Just an average day, a little shopping, a few more DVDs at good prices for my collection. One is Ed Wood, the biopic starring Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Landau won an Oscar for his portrayal of the once-legendary actor Bela Lugosi, who had fallen on hard times as a drug addict. Wood took hims back to basics, as you might say. Another is Ghost In The Shell, an Anime masterpiece (in my opinion) that I saw years ago and have never quite shaken off. I’ll get to both of those later, I’m sure, but this afternoon I’m indulging myself a little with a Steve Vai concert DVD.
I remember Vai mostly for his 1990 album Passion And Warfare, which was the beginning of the end of the Shred Guitar genre that had been so popular in the 1980s. While P&W included much Shred, oh my, it was but one component in a larger musical context that appealed to non-guitarists like me. Liberty, the opening track, was dubbed “the National Anthem of Mars” by Vai, for good reason: a veritable orchestra of guitar, arty, overblown pretentious, yet funny and unforgettable. Humour is a constant thread through Vai’s work, along with a unique mystical vision that came to the fore in rather strange ways. The Sex And Religion album is laced with an almost Buddhist ethic, where the Wheel Of Life is balanced by directly opposing elements: happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain, life and death. Deep Down Into The Pain invites the listener to “embrace the bliss of pure sensation” as a path to Nirvana, includes a solo on a specially-built Ripley guitar (using the “Xavian” 16-tone scale!), and culminates in the sound of Steve’s second son being born. “It’s a boy!” “How..?” “Look at those! There’s your first clue…”
This concert DVD also appeals to me because Vai’s band, on this occasion, included two other musicians I was already familiar with. Tony MacAlpine was one of the stars of Shred in the 80’s, but came at it as a classically trained musician, his albums including Chopin piano pieces between the guitar and synthesizer pyrotechnics. Billy Sheehan is a pioneering rock bassist with a very fluid lead style and technique which he flaunted in the 80’s, when he worked with Vai in David Lee Roth’s band, then later with his own band Mr. Big. This concert shows his skills are still all there, but he’s a little more selective in when and how he uses them, to the benefit of the overall sound.
Next weekend I take a flying visit to London for a couple of separate events and a little shopping. I may come back with an Alesis Micron synthesiser if the price is right, or a bunch of PC parts to upgrade the old box lying in the cupboard. It’s been hard to pin down just what I want, cross-reference that with what I need, and what is actually available at a sensible price. I will probably go for an AMD Athlon 64 (3200+) CPU, either a ASUS or MSI motherboard, but I need to do more research into quiet hard drives and video cards. A quiet PC is a priority, so it’s a good thing that both motherboards I have in mind have a “Cool & Quiet” feature that throttles the CPU back when full performance is not needed, keeping the system cooler and allowing adaptive fan speed control.
The actual planned events for the trip are a “meet” with a bunch of Terry Pratchett fans on the Saturday, and a Bill Nelson concert on the Sunday. The concert is in the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre, a venue I have been to just once before, but I remember it as small with good acoustics. I hadn’t been quite sure whether I should go, but the clincher was news that Kate St. John will guest on woodwinds – I really enjoyed her previous work with Bill, including the band Channel Light Vessel, which I had the pleasure of seeing live at the Jazz Cafe.
This tour is called “Be Bop Deluxe and Beyond”, the first time in over twenty years that Bill has agreed to look back to his days as an unlikely pop star in the 70’s. His next project after BBD was Red Noise, and one of their albums, Sound On Sound, partly inspired a bunch of musicians to start up a magazine dealing with the rapidly-evolving world of high-tech recording that Bill has always been involved in, and it’s appropriate that the magazine is sponsoring this short tour. The Bloomsbury gig I will be at is the second one there, added after the first one sold out in days, but it’s the last in the tour, and I hope Bill and the band aren’t too tired to let their hair down.
This trip is totally unnecessary, the cherry on the top of what has been a great year so far, personally, despite all the things in my life that are not as I think they should be.