots from every vantage point, with every key solo captured with a perfect close-up. Well done. The bonus features included them soundchecking for the G3 jam. Separate commentary tracks from each guitarist are also provided.
I was blown away by the first G3 DVD mostly because it was the first time I had ever seen Satriani and Vai play live. This DVD is a much more satisfying experience overall. Now give us the whole damn show next time!
The Audience Is Listening
Building The Church
Up In Flames
Smoke On The Water
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