DVD review & commentary by Jemsite: Steve Vai Live at the Astoria London
reference sound system/home theatre
(note I have not listened to the full commentary track)
You know the routine... new thread for archival reasons. More commentary in this forum thread:
It's about time a full-length "Vai concert" has been captured on video
Fans have been hoping for years that Steve would make such a recording available and finally we are granted our wish. Just in time for the holidays too!
Since it was announced months ago, this 2-disc DVD has been eagerly anticipated. It is a mandatory purchase. The cost is low, it features almost 4 hours of video, a full Vai concert and a lot of useful extras (rehearsals, informative backstage tour w/ Dave, etc). To be honest, the 2+ hour running commentary track is worth the price of admission alone. Let me repeat, BUY THIS DVD ASAP and support these musicians.
If you don't have the DVD then STOP READING and order it online now or grab it locally.
Lets start with the many perfect (or near perfect) elements of the DVD. First up is the extras. I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of all the extras found on disc-2, but as mentioned above they are a great addition to the retail DVD. These extras are well worth viewing and a true bonus to the viewer. Rest assured that only a few years ago none of these extras would have made it on a retail VHS tape or even DVD. At best you would expect it's content to be whittled down to a 5 minute teaser or forgettable low-res web download. I know people might say "why not put the soundcheck material on vai.com" and to that I would take offense. Those videos would cripple the web server due to traffic, nevermind they provide a tangible fan/customer incentive to purchase the DVD (and again directly support these musicians). Sure, I'd like to have seen another 15 minutes of rehearsal, but maybe that can be added to a future Steve Vai dvd release.
The sound on this DVD is simply phenomenal. There are 3 audio tracks for the Concert (disc-1): PCM Stereo (16-bit two-channel "cd audio"), Dolby Digital 5.1 and a running commentary track from the band. Note that another Steve commentary track can be heard on his Alien Love Secrets DVD. As you select your audio options from the dvd menu, it includes a note from Vai that the 5.1 audio track is designed for 5 full-range speakers and a subwoofer, which technically all 5.1 soundtracks are (dts or dolby digital). However, I have THX dipole surrounds and did not test if the rear surrounds contain significant, directional low-frequency audio. During viewing I switched between Dolby 5.1 and PCM 2-channel and found myself reverting to the 2-channel stereo, as I typically do for music and concerts. The spatialization of the 5.1 track is notable and the instruments well defined. You can say the same for the PCM track which just seems to be more of a natural fit to my ear, as it does lose some of the "spread out across the room" sound of the Digital Dolby track. Whatever your listening preference you can't go wrong as both the stereo and 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are independandly engineered to sound great. And they sure do.
It should be noted that with either audio track, you can clearly distinguish which guiarist is playing what notes, and often the sound matches the location of the artist's stage location. For example Tony's licks is panned left with Steve center/right and Dave's rhythm's clear throughout. The DVD will sound good on your home theatre, on your 20" tv's speakers and on your PC. Probably in your car too, but if you have a DVD player in your car you are either a total e-geek or have a couple of tv-weaned kids with a short attention span and won't be watching the Vai dvd anyways
As good as the audio of this DVD is, the video presentation is just the opposite. The video reminds me of the scenario where you are at a restaurant & some bratty kid is sitting at the adjacent table banging their fork, kicking abound, shouting and standing on the chair misbehaving all before you got your menu opened. At some point you bite your tongue from shouting "JUST SIT DOWN AND EAT". Well I found myself shouting something similar to the video crew here... JUST STAND THERE AND FRIKIN FILM THE CONCERT.
I'll stop here and remind you that I greatly appreciate theatrical films, especially ones that are well crafted and well filmed. If you appreciate MTV "Flock of Seagulls" video-style FILMING more than classics like Casablanca or epics like the Ten Commandments then you can skip the next three paragraphs.
There are several cameramen and a mechanical "boom" overhead camera (that did not extend out to get an audience perspective), but unfortunately each was operated by people who should seek to get their film school tuition refunded. To say the filming was horrendous would be too kind. I know people on a personal level put a huge effort into creating this video, but that makes the results all the more dumbfounding. Less really IS more. As you watch the video unfold, you wonder if these guys even knew how to operate the zoom lens on their equipment, because it is so herky-jerky and nausea inducing that only a rank amateur would attempt such poor techniques and gimmicks. Not everyone behind a lens needs to be a Stanley Kubrick, but they sure as heck need to have some command of the tools they are using. It's a damn shame that you have 5 stellar musicians playing their heart's out, and you have a bunch of amateurs capturing the moment to film. Very regretful.
I'm going to harp some more about the horrible "video-taping" because it was made all the more deplorable by the omission of multi-angle feature available to DVD (see Alien Love Secrets dvd and Satch's SF dvd for examples). The optional 2nd or 3rd angle would be useful to allow the viewer to select the "camera" they were interested in, instead of being stuck watching what the seemingly inept editor presented to the audience. Even if they kept the video as is, an alternate "first row view steadycam" angle would be a pleasing choice to viewers. I'm sure the running time posed some limitations, but splitting the concert onto the second DVD would have provided a solution for multi-angle inclusion. Either way, these camera people have very little compositional talent and misframed just about every second of the concert. Why would you want to zoom in on Vai's face, and TOTALLY DISREGARD his body language and the fact he's playing a musical instrument... over and over and over and over, song after song after song. It is as if someone said 5 minutes before filming "this guy we're taping is really whacky and his facial gestures will give you the money shots so zoom in". Just stupid filming. You really have to wonder if any of these people knew a high energy guitarist would be filmed that evening. On rare occasion there is a decent angle/framing with Vai's knees to head in the picture, with full guitar, allowing you to see him as if you were at the concert with premium seats. Most of the other times you have a dizzy-ing mess, tilted angles, UNFOCUSED shots, or a tight focus on the bridge "evo" with the fretboard hand ignored. Nevermind too many audience shots only made worse by the Beavis and Butthead like U.R.A.Q.T. overlay. I shudder to think of what was left on the cutting room floor. The horror.
The deplorable filming warrants a 3rd paragraph here, so i'd like to pose a rhetorical question as to why any professional DVD would include amateurish "photoshop-like" effects such as an image vortex, negative, color swap or even worse a "nothing focused" presentation to the Little Wing solos. Some of the other amateur video techniques include but are not limited to: repeated overhead rotating shot of the keyboards, repeat showing of a "spear britney" t-shirt (*yawn*), jerky-fast zooming, total motion sickness style presentation suitable only for those with ADHD, shakyness, absolute disgregard for "steady-cam", generalized misframing, overzooming (notably Vai's face or the tremolo bridge - they seemed exiced to get "konx" in focus!), yadda, yadda, yadda. Often you will see a shaky cameraman near the band or first row bouncing around with the camera bobbing and weaving. Simply unbelievable as it documents the ineptitude of the film crew. Watching this filming (disregarding the incredible performances/music) is like reading an email from a newbie on AOL who can't resist the smilies, fonts, sizes and color text for the first time. Eventually you tell your friend to knock that **** off and just email plain text so you can read the message without a decoder ring.
I'm not even going to get into the "why was this not filmed in widescreen format" so you can read my SATCH SF DVD RANT/REVIEW HERE as it is applicable.
Hopefully oneday Sony will figure out that music/concerts deserve some of the same treatment they spend on hollywood films (and garbage) they (often) crank out like this summer's Gigli. These projects are a labor of love by the artists and as such, the studios (in this case Sony) need to provide the background support and fundamental equipment and personnel necessary to capture such an event. I must confess for the first time ever I contemplated zooming out my front projector to reduce the picture size (from approx 4 by 5.3 feet) and attempt to reduce the largeness of the DVD video.
While the video/filming will no doubt be debated for years, absolutely NO ONE will question the excellance of Vai and the band's performance at these Astoria concert(s). Wow! These guys were spot on. The setlist itself is probably the ultimate set played on a Vai tour; I honestly do not recall a better collective set of songs played at a Vai concert. Likewise, the band (Tony, Billy, Dave & Virgil) was primed and ready to go, totally on top of their game. One could also argue that perhaps this was the most impressive "Vai band" to accompany him on tour. These guys flat-out deliver incredible performances from start to finish.
You all probably saw the past Tours & G3's... it's almost redundant to proclaim the excellence of the musicianship at these shows. Disgarding the video presentation, as you sit and absorb this DVD, you will be in a trance-like state of bliss where you can actually imagine yourself at this show. Soaking in the sound and glory of a full-length Steve Vai concert.
I know the video commentary above is harsh, but ultimately it does not detract a Vai fan such as myself from enjoying the DVD. It just adds to the "this DVD could have been even better" factor. I'll listen to it many, many times and "watch" it uninterrupted perhaps a few times too, even if the video lacks the theatrical presentation that is required to keep my eyes glued to the screen.
It is nice to see that this DVD captures a noteworthy and memorable performance. That is really what it boils down to... ultimately it's exactly what this Astoria DVD is all about.
BUY IT NOW