I was lucky enough to get my copy of Satriani's latest Live In Paris CD a few days early. Needless to say i have been wearing out my headphones and stereo. I am not going to do a track by track review - other Satriani fans here on Amazon will do a much better job than I ever could. Indulge me as I review this from a big picture perspective.
Let's get this out of the way:
Did we really need yet another live release from Joe only a few scant years after the last one?
The answer is an emphatic YES!
While it can certainly be argued that we really don't need anymore official live versions of Joe's "Big 5" songs ["Surfing...", "Always With Me...", "Satch Boogie", "Flying...", "Summer Song"] my assertion is that we absolutely do, provided Satch continues his recent pattern of stretching all his older songs out with looser arrangements as he did starting with the previous concert cd, the also excellent Satriani Live! set.
Other thoughtful Satriani reviewers here on Amazon have recently caused me to reflect a bit on Satch's previous live recordings versus my own memories of his concert performances from 40+ shows over the last 25 years. My evaluation is that this pattern of loosening up his performances [specifically on his live CDs] is actually not a new phenomenon. In all the shows I have seen, Joe has always used his concert performances to stretch out musically, to make subtle yet sometimes dramatic changes to a song's studio arrangement, with the welcome result of breathing new life into familiar tunes, all the while remaining absolutely true to the original spirit of the songs.
Viewed collectively [and as a linear progression of his continuing maturity as a musician], Joe's 5 official live solo releases [starting with side "B" of Dreaming #11, Disc 2 of Time Machine, Live In SF, Satriani Live! and now Live In Paris] reveal an artist at the peak of his musical powers, currently returning full circle, fully embracing the spirit of live improvisation he started out with [listen to the live "Memories" from Dreaming #11 to see what I mean].
While the Time Machine concert disc and Live In SF were great CDs and I am delighted to have them, I always thought they were just the slightest bit...sterile - with only a few exceptions, most every song on these releases captured Joe rendering nearly note for note reproductions of the studio tracks. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for those purists who like their live performances to be as close to the studio versions as possible. While I do love this type of effort from some bands [notably Rush and Dream Theater, though DT does a brilliant job of balancing extreme improvisation with studio accuracy], I especially want to hear solo instrumentalists like Joe stretch themselves musically during their live shows. In combination with what I consider to be a surprisingly muted audio mix on the Live In SF CD, I think that is a key reason why I had such strongly positive reactions to Satriani Live! and now Live In Paris. These last 2 releases are much closer improvisationally IMO to Joe's first live recording, the seminal Dreaming #11 "B-side" featuring the "golden" lineup of Joe, Stu Hamm and Jonathan Mover.
LIP really captures the Joe I remember seeing all those times throughout the years.
So what makes Live in Paris so great?
Sonically, LIP is just fantastic. Joe's mix is up front as always, but his tone is monstrously outstanding here. Every single note he plays comes through perfectly and with even more clarity and brilliance than on SL. In combination with some recent minor equipment changes, Joe's sound on LIP is best described as being gorgeously thick and incredibly muscular. The audio mix is equally superb for the rest of Joe's band as well. All due respects to the great Dave LaRue, but for my money, there is just no better bassist on earth to back Joe than virtuoso Stu Hamm, forever the "Round Mound Of Sound". And while Jeff Campitelli is certainly no Neil Peart, he is one of the best role-playing drummers around - confident, solid as a rock, he lays down a perfectly steady, lowkey foundation for Joe to work with. Rounding out the excellent wall of sound on LIP is the reliable Galen Henson, who's contributions on rhythm guitars and keys is always subtle, unobtrusive yet totally essential.
To my ears, the audio mix on LIP is the finest live sonic snapshot of Joe's career thus far.
From the perspective of a closet guitarist, Joe's technical performance on LIP is flawless. I have always marveled at how much fun he's having on stage and how ridiculously easy Joe makes things look live - the true masters always do, don't they? Of course, there are other faster guitarists out there [Paul Gilbert], other technical virtuosos [Petrucci, Malmsteen], other sonic perfectionists [Eric Johnson], other melodically "tasty" guitarists [Andy Timmons, Marco Sfogli, George Lynch, Michael Schenker] and even other flashier players out there [Vai]. But for me, Joe will forever be the consummate guitar player: the perfect synthesis of sheer technical perfection, improvisational brilliance and a musically melodic soul.
Because of the fantastic audio mix, all of the subtle nuances of Joe's playing shine through on LIP - of course we have Satch's usual blistering solo runs and irresistably catchy melody hooks. But these subtleties are probably my favorite elements of Satch's style overall and are really the things that distinguish him from everyone else out there. Joe has long been a master at understanding the effectiveness of balancing volume dynamics and pacing, both within songs and from an overall setlist perspective [btw, people will inevitably complain about the setlist on LIP, but when you have a career as long and as prolificly productive as Joe's has been, it is just impossible to expect a definitive setlist that will please everyone].
Again, it is all the little things Joe adds to his playing that makes him so peerless - all those tiny grace notes, [musical] pick scrapes, slides, taps and attack dynamics, piercing harmonics, whammy flourishes [and outright whammy abuses!], finger picking and tapping, pitch-perfect bends, chord octaves, special effects [yes, Joe even channels Frampton with a Talk-Box on "I Just Wanna Rock"],.. - when employed by less capable, less mature, less restrained guitarists, all these technical accents tend to distract from the music. In Joe's case, he employs them all in exactly the right way at all the right times - to serve as little musical embellishments, always adding to the overall musical story Joe is telling. And like the consummate professional he is, Joe also knows exactly when to slow things down, playing in the pocket and allowing single notes to ring out endlessly with beautifully executed vibrato.
Just a couple of words on the 7 PSATMOR tracks selected for LIP. Whether you liked PSATMOR or not, as a Satch fan you owe it to yourself to hear them played live - the treatment Joe gives them on LIP is fantastic and they all come fully alive here, often eclipsing the original studio cuts. And while it was a huge mistake for Joe to cut the excellent song "Ghosts" from the CD release of PSATMOR by making it iTunes exclusive, he more than atones for this by wisely including "Ghosts" on the LIP tracklist [I really wish all artists would realize that not everyone in the whole world is an iTunes slave/clone/lemming]. In any event, all of the PSATMOR tracks on LIP are simply amazing, especially the brooding "Musterion", the uptempo [and nearly ska-like] "Out Of The Sunrise" and the gorgeously beautiful renditions of "Revelation" and "Andalusia".
There just isn't a musical low point on LIP.
Of course, I'm biased and your mileage may vary, but...
If you're a Satch fan, you're already buying LIP and the accompanying DVD. To you I say this: throw on your best headphones, close your eyes and let Joe and company take you on yet another killer musical ride.
If you're new to Satriani, you just couldn't ask for a better sounding live introduction to the man and his artistry. After listening to this you'll likely understand why Joe is one of the most universally respected, globally admired and beloved rock musicians over the last 30 years. [And I can tell you from personal experience that Joe absolutely doesn't have a single molecule of "rock-star / guitar-god" disease in his entire body - he truly is an incredibly humble and genuinely nice guy, a devoted family man and husband who pays tribute to his wife by playing "Always With Me, Always With You" and/or "Rubina" every single show.]
I can't wait to watch the highly touted LIP DVD. If it is visually as superlative as the CD sonically is, Satch fans have really hit the lottery this time around.
Hmm, re: the companion LIP DVD. It might not be as "highly touted" as I was led to believe. Some early Amazon reviews are in on the DVD and all complain about what appear to be horrible amount of ADD camera work and totally unnecessary special effects. I hope this is not the case as I haven't gotten my DVD yet, but I am now a bit worried...]
You just can't survive [and flourish!] in the music industry as long as Joe has by simply being lucky.
Here's to another 100 years of Joe making music the Satch way...