See, this is what's wrong with me.This is what makes me different from the rest of ya'll. Because the first time I saw this clip I didn't immediately find myself saying things like, "Wait, did he play those notes with his butt?" or "Dude, Xanadu sucked -- why are you trying to bring that back?" -- instead I was trying to figure out if he actually had one of those midi breath controllers wired into his guitar allowing him to make the flute noises in the beginning, and rewinding certain parts of the video to confirm my suspicion that he might have a theremin hiding somewhere near his pedalboard (which would actually allow him to create quasi-musical passages while swinging his guitar around like that).
Seriously, I love you Steve -- but what the heck am I supposed to do with this mess?As a longtime fan of Vai's, I will say this -- throughout his career he's had periods where he's delved in and out of performance art/experimental music territory -- and even back in the days when he was playing alongside Frank Zappa on-stage theatrics were part of the deal, so for me some of the more ..fruity parts of this particular piece don't come as a total surprise (this is the same guy who featured a photo of himself in a zebra print speedo on the inside of one of his solo albums, an image I'm still trying to erase from my consciousness) -- but it's almost impressive in a way how Steve not only manages to push the boundaries of guitar playing with each new album he releases, but how he continually comes up with ways to out-cheese himself every few years or so.
It's kind of part of what makes him such an interesting artist -- because he's as much a technician as he is sort of a wackjob, leaving the rest of us with this sort of brilliant mad scientist bent on recreating the soundtrack from his latest astral projection dream for the rest of us to hear who just happens to be one of the most technically proficient players in the world.
I was explaining it to someone the other day -- we were talking about Hendrix and I was telling the guy that I have this theory about there being two Jimi's; the blues player who spent years playing on the Chitlin Circuit backing up artists like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, and the psychedelic artist who spent hours in studios coming up with tunes like "Are You Experienced," "EXP," and "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" -- which were filled with processed sounds, backwards guitar playing, and deep echo effects.
Most players and fans tend to gravitate towards the pop hits and blues-influenced songs. But this other side, the more experimental side of Hendrix is the one that rarely gets explored or recreated.
And yet if you listen for it, you'll hear shades of it in certain artists -- especially guys like Prince, Vernon Reid, and Steve Vai.So yeah, the butt guitar and Tron-inspired video effects in that Vai clip above are sorta ..lame, but I tend to appreciate where it comes from, even if it's not something I like to listen to very often compared to his other work.
All that being said, I think creative people need their crazysauce sides. They need to be able to run into the darkness if they want to be able to better find the light they need to compose their best work. It's my experience that musicians and artists who only do one thing, only revisit their own victories again and again tend to burn out and fade after a while.
In other words, if you're a fan you sorta need Garth Brooks to have Chris Gaines. You kinda need Radiohead and Bjork to put out a few electronica albums, Kanye to go 808 or Heartbreak, or David Bowie to be the Thin White Duke for a few years.
I'm sure I'm not alone in noticing this. Do you have any favorite artists who have decided to take that turn into the exotic and unexpected, and if so -- did you like it?Exploration and risk taking is part of what helps an artist grow.
Because personally, I'm all about it.
- Curse YouTube for not having a decent vid of my favorite BodyCount song, but this one will do.
[Listening to: Ryuichi Sakamoto - "World Citizen" ]