Saturday Night at NAMM: Ibanez and Steve Vai, Schecter and Zakk Wylde

By Daniel Corey

Steve Vai at Winter NAMM 2020

I’d love to start this piece by saying that it was a quiet NAMM, up until the Saturday night Ibanez and Schecter parties. For sake of dramatic effect, you know. But to say that would be a lie. NAMM is never quiet, nor peaceful, nor anything of the like. From day one, NAMM is noisy, loud, crazy and everything that is rock and roll, hip-hop, jazz and everything in between. But I digress.

When Saturday arrives at NAMM, things just get even louder and weirder, as companies like Ibanez and Schecter throw massive, shred-infused parties. Last year, we saw Ice-T and Body Count at the Schecter party. This year, we hit not only Schecter, but Ibanez, as well.

With Alexx Calise and Dennis Morehouse,
better known as Batfarm

As usual, I was hanging with my good friends Alexx Calise and Dennis Morehouse, aka Batfarm, aka the friends that frequently get me into very loud rooms.

With Alexx Calise at Guitar World’s NAMM booth;
because you can never have too many pictures with Alexx on your page

First up for us was Steve Vai at House of Blues Anaheim. I had never seen Steve play before, but given his musical legacy, there was no doubting that he was going to put on a great show. And I must say, he and his band were amazing. Steve displayed quite a crazy sense of humor, engaging in antics such as playfully refusing to hand off his guitar when his tech came on to swap axes with him.

Steve Vai and Co at the Winter NAMM 2020 Ibanez Party

Something that really impressed me about Steve is that he took several minutes to talk about the opening bands and what he liked about them. And he also made a celebrity of his befuddled guitar tech, Thomas. “That’s MY Thomas,” he exclaimed, prompting cheers from the audience. At one point, Vai’s rig failed, and Thomas came onstage and promptly fixed it. After repairs were made, Thomas put on Vai’s axe and strummed a few chords, causing the audience to chant “Thomas! Thomas!” Thomas remained very humble throughout the entire ordeal.

Steve was celebrating the release of the latest evolution of his signature JEM Ibanez guitar, the Paradise in Art, or “PIA.” He had three different finishes on hand: Sun Dew Gold, Envy Green and Panther Pink. Thomas was kept busy trading off the variously styled guitars to Vai throughout the show.

Nita Strauss and Steve Vai

A particularly fun moment was when Vai brought Nita Strauss up to jam with him. Strauss is well-known as Alice Cooper’s guitarist, and has released her own album, Controlled Chaos, as well. The two shredders had terrific energy, and their jam seemed to epitomize the very idea of controlled chaos.

Nita Strauss and Steve Vai

From there, it was off to the Grove of Anaheim and the Schecter party, where Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society awaited us. Honestly, I’m not terribly familiar with that arena of metal music, so I can only give you my general impression, which is that Zakk wore a kilt and played a double-necked guitar very fast, at very high volume. The upstage area behind the band was a massive wall of speakers, though a little bird informed me that 90 percent of them were hollow set dressing. They looked impressive, nonetheless, and somehow they still managed to make the evening seem even louder, despite their lack of actual function.

At one point in the show, Zakk waded out into the front-of-house crowd while playing a solo. The solo went on for about 72 minutes whilst onlookers gathered around him in awe.

Zakk Wylde! Black Balloons! Oh, my!

Okay, so it was probably more like six or seven minutes. But, hey, the impressive thing about it is that Zakk isn’t concerned that he’s going to use up all of his tricks if he commits to one epic, longer-than-some-Peter-Gabriel-songs-length solo. Because he’s got a thousand more damn tricks up those ripped, sleeveless arms that he can pull out after that. And pull those tricks he did, each one louder than the last.

While we were at The Grove, Alexx introduced me to Jessica and Jackie, aka Dianthus. These wonderful ladies make some heavy, technique-infused-yet-melodic metal, and you’ll want to give them a listen.

With Dianthus at the Schecter Party

After leaving the Schecter party for the sanctuary of the quiet nighttime streets of Anaheim, the gang had a plan to return to the Convention Center Hilton to hear more music. I really wanted to tag along, but it was after midnight, and I had a story to write and several interviews to do the next day. Long story short: I got everything done, and squeezed in about five hours of sleep before tearing up the last day of NAMM. More on that later.

Learn more about Batfarm at their homepage, and buy their debut EP In the Belfry at Apple Music.

The Dianthus landing page is here, and you can buy their album Worth Living For at Apple Music.

More info about Steve Vai on his website, and check him out on Apple Music.

Nita Strauss will be opening an online store soon. For now, buy her album on Apple Music.

Check out Black Label Society’s homepage, and buy their music here.

As I write this, it is the Tuesday night after NAMM, and I am still recovering. Right after the convention ended Sunday night, it was straight to The Wiltern to meet my wife and our friend Andie K (of Key of F fame, buy their new single here) to see Elbow in concert. And in about two hours, I have to leave to see Daniel Lanois and Heavy Sun perform their Tuesday night residency at Zebulon in Atwater Village. THE INSANITY NEVER ENDS.

Rest well, DangerKatts.

  • DC


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