I’ve been hoping for a live document of the one tour that Whitesnake did with Steve Vai. Now, lo and behold, over 20 years later, it arrives!
Whitesnake – Live At Donnington 1990 (2CD/1DVD) (2011)
Back in 1989-1990 when Steve Vai was in Whitesnake, I was a huge fan of both. This was like a dream come true for me. Vai’s Passion & Warfare album, still one of the greatest guitar instrumental albums of all time, changed my entire musical landscape. Vai stretched the boundaries not just of guitar, but of mainstream music in general. Team him up with the very mainstream Whitesnake and you have a really fascinating combination. Did it work? Sometimes! But, I think in 1991 when Coverdale disbanded the ‘Snake for the first time, he wouldn’t have wanted this live album to be his band’s legacy. It’s far removed from the blues-rock at his heart.
So now decades later, we finally get to hear the legendary 1989-1990 lineup of Coverdale, Vai, Adrian Vandenberg (guitar), Rudy Sarzo (bass), and Tommy Aldridge (drums). And we get to see it too, on the included DVD. This 3-pack is definitely the best economical choice for aquiring Donnington 1990.
Musically, it’s a wild ride. It’s not the Steve Vai show. Adrian gets just as many solos, and his are still spine-tingling if more conventional. It is loaded with ‘Snake hits, leaning heavily on the three Geffen albums. In fact there is only one pre-Slide It In song included: The Bobby “Blue” Bland cover “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”. And, since it is also the pre-grunge era, there are plenty of solos, which today seems excessive. Aldridge does his drum solo at the end of “Still Of The Night”. Vandenberg gets his “Adagio for Strato”/”Flying Dutchman Boogie”. Most excitingly, Steve Vai performs two songs from his then-brand new (and top 40!) album Passion And Warfare: “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening”, with Aldridge on drums. Coverdale even introduces him as “Mr. Passion and Warfare!” so I imagine there was no sour grapes that Vai’s album was doing so well. And lemme tell ya folks — the audience WAS listening, and going nuts too!
As far as the ‘Snake tunes go, this lineup works best on the more space-aged music from the recent Vai-helmed Slip Of The Tongue. When they dip back to older John Sykes-era music…well, it’s weird hearing Vai replace those blazing Sykes solos with his own slippery concoctions. It’s amazing to listen to. Is it the “right” sound for this band? Clearly, no. But it was what it was.
Of note, Coverdale’s voice was in pretty rough shape at the start of the 90’s. It’s much stronger now, but here it is rough, leathery, and worn.
While this album won’t be considered Whitesnake’s live peak (that would be the Sykes era, although they are still very strong today too), it is definitely an essential part of the story. And it’s so long overdue, hard to believe that a live album with Vai was sitting in the cans for so long. And it doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like it was recorded at a massive outdoor festival (which it was), flaws and all.
The DVD included would have been better released on VHS back in 1991, because at times it is very fuzzy, especially in long shots. What can you do? It was the technology of the time. Just be forwarned. It’s wonderful to see Vai teasing the audience, hiding behind his guitar, and playing acrobatics with it. It’s worth having, just don’t expect anything that will look as sharp as a modern live DVD.
4/5 stars. Long awaited, though imperfect.