Steve Vai is inarguably one of the foremost axeslingers in modern music. No less a genius than Frank Zappa brought him in to execute "the impossible guitar parts" of his frantic, angular, and dense music. That's a double tribute, as Zappa himself was a paralyzingly adept master of the strings. Since those halcyon days, Vai's gone solo, formed groups, worked on soundtracks, made instructional videos, taught lessons, and God only knows what else. Most recently, though, he and past Guitar Center owner Ray Scherr founded the Favored Nations label, home to a number of top-flight fretbenders: Alan Holdsworth, Tommy Emmanuel, Eric Johnson, Pierre Bensusan, John Petrucci, etc. Thus, whenever the name of this growingly daunting imprint is brought up, a hushed reverence descends upon the annointed.
Where the Wild Things Are's 2-DVD extravaganzola readily shows why that worship is apropos. Straight from the lone wolf's teeth, it's a feast of pyrotechnics, heaven for guitar lovers. Right from the start, the band explodes in a melodic shred fest departing from, enhancing upon, and vaulting over all Vai's past accomplishments. With two violinist-keyboardists, a rhythm guitarist, bass, and strong drummer, this is ensemble work with very wide swaths of progrock lasered into a fusion constituting the core of the guitarist's raison d'etre. That first cut, Paint Me Your Face is a convoluted speedy magisterium of duet and trio interplay 'twixt Vai and the Alex DePue / Ann Marie Calhoun violin tagteam.
Expect fiery and massive doses of Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson, Utopia (their glorious first LP), Dream Theater, Return to Forever, and other signature bands drowned in Vai's Byzantine compositions entablaturing ancient civilizations and far-flung vistas of times yet to come. Wailing spaceships drop in for retrofitting, massive chunks of the pyramids somehow manage to crash through the roof all the way from the Nile, and apparently someone figured out a way to hybridize a cyborg who can play so damn fast that the fretboard is pushed into another dimension. Bubba there's a hell of a lot crammed into this long concert.
A breath or two is taken during an acoustic interlude, mostly chordal play and ballads—though there's some righteous lead play a la the old Coryell / Towner Spaces material—with drummer Jeremy Colson rigged in a flipped-out one-man-band percussive kit hanging from his shoulders. This mid-set provides a nice colorative relief from the careening onslaught, spiced liberally with classical elements in the last track, preparing the audience for part two, the prelude coming in the form of a tight drum solo just before switching to the second disc. That opens with The Audience is Listening and its approximately 362 crashing endings (move over, Matthew Fisher).
Where Vai has sometimes been accused, with more than a little justice, of too often being a soulless technique monger, this is hands down the best thing he's ever done and will pretty much put the kibosh on that criticism. And if this is any indication that Part 2 of his career has started, then hang on, 'cause it's going to be a white-knuckler. Goggles, sunblock, a brass jock, and anti-vertigo medication are recommended. Wouldn't hurt to slam a few gallons of Coca Cola beforehand, either, as the entire fracas, bonuses and all, runs to over 3-1/2 hours. With enough caffeine, you'll be righteously amped up and might just make it out alive.
Shove the Sun Aside (Dave Weiner), and Earthquake Sky (Jeremy Colson).
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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