For the most part, anyone who shows up to NAMM knows that it consists of a few key activities. We know we’ll spend most of our time walking up and down the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center, stopping at booths of companies that have a product of interest and/or showcase minimally clothed women. We’ll check our schedule obsessively for times and locations of signings and demonstrations (Weird Al, Billy Corgan, Phil Anselmo, Steve Vai, Nikki Sixx, Billy Sheehan, Dennis Chambers, etc.), and all while on the constant lookout for notable persons just there to take in the festivities (Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah, Stephen Carpenter of Deftones, and Al Jourgensen of Ministry were just a few of the many to make the event). I was fortunate enough to have bumped into metal guitar god Devin Townsend while he was signing his check at the front desk for an IHOP breakfast Friday morning.
But another large part of NAMM weekend is the shows on Friday and Saturday night, and tickets to these are usually purchased or given out at the booths sponsoring the event, making it possible for anyone to attend if they know someone on the inside. There are no guarantees and there are several shows to choose from, but I was able to score passes to the two shows held at the City National Grove of Anaheim last weekend.
Friday night’s concert was dubbed NammJam 2016, a benefit put on by Delve Texas in support of the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation. The opening bands were largely ordinary but still entertaining, starting with an older three-piece fronted by guitarist Danny B Harvey. They plowed through a half hour of classic rock covers, including heavier renditions of Suzie Q and Crossroads, and joined on vocals by David Vincent of Morbid Angel for a Johnny Cash tune. As someone who had only heard him in the form of death metal growls, I was pleasantly surprised at his capable baritone prowess.
Up next were LA Guns, a hair metal group from the ’80s with a long and complicated musical history, including being partially responsible for the formation of Guns ‘N’ Roses, as well as having two, different, simultaneous versions of the band for about five years. The current lineup and set list are indeed a blast from the past, all black leather and metal studs, energetically chanting shrill anthems of parties and women. Gimmicky, yet professional, definitely fun for anyone who looks back fondly on that era.
Beasto Blanco, who are equal parts man and creature, colliding in a sea of rock-n-ghoul were the third group to take the stage. Their set was an intentional audio nightmare, punctuated by the drummer’s stick wizardry and highlighted by an appearance by Alice Cooper to add vocals to his own song, “Feed My Frankenstein.”
At long last, the headliner, known simply as John 5, was set to begin. His work in Marilyn Manson and now Rob Zombie has propelled him to individual recognition for his guitar abilities. Backed by bass and drums, John 5’s instrumental set embarked on a voyage of eclectic schizophrenia, ranging from a slide country diddy to an even creepier rendition of The Addams’ Family theme song. Guitar switches took place practically every song and sometimes as many as four, to keep up with the eccentric nature of the music. He looked the part, with pasty white hair, black dahlia makeup, and donning a large uneven shawl throughout his maniacal playing. He stopped to speak to the audience just twice; explaining why he eventually settled on guitar (“you should see my wife; she’s super hot”), and to thank the crowd before introducing Josh Todd of Buckcherry to lend vocals for a Rage Against the Machine favorite, “Killing in the Name Of.”
Saturday night’s concert was called the annual Namm Party, put on by Schecter and considered the pinnacle of the music injected weekend. Just two acts, but each larger than anything from the previous night. What had been open space on Friday became a full crowd on Saturday, with a line to enter stretching all the way around the venue and taking as long as two hours to get inside.
Once I did finally get my ticket stamped and pass through security, I was greeted by the unmistakably sound of Zakk Wylde’s hypnotic guitar. He is well known for his time spent playing for Ozzy Osbourne and for his own group Black Label Society, but on this night he would be performing an hour of covers as Zakk Sabbath. Channeling his inner Randy Rhoads as well as Ozzy, with his own Wylde flavor, he and his three-piece smashed through an array of Sabbath favorites, beefed up by several minutes of wailing solos at the end of each song, taking special time to walk to each side of the stage for the fans to get a closer glimpse. My favorite was “War Pigs,” performed at an exhilarating tempo and preceding an epic jam of fretboard mastery.
The final band of the weekend was Arch Enemy of Sweden. A highly esteemed member of the European metal scene, Arch Enemy has long been recognized as a force of technical heaviness, despite several lineup changes over the years. They are currently joined by esteemed guitarist Jeff Loomis, formerly of Nevermore. They are also now on their third vocalist and second frontwoman, handpicked by the previous occupant and no less equipped. Despite Arch Enemy’s all-around musical precision, the casual viewer will immediately notice the demonic voice emanating from Alissa White-Gluz’s angelic face. She continuously implored the crowd to keep up, as the band performed several tracks from recent releases, while still finding time to fit in older favorites “Ravenous,” “We Will Rise,” and “Nemesis.” After another hour set, just as the clock struck midnight, and right when my knees were about to give out on me, Arch Enemy announced the completion of their set, all but ending a jam-packed weekend of audio overload.