For a guitarist, seeing Steve Vai play live can be a mind-altering experience. From the moment I saw him play the devil's guitarist, Jack Butler, in the 1986 cult movie classic, Crossroads, he had me hooked for life. Vai has transformed my view of the guitar as much as Hendrix, Page, and Van Halen did before him.
Where The Wild Things Are was filmed in high definition at the State Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota during Vai’s Sound Theories Tour of 2007. The video took two years to get released because Vai meticulously produced and edited it himself – and we all know just what a perfectionist this man can be. Just ask his poor band members. Thankfully, Vai learned from the production mistakes that made his Live At The Astoria London DVD difficult to sit through at times, and this time around he has put together one of the most satisfying concert DVD productions of the year.
A new composition entitled "Paint Me Your Face" serves as the show opener as the band members take their place on stage with most of the lights still dimmed. Vai, wearing sunglasses and a full-length black coat, adorned with multi-colored musical notations, proceeds to warm up the anxious crowd with a 20th Anniversary, acrylic-bodied, translucent-green, Ibanez Jem that is a feast for the eyes. Settle in for one hell of a wild ride.
Vai uses this same guitar for another new song, "Now We Run," before settling in to more familiar territory with the eclectic Ultra Zone track, "Oooh." After this song he is handed another of what seems like a hundred different Ibanez Jems before he kicks off one of his best performances of the night, "Building The Church." This song begins with a ridiculous two-handed tapping lick that screams, I am Steve Vai and I am going to blow your fucking mind tonight.
I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about the new band Vai had put together for this tour. Longtime rhythm guitarist Dave Weiner is still around, and Jeremy Colson is back behind the skins. The always shirtless, tattoo-covered Colson seems like such a poor fit for the Steve Vai band at first, as his appearance and style exude heavy metal excess. But it quickly becomes apparent why Vai has kept him around. The dude plays with equal parts power and finesse, and his tireless energy is simply amazing. Bassist Bryan Beller has stepped into Billy Sheehan's gigantic shoes, and he is no less impressive.
The two new ones that would really have to win me over were the two violinists – that's right, violinists – Ann Marie Calhoun and Alex DePue. Prior to watching this video I had thought to myself, "this is either going to be really weird, or really amazing.". I can assure you, it is the latter. Vai is a master composer and arranger and he has managed to dream up some of the best violin fusion I have heard since Jean-Luc Ponty first teamed up with Mahavishnu John McLaughlin
Before the fifth song, "Tender Surrender," Vai gets rid of the long overcoat, trading it with his roadie for another of his many personally named guitars, this one being "EVO." This is all done while humorous commentary runs across the screen, such as "Ahhh…I finally get to take off this funky coat," and "Hey…there's that guy!," as he leers out into the crowd . Vai will use other post production effects throughout the video, but unlike the Astoria video, they are used sparingly and they perfectly compliment the performance.
Nowhere was this done more tastefully than during the intro to "I'm Becoming," where a greenish, aura surrounds Vai as he coaxes angelic notes from his guitar. The main riff of the song has one of the warmest distortion sounds I have ever heard, and it comes by way of his new signature Ibanez Jemini Distortion pedal, of which he demonstrates in great detail during the bonus features.
Another one of my favorite performances was "The Crying Machine," where Vai performs the main riffs in unison with both violinists. Calhoun plays a normal acoustic violin, and DePue favors an electric Flying V-style violin which really allows them to add their own unique characteristics to each of the songs. Oh yeah, and you've also got Dave Weiner going back and forth between electric sitar and a 7-string electric guitar the whole time – give me a break!
Steve Vai is one of the best guitar showmen in the business and his unique sense of style and swagger always makes his live performances a blast to watch, unlike some of the guitar-clinic-like concerts others of his genre are known for. Vai waltzes around the stage as he plays, and teases his adoring fans with playful facial gestures as he fires off guitar licks in their direction. During "Blue Murder" he even "blows" notes across the guitar as if it was some type of futuristic guitar-flute. He is Jack Butler.
The always generous Vai gives all of his bandmates plenty of time to shine during the show as well – hell, he even allows Weiner to play the entire title track of his latest solo album, Shove the Sun Aside. "Apples In Paradise" is nothing more than a magnificent showcase for Calhoun and DePue to show off their very different violin styles. "Beastly Rap" allows Colson to show off his outrageous, strap-on, drum kit that is decorated by a bunch of shrunken skulls, as well as a life-sized, talking, Steve Vai skull, which allows him to poke fun at Vai for a few minutes. It is impressive enough that Colson can even stand up with this beastly rig strapped to his shoulders, but he also manages to knock out an incredible drum accompaniment to Vai's acoustic guitar jam, "Treasure Island."
I could go on all day describing this incredible smorgasbord of guitar virtuosity, but I'll just say that for every highlight I have described from the first disc, there are even more on disc two. Don't even get me started on "For The Love Of God," and that haunting violin intro. Where The Wild Things Are is like one of those epic prog albums of the past that take multiple listens before they really start to reveal themselves to you, and then you can listen to them over and over and still find new and exciting things each and every time. It also doesn't hurt that the concert spans nearly three hours.
As I mentioned earlier, I was very impressed with Vai's production of this DVD. Your audio options are Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and PCM stereo and they both sound nearly flawless. The surround mix is one of the best I've heard recently. Vai's light show was as dynamic and moody as his music, and the hi-def picture captured it perfectly. The camera work was also superb, allowing all you guitar freaks plenty of time to cop most of Vai's licks, while balancing all of the great close-ups with plenty of full-stage shots.
Bonus Material includes band interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, as well a humorous demonstration of the new Jemini Distortion pedal done by Steve Vai and his alter ego, Steve Vai. You haven't seen a guitar jam until you've seen Vai jamming with himself.
Although I am a guitar player myself, I can still get bored with instrumental guitar music much faster than other styles of music. The songs tend to overlap and sound too alike a lot of the time. Hell, Steve Vai is one of my favorite instrumental guitarists, and I don't even own all of his albums. Watching Vai perform his craft live is a whole different ballgame though, because the man is a master showman with personality to spare. Check it out for yourself.
01. Paint Me Your Face
02. Now We Run
04. Building the Church
05. Tender Surrender
06. Band Intros
07. Fire Wall
09. Shove the Sun Aside
10. I'm Becoming
11. Die to Live
12. Freak Show Excess
13. Apples in Paradise
14. All About Eve
15. Gary 7
16. Beastly Rap
17. Treasure Island
18. Angel Food
19. Earthquake Sky
20. The Audience is Listening
21. The Murder
23. Whispering a Prayer
24. Taurus Bulba
27. For the Love of God
Performance – 9/10
Production – 10/10