Steve Vai - Where The Wild Things Are [DVD] (Favored Nations/Riot)

Taking full advantage of the visual format, Steve Vai and the String Theories band put on an amazing gig. This DVD features some cool twists and suprises to delight your aural and visual senses.

For an such an expressive artist as Steve Vai, the DVD format is somewhat of a living canvas that has many different audio and visual paints that can be worked with. Within Steve's latest DVD offering Where The Wild Things Are, there is a mixture of excellent musicianship and expressive showmanship, supplemented by exciting visual aspects and plenty of bonus materials.

Recorded on September 2007 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota captures an evening where Steve Vai and his String Theories band on their String Theories tour, where they performed a whopping 27-song setlist for an appreciative and musically hungry crowd. If the viewer is thinking that the show is Steve Vai performing with a traditional rock band setup, they would be half-way there; The  String Theory band is compromised of guitars, keyboards, bass and drums, but also has the unexpected additions of violinists. And, boy, do they and the band hit one out of the park.

Where The Wild Things Are's setlist is full of Steve Vai's musical gems, displaying a range of material taking on some what of a new form due to the new lineup of musicians. The material spans all of Steve's solo career, starting from the earlier stages, which includes the Grammy award-nominated Tender Surrender, the atmospheric Liberty, Answers, stunning renditions of the classic cuts For The Love Of God and Whispering A Prayer and the high octane The Audience Is Listening; as well as more recent cuts such as the perfectly titled Freak Show Excess, the guitar workshop of Building The Church, the funky groover in Firewall and the explosive opener Now We Run.

The above is accompanied by an acoustic set where you get stripped down Steve Vai playing straight from the heart. One of the stand-out pieces from this set is the stunningly beautiful All About Eve; this is quite an emotional track and you can see it in Steve that this song has a deep meaning. Not being one just to rely on his already jam-packed back-catalogue, there are also some new compositions on display, especially for the String Theories tour. Such inclusions are the stunning pieces Taurus Bulba, Par Brahm and an addition to the acoustic set in Gary 7. One of the nicest touches is where Steve lets his bandmates take centre stage, and gives them their moment in the sun; in particular, the violin solo showcase in Apples In Paradise, the drum solo/percussion piece in Earthquake Sky, and Dave Weiner's solo song, Shove The Sun Aside.

The String Theories band is quite an amazing gathering of some talented human beings with some freakish musical skills. The rhythm section of bassist Bryan Beller, drummer Jeremy Colson and rhythm guitarist Dave Weiner are like the musical gears that keep everything else moving along with flawless precision; the rhythm section does tend to stay in their place towards the back of stage but get their respective chances to shine when the opportunity arises. Special guest and opening act Zack Weisinger also comes in at various times and adds his own touch with his lap steel work, which is an interesting addition.

At stage left and stage right respectively, violinists/keyboardists Ann Marie Calhoun and Alex DePue bring a new element to the traditional rock band by layering on their fluid like violin lines, which at times are just as freakish as Steve's guitar fretwork. When the three harmonise, it is quite epic to see and hear. Right at the front, smack-bang in the middle is the man himself. Using many different models of his Ibanez signature, including a see-through, illuminous one) and changing his stage clothes depending on the set, Steve is quite a visual showman, playing to the highest degree as if this was his final show, throwing his guitars around, performing insane whammy bar stunts and displaying some freakish fretwork, like in the introduction of Building The Church, which has to be seen to be believed.

From a technical view, Where The Wild Things Are has been meticulously refined to provide the best physical product. The audio mixes available are PCM audio and 5.1 surround sound which sound superb, everyone sits well within the mix at an even balance (Steve is an eensy bit louder at times, but he is the boss after all). If you have the surround system capabilities, the 5.1 mix is for you, but if you only have a stereo setup, the PCM mix is excellent and gives you everything squeezed into left and right.

Visually, this is also to a high standard as it was filmed in high definition with a multi-camera setup. Vai also likes to use quite a large amount of visual effects like ghosting, split screens, different colouring and much more. The editing varies from time to time, it can be quite fast-paced during the faster songs and is a bit slower during the mellower pieces. Interestingly, at the start of Tender Surrender, there is some text indicating Steve putting out a challenge encouraging fans to submit him a piece of music that he will use in an upcoming project.

Apart from the main concert, the DVD also has some extra features, including a full-length commentary of the concert footage by Steve and some of the members of the band. This is quite interesting to listen to as it is quite informative, but also can be quite funny to listen to due to some stories and anecdotes mentioned within the commentary. There is also some behind the scenes footage and interviews with the band, which are informative. But the gem of the bonus features is Steve Vai doing a hilarious demonstration of his new Ibanez Jemini distortion pedal with a special guest jamming along - Steve Vai himself; you have to see it to believe it and he doesn't mind taking a shot at himself at times too.

The only gripes I had with Where The Wild Things Are are, one, that the editing in the faster songs can be quite rapid and makes things a bit hard to concentrate on; and, two, the fact that the concert is split over the two discs instead of being on one. Due to the high quality of the video and its length, it is understandable why this was done.

Where The Wild Things Are is a real treat for casual listeners, hardcore Vai fans and musicheads alike. The concert is quite a spectacle to watch, yet it has enough interesting features, such as the commentary track, to justify more than one viewing. There is also a CD available as an acommpanying piece as well.

Steve Vai's Where The Wild Things Are is out now on Favored Nations/Riot. If you to get your hands on a copy, you can get it here on DVD or bluray.