Japan Live Sessions 1986 was recorded at the Sound Market Open Air, Nagano, Japan on June 1, 1986 and features sets from Santana and Jeff Beck, with Steve Lukather guesting on several of the performances. I was thrilled to come across such a classic early Santana performance, since the somewhat misleading DVD title makes no mention of him at all.
This video has been around in various forms since being recorded in 1986, but this is the first time it has been officially released on DVD. The concert was professionally shot with multiple cameras and then edited down to about an hour for airing on Japanese television. The 11-song set provides an all too brief snapshot of what must have been a mind blowing concert featuring three of the world’s greatest guitarists all sharing the same stage.
I’m not sure if the audio and video are an improvement of the other versions of this concert that are floating around, but this one looks and sounds pretty good considering the source material. The DVD package is definitely a no frills affair though, offering no booklet, and having a very bootleg quality look and feel. They even misspelled Jeff Beck’s famous “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” on the case, calling it “Cause It Ended For Lovers”, which is how it also appears in the DVD menu and the screen prior to the song.
The second you push the play button Santana is on the screen, already a few seconds into their opening performance of “Primera Invasion,” which is from their often overlooked 1981 album, Zebop. Maybe I’m a little biased about that one since the Zebop tour was my very first arena concert, and it made me a Santana fan for life. Carlos was sporting some Kirk Hammett style long curly black hair back then, and his guitar playing was on fire. “Black Magic Woman” was spellbinding as always, but I damn near jumped out of my skin when “Gypsy Queen” was abruptly cut off by the editor after only a few seconds in. That gives you a glimpse into how truly remarkable this DVD could have been though, were they able to include the entire concert.
This particular Santana tour featured Buddy Miles (of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys fame), on lead vocals, and he would also go on to sing on Santana’s 1987 album Freedom. With some help from special guest Steve Lukather, Santana unleashes one of his most straightforward rock songs, “Open Invitation,” on the crowd to close out his set. I consider Lukather to be one of the most talented guitarists on the planet, so if you only know him from his Toto stuff, make sure to check out some of his solo and guest work as well.
It was quite amusing to watch this baby faced version of Lukather, bouncing around on stage like a coked-up spaz, feverishly licking his numbed-up lips and teeth non-stop, as he fired off million-mile-an-hour licks all night. Oh, take it easy, he has so much as admitted to being a big coke fiend back in the day. I was kind of disappointed with his way over processed guitar tone that sounded rather tiny next to Beck and Santana’s meatier tones. It could have been a bad mix too.
Jeff Beck hits the stage with a rousing performance of “Star Cycle,” which is led by keyboard wiz Jan Hammer, fresh off his groundbreaking Miami Vice soundtrack work. This was a killer band Beck put together for this tour, who along with Hammer, also featured Doug Wimbish on bass, Simon Philips (who would later replace the late Jeff Porcaro in Toto) on drums, and Jimmy Hall, who was also the lead vocalist for the ’70′s southern rock outfit Wet Willie, on vocals.
“Cause We’ve Ended as Lover’s is one of my favorite instrumental guitar songs of all time, and Beck plays it true to form – thankfully. More recently when Beck plays this song, he tends to take more liberties with it, which can be a little frustrating when you just want to hear this masterpiece the way it was written. Next up, surprisingly, Beck and Lukather tear through a fun but frustrating performance of “Wild Thing” – frustrating in the fact that so many other great Beck songs were cut from the broadcast instead of this one.
But the rest of this DVD is what really puts it over the top as Beck and Lukather unleash incredible performances of the Blow by Blow classic, “Freeway Jam”, along with the Jeff Beck Group rocker “Going Down,” which featured some gritty vocals from Hall. “Super Boogie” gets all three guitarists on stage together trading some monster riffs, and it was quite the site to behold. “People Get Ready” was definitely the most suitable song of the night for Buddy Miles vocally, and he and Hall knock it out of the park. Oh, and Jeff was pretty good too. “Johnny B Good” serves as the show closer and it again finds these three amazing guitarist taking you to rock guitar school.
Production wise, this DVD is nothing to write home about, but the audio and video were both decent enough to not detract from the amazing performances contained herein, and the camera work was outstanding. The picture was in it’s original 4:3 full screen format, and the only audio option included was a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. No extra features were included.
If only the entire concert could have been included, along with a remixed and remastered 5.1 surround audio track, this could have been the concert DVD of the year.
01. Primera Invasion
02. Black Magic Woman
03. Open Invitation
04. Star Cycle
05. Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers
06. Wild Thing
07. Freeway Jam
08. Going Down
09. Super Boogie
10. People Get Ready
11. Johnny B Good