Wednesday, December 14, 2005

G3: Rockin' in the Free World

G3 Live: Rockin' in the Free World
By: Satriani, Vai, and Malmsteen
Year: 2004

Since 1996 guitar god Joe Satriani has organized and spearheaded the G3 tour every year or two. And occasionally we get a CD from the show. I was out of the country when the first two went on, but I found the first G3 disc and ate it up. After all, what guitar fan could pass up an album with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Eric Johnson playing live and together? I certainly couldn't. However, there were many aspects of the album that left me feeling a little disappointed. 2003 brought another G3 tour, and 2004 brought the release of the second CD. This time, Yngwie Malmsteen would join Satch and Vai on the stage. This should be fantastic, right?

I wish I could say yes. But the truth is I cannot. This isn't a horrible CD. In fact, it is a lot of fun to listen to. But it does have more than its fair share of problems. First, the good. All three of the guitarists are extremely talented, well respected musicians. And they can play like you wouldn't believe. Each one of them could easily lay claim to the fastest fingers award, and such shredding is well in evidence here. The production of some parts of the disc are great as well, with Satch's and Vai's songs sounding crystal clear, full and powerful. And the G3 jam is a blast, with all three taking turns soloing.

However, too often the flaws prevent this from being a really great album. Each guitarist produced his own songs, and this sorely damages Yngwie's portion of the disc. The sound is muddy, unclear, and watered down. This is particularly painful since Yngwie is the one who focuses most heavily on a veritable flurry of notes. Most get lost in the muddy sound. Also, there are a few portions of feedback that are literally painful, forcing the listener to skip ahead or turn the volume WAY down. The other biggest problem is song choice. Satch plays too many songs that we have heard before. Vai picks a first one that is just not strong, a second one that gives him plenty of space to noodle in, but little else. At least the third is a great song. Then there is Yngwie. Some of his songs are really cool, embodying his neo-classical style that can be very fun to listen to. But too much is just too extravagant, with no restraint and little regard for melody. Oh, and the attempt at the blues fails miserably and painfully. The jam fares a little better, though Yngwie picks a song (Voodoo Chile) that will never sound as good as when SRV played it on "Couldn't Stand the Weather. But hey, on the jam you aren't listening to the songs, you are listening to the solos. And there are many. Sadly, it seems that the extent of Yngwie's solo skills involve really, really fast runs, up and down the fretboard. Satch and Vai keep things much more interesting, but I just tire of every Yngwie solo. Very disappointing.

Tracks to catch: "Midnight" by Satch is a fantastic song from his ground breaking "Surfing With the Alien" album, and it actually turns out pretty cool live. "Crystal Planet" is one of my all-time favorite Satch tracks, so I can't pass up the opportunity to hear it live. "Reaping" gives Vai a lot of room to show off his shredding skills, and is a fun track. But it does pain me to hear Billy Sheehan reduced to such a pedestrian bass line for 7 minutes. "Whispering a Prayer" is beautiful, one of my favorites for sure. Finally, "Blitzkrieg" by Malmsteen is a cool song. Too bad it sounds like it is being played under water.

Rating: 2/5
I would like to rate this album as a great example of guitar playing. But while it has a lot of great guitar playing, as an album it just falls short of the mark. I am sure that live, in the show, this all comes off much better. Simply, the song choice isn't that great, there are serious production problems, and some of the playing, particularly from Yngwie, is uninspired and uninspiring. This CD should be guitar onanism at its best. Instead it leaves you feeling dissatisfied


  1. Being stuck in Rexburg, ID when the first G3 Tour (and CD) were going on, I didn't get a chance to see the show, but I put the CD at the top of my "must buy" list.

    How three great guitarists could disappoint me so badly is almost a crime!

    My favorite among the three is Eric Johnson, and his set is (to me) the best of the CD. Joe Satriani's set was almost unlistenable. Steve Vai's was good, but is "good" good enough for someone of his talent?

    I find myself programming Johnson's set and the jam into the CD player and just skipping the rest.

    Did bother with the Malmsteen installment. As far as I'm concerned, he's a one trick pony. Wow Yngwie, how much faster can you play this year than last?{Yawn}

  2. On the first G3 disc I have to admit to loving "Cool #9", mostly because it was so, so different from the album version. Other than that, a bit of a yawn. I, too, enjoyed the Johnson set, but found the live version of "Zap" to be sorely lacking. Especially since it didn't have the great bass solo that the album version did have.

    It is a tough one. Satch is much better on this disc, the G3 jam is better because there is more interplay between the three, but there is still a lot lacking. But, I am a sucker and will be getting the most recent, with Satch, Vai and John Petrucci, at least to hear what it is like.

  3. John Petrucci??

    Of course, that's all the reason you need! ;~D