REVIEW: Steve Vai – Visual Sound Theories

Steve Vai has long referred to himself as more composer than guitarist. Until now his compositional complexity has been somewhat masked by the undeniable ferocity of his guitar playing. In an effort to further feed his orchestral muse, and perhaps to be taken a little more seriously outside of guitar playing circles, Vai teamed up with Holland’s Metropole Orchestra in 2004 for a series of shows combining bombastic fury and the more intricate, little-black-dots aspects of his musical personality.

This DVD, culled from the second round of such shows in July 2005, includes the songs “Kill The Guy With The Ball”, “The God Eaters”, “The Murder Prologue”, “The Murder”, “Answers”, “Lotus Feet”, “I’m Becoming”, “Salamanders In The Sun”, “The Attitude Song”, “Gentle Ways”, “Liberty” and “For The Love Of God.” These tracks feature Vai (accompanied by bass player Bryan Beller) in conjunction with the Metropole. Two more tracks, “Shadows And Sparks” and Frangelica Pt. I & II,” are Vai-free, and allow the listener to more fully experience the little Italian virtuoso’s skills as a composer, free from the conceptual baggage that comes with having one of the world’s foremost electric guitar virtuosos standing in front of an orchestra.

The performance is world class, and Vai’s phrasing is more considered and more clear in this setting than it is on previous live releases, where his showman’s flair tends to get in the way of his playing to an extent.

The rearrangement of the opening of “For The Love Of God” is part sophisticated modern classical, part kung fu movie. “The Attitude Song,” which was recently nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, is even more over the top than the original. But the real joys of this DVD are the tracks “The God Eaters” and “Answers,” both of which were recorded with sampled instruments originally and are given new life here by the inclusion of real instruments and a cracking 5.1 surround sound mix.

“Salamanders In The Sun,” a somewhat forgotten track from Vai’s 1984 debut, ‘Flex-Able,’ is another stand-out, and again the orchestra adds dimension and colour to the track, while staying largely faithful to the original arrangement. “The Murder” is an obscure track from Vai’s box set, and its inclusion here is a bold one. The overall darkness of the melodic theme sits well with “Kill The Guy With The Ball” and helps keep the program from sounding too happy and bright throughout.

DVD features include an entertaining and informative audio commentary, 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound audio, PCM Stereo, an orchestra-only performance of “Bledsoe Bluvd”, a behind the scenes featurette, and an interview with Vai.

Those who wish to hear more of the Metropole Orchestra would do well to check out “The Universe Will Provide,” an album by another former Zappa guitarist (and former Steve Vai band member) Mike Keneally, recorded with the Metropole in 2004.

Sony/Epic

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CLICK HERE to buy Sound Theories, Vols. 1-2 on CD