The hard rock and heavy metal of the 1970s and 1980s – much of which was written and recorded here in Southern California – continues to be revered by music fans around the world. In fact, many of today’s most successful heavy acts, such as the so-called “Big 4” of thrash metal (that is, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax), are the exact same bands who ruled the genre three decades ago.
While the jury’s still out as to whether up-and-coming groups such as Greta Van Fleet and Ghost will be similarly celebrated 30 years from now, the annual NAMM trade show (Nation Association of Music Merchants) – the world’s largest musical instrument convention, the 2019 edition of which kicks off on Thursday – always provides an important history lesson for today’s would-be rock gods. Each year, numerous survivors of the glory days of loud guitars congregate for several days in and around the Anaheim Convention Center, as well as inside nightclubs throughout Orange County, to honor a style of music that might no longer rule the charts, but which continues to inspire true believers to bang their heads, raise their fists and, most importantly, pick up an instrument. For those about to rock, we’ve compiled a list of the dozen best concerts of NAMM 2019. (Unlike the convention itself, the below shows are open to the general public.)
12. If You Want Bon, You Got It!
Wednesday, Yost Theater, $24 advance/$28 day-of-show
The newest addition to NAMM’s parade of dead-musician all-star tribute concerts honors Bon Scott, who fronted AC/DC from 1974 until his death in 1980. Co-produced by Brian Tichy, a drummer who has performed with Ozzy Osbourne, Foreigner and Whitesnake, the event will feature many of Tichy’s former bandmates, including onetime Slash’s Snakepit vocalist Eric Dover, Foreigner guitarist Bruce Watson and Dead Daisies guitarist (and fellow Whitesnake alum) Doug Aldrich. Black Mongoose, a cover band featuring Tichy and Aldrich, will perform as well.
11. She Rocks Awards
Friday, House of Blues, $55 and up
Surely the most modern-minded NAMM event, the annual She Rocks Awards – which have previously honored Melissa Etheridge, Pat Benatar and The Bangles, among others – celebrates “women who stand out as role models in the music industry,” according to the event’s website. This year’s recipients include Macy Gray, Terri Nunn (Berlin) and Lisa Loeb. In addition, a posthumous lifetime achievement award will honor Janis Joplin, whose music will be celebrated via performances by the likes of guitarist Orianthi (Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper).
10. Gilby Clarke
Saturday, House of Blues (Parish Room), $18
Over the past three years, the partially-reunited classic lineup of Guns N’ Roses grossed more than half a billion dollars during their “Not In This Lifetime” tour. While many fans bemoaned the fact that original members Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler didn’t participate, it was also a bummer that Gilby Clarke – who filled in admirably for Stradlin after he left the band in 1991 during their “Use Your Illusion” tour – wasn’t invited to take part. Clarke, who went on to tour with Heart and Rockstar Supernova after leaving GNR in addition to releasing four records of his own, has long been promising a new album; perhaps he’ll preview some unreleased material here, when he’ll be supported by glam-metal vets Little Caesar and rising blues/rock guitarist Jared James Nichols.
9. Hall of Heavy Metal History
Wednesday, Marriott Delta Garden Grove, $30
Much like World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame, the Hall of Heavy Metal History doesn’t actually exist in physical form – but that’s no excuse to not have a party and an induction ceremony each year. This time around, inductees into the virtual shrine include Megadeth bassist David Ellefson, Anthrax bassist Frank Bello and onetime Runaway (and Ozzy duet partner) Lita Ford. In addition, Appice – the eponymous musical collaboration of famed drummers/brothers Carmine (Rod Stewart, Vanilla Fudge) and Vinny (Dio, Black Sabbath) – will perform live. Proceeds from the ceremony will benefit charities that aid children with disabilities and fight cancer.
8. Alex Skolnick Trio
Saturday, Marriott Hotel Lobby, free
If there were a heavy metal equivalent of Dos Equis’ most interesting man in the world, Alex Skolnick would certainly qualify. After initially cutting his teeth in the 1980s as a teenage guitar prodigy for Bay Area thrashers Testament, Skolnick – who once took lessons from guitar icon Joe Satriani – left the band in 1993 to pursue other musical interests and eventually earned a degree in jazz performance from a New York music school. Since then, he’s led something of a dual existence – he returned to Testament in 2005 and has subsequently toured the world many times over, but he’s also continued to scratch his jazz itch with his eponymous trio, which often performs bebop renditions of hard rock and metal classics. (Postmodern Jukebox likely owes him a few royalty points.)
7. Marty Friedman
Thursday, House of Blues (Parish Room), $20
Much like Skolnick, Friedman left a famous metal band (in his case, Megadeth) to pursue a different career path – but instead of studying jazz, Friedman decided to pack up, move halfway across the world and attempt to break into the Japanese music industry, a diverse and often wildly inventive subsection of the music world that’s as colorful as the lights of Tokyo’s famed Shinjuku district. Along the way, he became something of a celebrity there – among other things, he hosted a Japanese TV show, the title of which translated to “Mr. Heavy Metal” – as well as an official government-appointed ambassador for Japanese culture. He never stopped making music, though, and while his recently-released concert album “One Bad M.F. Live!!” wonderfully captures his trademark mix of uber-melodic exuberance and technical dexterity, it’s highly recommended that you experience Friedman and his knockout backing band (which includes Japanese drummer Chargeee, a human incarnation of the Muppet Animal if there ever was one) in person.
6. Ronnie Montrose Remembered
Friday, M3 Live, $25
Guitarist Ronnie Montrose – who died in 2012 at the age of 64 – is best known for founding Montrose, an American rock group that Sammy Hagar fronted in the mid-1970s, and for his session work with the likes of The Edgar Winter Group (“Frankenstein”) and Van Morrison. For the past few years, an annual memorial concert honoring Montrose has taken place during NAMM weekend, and the 2019 edition is the most star-studded yet, featuring a lineup that includes George Lynch (Dokken), Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns) and Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent). The quality of events like these can be a bit hit-and-miss, largely depending on how freely alcohol is flowing backstage, but this year’s RMR show has all the makings of a memorable tribute.
5. Ultimate NAMM Night
Saturday, Hilton Anaheim (California Ballroom), free (ticket required)
On most Tuesday nights, the Whisky A Go Go hosts a free event called Ultimate Jam Night, where established rock musicians join forces in an impromptu fashion and perform covers with varying degrees of success. For the second consecutive year, the party will head south during NAMM weekend, where the Hilton adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center will see rock royalty such as guitar wizard Steve Vai, bass icon Billy Sheehan and former Journey vocalist Jeff Scott Soto grace the stage together. Sometimes, events like these yield pairings with instant chemistry that soon go on to form “real” bands. Other times, they’re complete train wrecks. Either way, it’s worth making the effort to snag a ticket. Long-running thrash act Flotsam and Jetsam and glam veterans The Sweet will also perform.
4. Randy Rhoads Remembered/Bonzo Bash
Thursday, Yost Theater, $40 and up
Another Brian Tichy co-production, this event combines long-running tributes to two hard rock/metal icons – one honoring Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads (who died in a 1982 plane crash at the age of 25), and another that celebrates Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who was 31 when he died in 1980. Considering how revered the two figures are in hard rock and metal lore, the participant list for these events is always top-shelf, and this year’s dual homage will feature a number of notable guitarists and drummers, including current and former members of Guns N’ Roses, Tesla and Jane’s Addiction. In addition, Rhoads’ former bandmate Rudy Sarzo will play bass for the RRR house band, “The Madmen.”
3. Metal Allegiance
Thursday, House of Blues, $25
This collective, which is anchored in part by Testament’s Skolnick and Megadeth’s Ellefson, features a rotating cast of all-star guests both in concert and on record. This year, their annual NAMM performance – which will include current and former members of Overkill, Death Angel and Sepultura, among others – will see the group and their metal cohorts play Black Sabbath’s self-titled 1970 debut in its entirety, in addition to songs from the group’s two studio albums of original material.
2. Imperial Ball
Saturday, Anaheim Center For The Performing Arts at Servite, $125
Now in its 13th year, the annual Imperial Ball – organized by Duesenberg, a German guitar company – has featured a number of A-list performers over the years, including Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh (The Eagles), Marilyn Manson and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. For the past six years, actor and occasional guitarist Johnny Depp has also joined the fray. While the lineup for this year’s event – all proceeds from which will benefit a local breast cancer charity – isn’t being widely advertised, performers will include Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney’s longtime guitarist) and Carmen Vanderberg (Jeff Beck), while the house band will feature the first public performance together by three members of The Heartbreakers since Tom Petty’s 2017 passing. Rumor has it that past participant Alice Cooper will also make a return appearance. For the latest lineup information, visit imperialball2019.com.
Thursday, The Observatory, $33
In our 2018 best-of-NAMM list, we ranked Dimebash #10, but the organizers of this year’s tribute to late Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott have stepped up their game considerably. In addition to sets by Kill Devil Hill (the new band of Abbott’s former bandmate Rex Brown) and local treasure Fireball Ministry, performers will include Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies), Scott Ian (Anthrax) and dozens of their metal peers. Having just witnessed a five-hour Chris Cornell tribute that would have tested the endurance of even the biggest Soundgarden die-hard, it’s easy to wonder how they’ll manage to rotate so many bodies and instruments onto and off of the stage before curfew strikes, but it’s hard to fault the sentiment behind an event that celebrates the life and influence of one of the genre’s most revered players.