DVD review & commentary by Jemsite: Live at the Astoria - Jemsite
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post #1 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 10:32 AM Thread Starter
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DVD review & commentary by Jemsite: Live at the Astoria

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.

Audio: A
Video: F
Performance: A
Content: A
Value: A
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post #2 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 11:19 AM
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Excellent review. Couldn't have said it any better.
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post #3 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 11:29 AM
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While I haven't purchased the DVD yet, your comments on the video quality closely mirror mine that I had posted earlier in the John Petrucci forum. Of course, at that point, I had only seen the preview clip but that was my first impression as well.

Again, going by the preview clip, I that feel the sound and image quality are good(at least on my PC) but I fail to understand the crazy camera angles. I found them extremely annoying in the Blue Powder preview clip. I was hoping that additional camera angles would be included in the DVD so that I'd be able to watch without being distracted, but it doesn't look like thats going to happen. I feel that the G3 DVD was shot real well(as far as camera angles go).

As soon as I posted my comments, a few people started getting judgemental. Heres one -

"I guess people will find a reason to bitch about anything. The camera angles are kinda "eh" but hey....its an official LIVE VAI DVD. At least the sound is going to own in 5.1 . And not to make any comparsions against the SFAM dvd.....i really hate the sound option on that dvd 2.0 dolby digital. Ive hated kevin shirley ever since he did that .

Its kinda hard to judge a 2 hr concert video by a short little 2 min clip and say it sucks because that clip had some "bad" shots in it.I guess these are the same people that listened to "as i am" and went " OH NO TRAIN OF THOUGHT IS GOING TO SUCK!!" "

I'm glad I wasn't too far off base with my comments

I'll still get the DVD but if the review posted above is accurate, then I feel that, what could have been an incredible experience, may be downgraded to a merely good one just because of an inadept film crew.
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post #4 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 11:53 AM Thread Starter
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The audio experience is incredible. I hear you in that no doubt some of us will "watch" the DVD thinking how GREAT the video presentation *could* have been.

The dvd is probably cheaper than what a 2-3 CD set would sell for (if no video was even recorded and obviously no commentary track would be available) so for that reason alone it's a great buy. .. glen
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post #5 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 12:27 PM
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I loved the DVD set COMPLETELY. I agree with Glen re: the widescreen presentation, but I was geared up to not expect that, so I was ok with it.

The thing that has really been a sniggle are the 'magical guitar changing tricks'. It really kills the immersion that I want in a Vai DVD. Because of the editing, Tony and Dave's guitars frequently change during different shots of the song (as well as Vai's- WHY at the end of Bad Horsie, WHY?!). And it makes me think: ok, am I listening to what I'm seeing, or am I listening to what I didn't see and they synched up this to kinda match what I hear. It's not as bad as the G3 DVD with Vai's audio not synched up with the video on one of the cameras, but it does 'pull me out' of the mindset / illusion that I am watching a single performance. Unfortunate.

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post #6 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 02:33 PM
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well im in the u.k and it looks as tho (much to my upset) we have to wait till jan 19th for the dvd

i canot tell u how much it anoyes me
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post #7 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 02:36 PM Thread Starter
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i should have mentioned above this is said to be a region-free DVD but it's in the NTSC format and should play on your PC but not PAL home television. PAL users will have to wait a few weeks... but that is the norm unfortunately Still well worth the wait ... glen
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post #8 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 02:39 PM
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You know what would have made me happy? 3 simple camera angle options:

-Stick a camera on a tripod at the soundboard to capture the whole stage

-Have a guy following Steve in full frame around the stage

-Have an edited version with simple shots of everyone, no fancy tricks or shots, just full frame, maybe a few crane shots if they want it to be more dramatic.

I'll buy this DVD for the audio alone, but man does this sound disappointing. I'd have bought it if they left the audio as it is on the DVD and just gave us a full shot of the stage for the whole thing. The audio quality is the only thing that saves this from being more disappointing than the Korn "Live at the Hammerstein" DVD and Incubus' performance footage on their "When Incubus Attacks vol. 2" DVD.

Best live DVDs I've seen so far: Metallica "S&M", Family Values Tour '98, Incubus "Morning View Sessions"
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post #9 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 02:48 PM
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yeah....why can't people keep things simple

I was extremely pleased with how Andy Timmons Bootleg DVD was shot...hehe. And the FG Concert with Class DVD kept it pretty bare as well and it worked gr8.

I didn't preorder the DVD.....hopefully I can find some place that carries it.
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post #10 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 03:56 PM
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Interesting review Glen.

I don't know if i'd give video and F...I mean, as much as you hated most of the video, there was quite a few very good shots in there, at least in my opinion.
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post #11 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 04:12 PM Thread Starter
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C is average, this video is far, far below average so obviously not a D either.

i hated the way they presented what i SHOULD have been seeing. no way to "hate" a live vai show ...glen
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post #12 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 05:47 PM
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The best thing about this review is that at least now I'm prepared for it and if I like the video 1/10 better than you Glen, I'll be plesently surprised rather than very dissapointed, which I would have been if I didn't read the review.
I have no reason to doubt you as the Satch in SF review is spot on so I'm hoping that you are more critical of the video futage than I'll be.
Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the Vai.com shop will take far less than 2-4 weeks to send me one over here.

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post #13 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 05:50 PM Thread Starter
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Being prepared can only help. You will enjoy the DVD, but loathe the way these guys filmed it. ...glen
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post #14 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 08:20 PM
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Re: DVD review & commentary by Jemsite: Live at the Asto

Originally Posted by jemsite
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Most links on that page are broken.

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post #15 of 112 (permalink) Old 12-10-2003, 08:24 PM Thread Starter
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ok, some pics are old but they're working. the equipment list is accurate ...glen
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