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Artist: Steve Vai
Title: Live At The Astoria in London
Genre: Instrumental Rock Fusion
Format: DVD (2)
Label: Favored Nations-

Steve Vai is a guitar stud, period. To watch 
his six-string wizardry first hand is like 
witnessing the eighth wonder of the world 
take shape. Live At The Astoria in 
London is an awe-inspiring two DVD set 
that puts Vai's talents in the spotlight, as 
well as his cohorts, whom are not a shabby 
bunch by any means. Virgil Donati (drums), 
Tony Mc Alpine (guitar, keyboards) and Dave 
Weiner (guitar) are a stellar lineup. Only 
the very best available musicians in the 
world are capable of backing an out-of-this-
world guitar man like Mr. Vai.

Twenty-one tracks of amazing six-string 
fireworks are what you get in this 
performance. Vai plays his guitar with every 
part of his body, well almost everything; in 
fact, he plays the guitar better with his 
tongue than most can with their fingers. 
Speaking of fingers, the man has the longest 
fingers I have ever seen, it is no wonder he 
makes it look so easy, I imagine he would 
fare just as well on the keyboards if that 
were his chosen instrument. 

It becomes apparent quickly that the 
audience is there specifically to witness 
the technical expertise of every band member 
and some of them actually mention that in a 
short interview section before the show 

Vai is a little of over the top and flashy 
at times but it comes with the territory. 
Nonetheless, he is a for real genuine 
personality with tons of talent and the 
audience seemed to love every minute of what 
he dished out.

With the exception of a few sound checks and 
an interview with Vai's guitar tech, a 
majority of disc two is more for the 
hardcore fans and techies, but fun 
nevertheless. This was every bit as good as 
I expected it to be. I highly recommend it 
to budding guitarists and those who love 
highflying instrumental rock.

(c)"Keith "MuzikMan" Hannaleck
December 6, 2003

Rating- 5 / 5

Disc 1 : Live

1. Shyboy
2. Giant Balls of Gold
3. Erotic Nightmares
4. Blood And Glory
5. Dave's Party Piece
6. Blue Powder
7. The Crying Machine
8. The Animal
9. Bangkok
10. Tony's Solo
11. Bad Horsie
12. Chameleon
13. Down Deep Into The Pain
14. Fire
15. Little Wing
16. Whispering A Prayer
17. Incantation (with drum solo)
18. Jibboom
19. For The Love of God
20. Liberty
21. The Attitude Song
Disc 2: Bonus Features

2. Behind-The-Scenes-Footage
3. Interviews
4. Band Biographes
5. Vai Discography
6. Los Angeles Rehearsals

Special DVD Features:

Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
PCM Stereo
Audio Commentary
Instant Chapter Access to Songs

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Steve Vai:
The Elusive Light And Sound Vol. 1
2002, Favored Nations

Steve Vai's release The Elusive Light And Sound Vol. 1 is a compilation of tracks that were previously recorded for the soundtracks of the various movies for which Vai has composed music. Though the music spans a number of different movie soundtracks, the tracks are all characterized by Vai's progressive, hard-edged guitar work. There are no surprises on this CD and if you have seen any of the movies from which the tracks are from, you will recognize the music from those movies. The soundtracks also include some of the dialog from the movies that lead into Vai's guitar work.

The CD features a lot of signature Vai axe work in the aggressive, biting Vai style of progressive instrumental rock. The legendary "cuttin' heads" duel from the Crossroads movie is included in the lineup of movie soundpieces. The Paganini caprice excerpt is probably the highlight of the compilation as a historical milestone where Vai demonstrated his technical capabilities and gained broad exposure to the general listening population with this segment from the Crossroads movie. (for those of you who are old enough to remember that!) It is kind of neat that you can now listen to this segment without having to sit through the movie to get to it, as is the case with any of the other tracks that you will now be able to listen to without having to pick them out of the movies. The "Celluloid Heroes" track is another highlight of the CD, though not lead guitar intensive, it is a well-produced track with good musical vision.

By now, most of you probably are already familiar with Vai's stunt guitar work and composition. If you like Vai's studio albums, you will want to add this one to your collection to round out your Vai library. There is a lot of good guitar work by Vai on the CD. The only drawback is that some of the voice-overs from some older, goofy movies, like Bill & Ted, are included and you'll have to tolerate them to hear the guitar work that ensues or accompanies.

1) Celluloid Heroes
2) Love Blood
3-6) Music From "Crossroads"
7-8) Music From "Dudes"
9-16) Music From "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey"
17-18) Music From "Encino Man"
19-40) Music From "PCU"

~ Christopher Ruel ~ ~

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THE ULTRA ZONE Steve Vai The Ultra Zone (Epic/Sony, 1999)

Guitarist/composer Steve Vai helped lead the late 80s instrumental metal, "shred" guitar wave with his lead guitar work in several metal bands and his second solo album Passion and Warfare (1990). However, Vai's roots ran musically deeper than most of his instrumental metal colleagues, partly due to his stint in Frank Zappa's band and his idiosyncratic first solo record Flex-able (1984). Flex-able showed monster chops and unpredictable songwriting, understandably Zappa influenced, and all recorded in Vai's garage. Passion and Warfare dripped with grandiose sound and playing, showcasing varied compositional styles and new guitar technology. Later, Vai experimented with a full band, including singer Devin Townsend, on Sex and Religion (1993), and began singing his own vocals on the concept solo album Fire Garden (1996).

The Ultra Zone finds Steve Vai taking full advantage of his mastery of sonic collage to layer dripping wet guitars, synthesizers, and electronic percussion underneath his trademark wah pedal drenched, glassy lead guitar. Some tracks feature Vai on all instruments, live and programmed, while others include live bass and drums by session musicians, and even a horn section on "Lucky Charms."

The song selection mixes some rather stock instrumental metal guitar fare, like "Jibboom," with clever, uniquely Vai compositions, like the sonically adventurous "Voodoo Acid" or the electronica-tinged rocker "The Ultra Zone." Vai writes most effectively in the sweeping, almost cinematic style of "Blood and Tears" and "Fever Dream," or the quirky, Zappa influenced style of "Lucky Charms" or "Frank," a tribute to his deceased former mentor. The ballad "Windows to the Soul" stutters in an 11:8 time shuffle underneath Vai's fluid leads, reminiscent of "For the Love of God" from Passion and Warfare. The instrumental tracks include a few gratuitous "shred" moments of cumbersome and lengthy guitar solos, but Vai mostly remains within the musical context and restrains his ferocious chops until the right moments.

Vai writes far less effectively when focusing his songs on lyrics or vocals, and unfortunately like Fire Garden, he sings most of the vocals on The Ultra Zone himself. The ballad section of "I'll Be Around" sounds like music for the slow dance scene in some mid 80s high school romance movie, complete with mediocre vocals and sappy lyrics. The ponderous blues riffing and throaty vocals on "Here I Am" completely spoil the soaring mood that the previous track "Fever Dream" builds so well.

Vai can integrate vocals into his instrumental compositional style with admirable results. In "Blood and Tears," the un-credited, exotic accented female spoken word, in English, and the ethereal female vocals in a different language (Hindi, perhaps?), add a beautiful melodic counterpoint to Vai's soaring guitar. Guest vocalist Koshi Inaba backs and trades with Vai's vocals on the expansive closer "Asian Sky," and Vai's largely spoken word vocals on "Voodoo Acid" fit the sonically experimental texture of that song. The liner notes to Fire Garden posted on justify Vai's singing, based on the difficulty in finding "that perfect chemistry between a vocalist and a guitar player." While covering the vocals himself may most practically convey Vai's artistic expression, the combination of his lyrics, his substandard songwriting in the vocal tunes, and his vocal performance provides the weakest moments on The Ultra Zone.

Despite the vocal tracks, The Ultra Zone contains enough "shred" lead guitar to please his small but dedicated fan base, and enough quirky instrumentals to show that Steve Vai remains musically above most of his instrumental guitar peers.

Reviewed by Scott Andrews []

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