In a time long gone - now about 13 years hence - record companies had it easy. From the woodwork sprang guitar maestros like there was no tomorrow. You simply signed them, you let them record a CD filled with six-string-masturbatory antics, and it sold like hot cakes. Some of the artists from those times have remained. Some have even remained true to what they did back then. Sales have dwindled, which is both bogus and sad. Neoclassical shred is simply not a thing of today, yet the market is still full with would-be Yngwie Malmsteens and, in fact, Yngwie Malmsteen. A market in which Tom "Blink-182" DeLonge gets the honour of a signature Fender Stratocaster, a market in which Beck gets a cover story in reputable guitar magazines (and I don't mean Jeff).

One of the bands from that time - yes, Racer X in fact - reunited a few years ago. Their songwriting had improved, their vocalist was still not too strong, and their studio work sounded good because one guitarist can simply do twice as much work (original second guitarist Bruce Bouillet didn't join the reunion). And that's precisely where this live album goes wrong.

Paul Gilbert is an excellent guitar player, even if you discard the Makita Power Drill. I've seen an instructional video of his and he has this rare quality where he sits down and demonstrates things, and you think you can do that, too. Quite different from a certain former Swede I mentioned earlier, who sits down and plays triple backward flip screwdriver arpeggios until you're blue in the face. The kind of 'instructional video' that you later only show to other people to prove that god exists (which then, following the "religion requires faith, knowing nullifies faith and therefore god doesn't exist" reasoning, causes Yngwie to vanish in a puff of logic). Anyway, Paul sits down and plays three notes (three notes, mind) and you think, "Hey, I'll play along a bit," and then you find yourself frustrated and your guitar broken in frustration when he takes it one simple step up. Gilbert may be a better educator than our favourite Swede, but his guitar playing prowess outweigh his teaching skills. Which basically boils down to what I started off this paragraph with: Paul Gilbert is an excellent guitar player, even if you discard the Makita Power Drill.

Racer X have now done four studio albums: Two in the neo-orgasmic six-string days of bliss, and two in more recent times. They also did two live albums already, both apparently taken from the same late eighties show when Gilbert and Bouillet did their thing together, alternately, and sometimes on the same guitar. These live albums are true classics, which unfortunately lacked a few tracks you would have loved to hear - most particularly the neoclassical afficionado's wet dream, "Scarified". And now there's a new live album, "Live at the Whisky - Snowball of Doom", recorded in May 2001. When you see a song like "Scarified" in the track list, you start to discern a certain feeling of elation and you can but part with the money and take the silvery disc home.

And, once home, you discover that Paul Gilbert is an excellent guitar player, but he's not two excellent guitar players. Gaping holes fall in the tracks when the solos are going on, and the old tracks in particular ("Street Lethal", "Scarified", "Into the Night", "Hammer Away") don't sound like you think they ought have. Gilbert's guitar work will cause drool to ooze from your every body orifice (including every pore), no denying that. The choice of tracks is cool, culminating in the album closer, the very cool Blue Oyster Cult cover "Godzilla". But there's something lacking: An extra guitar. And I don't like the sound of the snare drums too much either. Had Jeff Martin improved vocally and Paul grown an extra set of arms, it would have been worth four out of five bullets.

And what the heck are these leather-n-lace-clad chicks on the cover for?



Written February 2002


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