“It’s just guitar music,” a beaming John 5 exclaimed to an enthusiastic crowd as he strolled onstage for an encore. After showing off his mind-blowing riffs to an astonished audience, it was more than an understatement. John 5 is on another level. His diversity of styles, his spooky look, and his obvious enthusiasm for what he does with his assortment of guitars, not to mention his incredible technical talents, separate him from the usual herd of today’s guitar heroes, as far as I and many others are concerned.
April 22, 2022
The Garden Amp was the scene for John 5 and his bandmates – Ian Ross on bass and Alex Marcado on drums – to collectively blow the minds of all in attendance. This cozy spot was very conducive to a show such as this, and the sound and lighting was spot on. A stagehand in a large mask that resembled John 5 led the band center stage. Using a creepy mix of darker lights, John 5 arrived onstage wearing a spooky mask and playing a custom oil-filled guitar that glowed under the blue lights. He emphasized his opening number by using a violin bow that brought out a very haunting sonic effect that worked great with the Halloween-like visual.
Throughout the show in fact, John 5’s interest in the macabre was displayed by four onstage video screens that projected a loop of vintage monster movie clips that helped set the tone. Ditching the mask and shaking his head furiously, John 5 immediately got down to business and really let his fingers rip with the song “Season of the Witch.” The title track of his 2017 release had the sold-out crowd in a trance for the rest of the evening. I observed a combination of total head-banging metal heads and those that just stood there with their mouths agape, totally transfixed on his guitar techniques.
The band performed selections from throughout John 5’s solo career, especially his latest, 2021’s “Sinner,” including the outstanding tracks “Que Pasa” and a sing-along cover of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” that was performed instrumentally. In fact, the only vocals in the entire set were electronically sampled on a few of the numbers. One in particular, “I Am John 5,” was accompanied by an onstage robot to lead the crowd into chanting the chorus of the same name.
Again, his guitar techniques were the star of the show. His arsenal of attacking his fretboard included numerous sweeping arpeggios, hammer-ons, and crunchy, down-tuned blasts, as well as Chet Atkins- styled delicate jazzy riffs, that seemed to dance across his guitar neck. He seamlessly crossed over from metal, to electronica, to country riffs on a variety of instruments, including electric guitar, mandolin, and even banjo, during the exquisite “Black Grass Plague” that brought the crowd to a deafening roar.
Judging by the huge smile on John 5’s face, he was truly enjoying the accolades. He actually told the crowd that “they were the best crowd” he had played to on this tour. He then announced that they would be recording the show for inclusion on a live album, which brought out even more applause. The band then thrilled the faithful with a rocking medley of familiar rock classics that included Foo Fighters’ “All My Life,” Iron Maidens’ “The Trooper,” and riffs from Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Kiss, and others, all played on a stunning LED lighted Fender Telecaster. “Just guitar music” sure, but in the hands of a virtuoso such as John 5, it amounts to much, much, more than that understatement. He really is a “Master of his Telecaster.”
Opening act The Haxans were a blast! Consisting of New Year’s Day vocalist Ash Costello, and Matt Montgomery (aka “Piggy D”) on guitar – who is also John 5’s bandmate in Rob Zombie’s band – they rocked a fun, pop-style dance party that literally shook the cobwebs off the Garden Amp. They immediately turned it into a cool 1960’s style “Go-Go Party” as Ash Costello (local to the area and performing in front of plenty of friends and family) rocked a sparkly mini-dress, and shimmed and shook as she howled out songs from their 2017 LP and more. It was a great way to start the evening, and really did justice to the term “Warm-Up Act” although I will have to check them out again as headliners sometime.