Steve Vai – 'Where The Other Wild Things Are – Live In Minneapolis' (Favored Nations) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Russ P   
Thursday, 25 March 2010 07:00


vaiotherwildthings176pxOh no, a review where I can't compare the artist to another. I'm up shit creek here. Because here we have the incomparable Steve Vai who rewrote the rule book on guitar playing. After first hearing Steve Vai the whole of our town had a ritual burning of Bert Weedon's 'Play In A Day'. It was a bonfire that lasted three days. I was one of those many kids who tried their best to learn 'The Attitude Song' using the flexi-disc and supplied transcription from Guitar Player magazine over...gulp...20 years ago. It remains a defining moment in rock guitar history alongside Eddie Van Halen's 'Eruption'.


So I'm a little disappointed that 'The Attitude Song' is not amongst the songs on this live CD. Nor is 'Call It Sleep' or 'Blue Powder' - instrumentals that I consider to have been Vai's finest moments. I'll come clean. The height of my Steve Vai infatuation was 'Flex-Able', 'Passion And Warfare', 'Eat 'Em And Smile', Public Image Limited's 'Album', and Alcatrazz' 'Disturbing The Peace'. And, as much as I loved guitar playing, the rise of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai into widespread audience acceptance has for a long time completely baffled me.


'Where The Other Wild Things Are' clocks up over an hour and this 12 song collection is incredibly only a portion of the whole gig which has already been released on the sister disc 'Where The Wild Things Are'.


'The Crying Machine' kicks off the album in a funky groovy fashion driven along by the bass. I'm perplexed as to what is doubling the guitar. Is that a pseudo Jan Hammer keyboard solo or is it a violin? I'm not sure. The song straightens out and then shifts a few gears out of funk into a typically Vai sparse sitar breakdown. Solos of overdriven violin and guitar trade-off with one another. The harmonies slowly build and entwine with one another in various degrees of aural acceptance.


'The Audience Is Listening' is a fast boogie, which brings back fond memories of the David Lee Roth and Billy Sheehan glory days. Ah how I wish those days had never ended. 'The Murder' begins with Vai's trademark 'talking' atonal guitar. Untamed otherworldly harmonised radio frequencies fly from his whammy bar for half of the track before resolving to some relatively run of the mill but still totally esoteric scale. 'Juice' is another up-tempo bluesy boogie, which manages to rock along in what passes for normality in Vai's harmonic world.


'Whispering A Prayer' is a delicately played sweet melody given an alien edge by Vai's quick and quirky whammy swoops, which rise onto each note. Delayed volume builds into a an unbreathable Martian-like atmosphere until Vai gets to full-on wailing and it's fit to breath again, at which time theremin-like whammy swoops and howls take the piece back down to its close.


Vai then turns the spotlight onto violinists Ann Marie Calhoun and Alex DePue. This is one crazy composition. Firmly rooted in the classical you get brief flashes of melodies that you think you've heard before. And you have. Remember Jack Butler playing variations on 'Caprice No.5' by Paganini? Well 'Apples' is a series of choppy vignettes punctuated by audience appreciation. There's a cool skanking chordal rhythm hewn out by the bow. There's a hoedown and there's a duel. The climax is frenzied and builds to an ear-closing atonal invasion. "How do you like them apples?" asks Vai. I won't answer. Book ending this piece is 'I'm Becoming' which shimmers with clean icy feedback that Vai expertly controls like I've seen so many times on the BBC TV series 'One Man And His Dog'.


Rounding off the album I'm back in somewhat familiar territory as the tracks are all taken from 'Passion And Warfare'. 'Liberty' soars to lofty heights. The music to end all wars. The centrepiece of Bill and Ted's future utopia. 'Answers' is Vai at his most angular. What was once Zappa's is now Vai's. The intro melody to 'For The Love Of God' is effectively transferred onto violin lending the composition a sad yearning before Vai takes back the lead and trades this emotion for a more uplifting one.


'Beastly Rap' and 'Earthquake Sky', regrettably, are tracks to be skipped. The former is a conversation between Vai and his drummer and the latter is a drum solo - surely only meant for the diehard fans. But that could be said about the whole of this album. After all you have to be a Vai fan first. Then be a fan of live albums. Then still have enough energy left over to listen to more Minneapolis songs than you can shake the proverbial stick at. The sound on this live album is brilliant and Steve's performance is impeccable. There's one string slip that I could hear but you never know with Steve. After all, part of that transcription for 'The Attitude Song' was to pull the high 'E' string off the fretboard. Maybe that's the measure of a guitar great - how many strings they've caused to be snapped by their acolytes in the pursuit of the note perfect rendition. If that is the case then Steve Vai is surely king.