By Jason Williams
March 16th 2017, The Slidebar, Fullerton CA: From Eric Clapton, Joe Satriani, Jeff Beck, Steve Vai, and even Tosin Abasi, these names brighten the moods and smiles of guitar enthusiasts, musicians, and also fans. They range from mostly instrumental music, mainly focusing on the guitar aspect, to the vastly elite, and spellbinding level. We grow to admire these players for being able to create compelling works through the art of the guitar axe. For many, the name spoken as John 5 would not be considered in that category, as his name was heavily promoted and involved within his guitar role starting with Marilyn Manson, and making his way to Rob Zombie, horror rock/pop that lets the lyrics and themes to be shown so much more. But to those who are aware, John 5 is a brilliant guitar player whose impeccable style must be heard to be believed. With that said, fans all around would be salivating at the prospect of his band John 5 and the Creatures performing club shows all across North America for his recent 2017 release ‘Season of the Witch’. The first Southern California appearance? It would luckily be in Fullerton, home to the under-appreciated venue known as the Slidebar. A wonderful music venue/bar to rock out in, alongside the work of John 5 to be witnessed? This brisk Thursday evening would be nothing short of memorable.
Although 8 PM would be the supposed start time listed on the website, the first band of the show, The Mendenhall Experiment, wouldn’t start until 8:30 PM. As the crowd quickly gathered inside the small yet intimate music room, The Mendenhall Experiment a.k.a. TMX had plenty of fans in the crowd rocking out to their dosage of rock and metal, with the Slidebar’s stellar soundboard providing the monstrous sonic booming and volume of drummer Bruce Lira, which brought the atmosphere to a pleasant start. Brother and lead guitarist Michael Lira dished out chunky headbanging riffs, also showing off his guitar skills with some fancy fret work, something that would be a recurring theme all night. Credit heavily to the band, as they do something more special than just play rock, they bring awareness of their founding member and guitarist Brandon Mendenhall overcoming the horrible disease known as Cerebral Palsy, which he’s had since birth. It was unfortunate that his guitar amp had issues for most of the set, but he stayed quite professional and one could clearly see the passion that drives him as a musician and a person. The closing song ‘Seize the Day’ brought out the horns from this packed audience, as vocalist Mario Valadez belted out melodies with energetic stage presence. Their vibe sat well with me, and they were a fine opener for this heavy rock concert.
The Mendenhall Experiment set list:
01. The Answer
03. Fully Loaded
04. Nothing Good Came Easy
05. Bury Your Casket
06. Find a Way Out
07. Seize the Day
Main support and Orange County favorites Kaustik blasted the room wide open with a much more rugged and faster style of metal, actually taking the audience here by surprise. While The Mendenhall Experiment was much more in the rock realm, Kaustik brought forth the power of their metal cause, with frontman and bassist Robert Madrigal making Tom Araya proud, cleverly interacting with fans with cheesy smiles, screaming the lyrics in blissful anger, while keeping up with the musicianship he’s proudly surrounded by. While keeping this a gritty and menacing performance, guitarists Elan Mlagenovich and Ryan Burrows had quite the chemistry, interchanging dissonant harmonies, taking turns with sizzling leads and headbangable riffage. ‘In Bastards We Trust’ was the highlight of their set, and a brand new song they’ve never played before either, setting the tone with a monster inverted string skipping riff that screamed avant-garde. Their most popular track ‘Forged in the Bones of Our Freedom’ had the room singing along, and with lots of smiles as the song’s music video was recorded at the Doll Hut, the famous local dive bar, a video that is definitely worth your time to see. Kaustik was much more up my alley, closer to extreme metal for my tastes, and I’m looking forward to all the opportunities they’ll be making for themselves.
Kaustik set list:
01. Less PC, More Fuck You
02. Disgruntled Employees of a Bullshit Messiah
03. Sanction on the Shadows
05. In Bastards We Trust
06. Forged in the Bones of Our Freedom
07. Reign of Ruin
Barely any fan left their spot, and the room becoming more and more crowded, “John 5” chants reigned the Slidebar halls, and right at 10:30, evening time, John 5’s two other band mates greeted the fans to a loud roar, full of joy and heavy anticipation. Fluid and dexterous of his own, and as expected to be if you’re playing with John 5, bassist Ian Ross started the 70-minute performance with a quick bass lick before going into ‘Guitars, Tits & Monsters’, as drummer Logan Nix joined in, allowing John 5 himself to arrive shortly after, having an illuminated glowing pacifier, because well, he’s John 5. Seeing his performances with Rob Zombie live, only a few guitar solos will ever let you witness his unique playing, but tonight, and evident immediately, John 5’s captivating axe skills would not be denied. There were no gimmicks here, and the skills showed through the sweeping arpeggios and stellar inverted finger tapping, including full rhythm palm muted staccato picking, harmonizing countless octave chords by himself, and my favorite part of his set, the bluegrass influence, which was evident on ‘Black Grass Plague’ and the cover of ‘Jiffy Jam’. John 5’s influences vary greatly, and while hearing these vivid, smooth and gracious styles of guitar playing mastery, it truly puts him far above and beyond the talents of other virtuosos, bringing the likes of present-day Yngwie Malmsteen to absolute shame. Smiling, hypnotizing the crowd, while keeping on this elite performance, John 5 was having a ball, and the audience couldn’t look away. Even with half of the songs performed coming from ‘The Season of the Witch’, many in the audience were familiar with the tracks, humming the melodies and doing their best impressions of air guitar, too. Around the end of the set, John 5 spoke to the crowd and thanked everyone, and the Slidebar, for giving the opportunity to play this fun intimate show, ending the set with a really tasteful cover of ‘Beat It’, as well as playing a medley made up of the main riffs of famous rock songs such as ‘Kashmir’, ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ and my favorite of his various choices, ‘Roxanne’ from the Police. With instrumental bands, the songs and flow of the set could be hindered by boredom and monotony, but John 5 and the Creatures kept it immensely tasteful, engaging, and reminded everyone of the talks that his guitar-playing abilities and expressions are considerably held back playing in Rob Zombie. I’m quite happy for his success with Rob Zombie no doubt, but missing out on his glorious skill and knowledge through the ways of the guitar would be an epic fail to miss, and that’s why it’s good to see him touring with his own band.
“Guitar Gods” and other electrical guitar playing influences around the world, help make the metal/rock music genre and instrument scene continue forth proudly, and after finally seeing John 5 in true form, his name will be on that legendary list someday in the future. Guitar enthusiasts and concert thrill seekers, do not miss John 5 and the Creatures.
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John 5 and the Creatures set list:
01. Guitars, Tits & Monsters
02. Flight of Vulcan Kelly
03. 666 Pickers
04. Crazy Ones
06. Jiffy Jam (Jerry Reed cover)
07. Hell Haw
08. Season of the Witch
09. Portrait of Sydney Sloan
10. First Victim
11. Guitar Solo
12. Black Grass Plague
13. Behind the Nut Love
14. Making Monsters
15. Beat It (Michael Jackson cover)
16. Medley (various rock/metal covers)
Remaining Tour Dates:
03/23/2017 – San Antonio, TX @ Fitzgerald’s
03/24/2017 – Tyler, TX @ Clicks Live
03/25/2017 – Houston, TX @ Scout’s Bar
03/26/2017 – Dallas, TX @ Trees
04/13/2017 – Newport, KY @ Southgate House
04/14/2017 – Indianapolis, IN @ Vogue
04/15/2017 – Westland, MI @ The Token Lounge
04/16/2017 – Chicago, IL @ Reggies