Just maybe, the best set yet from the master of cultivated shred. On his 2000 world tour Vai recorded these fifteen songs, each inspired by and dedicated to a different nation he has visited sometime in his career. Some of the excellent tunes were created spontaneously at soundchecks just prior to the shows, and it’s a testament to the players’ skills that none of them sound off-the-cuff in the least.
Each tune does indeed convey a bit of the spirit of its dedicated land. “Giant Balls of Gold” (Poland) is forceful and strong like the nation’s historical freedom fighters. “Burning Rain” (Japan) is based around Japanese scales, and it contains one of the best-executed solos of Vai’s professional life. The title track carries the tragic strength and overcoming spirit of Slovenia; Vai delivers a very good vocal, and the guitar sound reflects his Zappa experience. “Devil’s Food” (Holland) originally appeared as a guitar-piano duet onFire Garden, and it’s expanded nicely here for the full band. The blissful exchanges between Keneally on piano and Vai on acoustic make this a definite high point, helped by the hilarious down-time chat while Vai had a string replaced. The crowd in Bordeaux, France, was in especially cheerful form for the crushingly intense flamenco of “Iberian Jewel” (Spain).
Disc 2 begins with a huge buildup into “The Power of Bombos” (Greece), featuring nouveau-Beat verses by Vai. The deep rock mantra of “Incantation” (Bulgaria) was recorded in Istanbul during a particularly brutal soccer season (read the liners for details). “Light of the Moon” (Australia) has a pretty vocal melody and sampled didgeridoo augmentation, while “Babushka” (Romania) is a manic Balkan dance with Shankar in the violin chair and a sudden lapse into a cool jazz groove while Vai tunes up. (You gotta admire a guy who’s not afraid to leave his own mistakes in his live recordings.) Vai goes balls-out on “Principessa” for his ancestral homeland of Italy, and the set closes with gentle acoustic on “Brandos Costumes”: not a reference to an actor’s wardrobe, but Portuguese for “Gentle Ways”.
If all you know about Steve Vai happened in the 80s, it’s time to catch up with how far he’s come. This disc is one for the ages.
Track Listing: Disc 1: Giant Balls of Gold; Burning Rain; The Black Forest; Alive in an Ultra World; Devil
Personnel: Steve Vai, guitars, vocals; Mike Keneally, keyboards, guitar, vocals; Mike Mangini, Chris Frazier (#1/7), drums; Philip Bynoe, bass, vocals; Dave Weiner, guitars, sitar; Eric Goldberg (#1/7), keyboards; Scott Palacios, snare drum (#2/4), accordion (#2/5); Shankar (#2/4), violin; Bob Carpenter (#2/5), accordion; John Pustai (#2/5), narration.