Latex is 54 years old. She’s wearing a pleather biker hat which may have been stolen from The Blue Oyster
. Spilling from the hat are wide loose curls of blonde hair questing past the border of her shoulders. I had never seen her before. I had only just walked into the diner and before I could get to my seat she asks if I would like to dine with her. I’m pleasant and love to meet new people (plus it’s hard to say no to the delicate southern accent) so I say, “sure!” She wisely assumed I was bound for the John 5 show at Blackthorn 51 next door. Scanning the room it was clear most of the patrons were headed there as well. Lots of black t-shirts of bands with cryptic logos, skinny jeans, wallet chains, and tattoos.
I learn that tonight will be her second time seeing John 5 as a solo act. The first was last Friday and she loved it so much, she flew up from North Carolina just for the show. Tomorrow she was flying to see Slaughter in Raleigh. This was her first time in NYC since 9/10/01. The tale of her taking a US Airways flight home on the 10th instead of staying for one on the 11th was harrowing and yet familiar. 9/11 is a common topic for visitors. Many want to tell me how intense their days in were Kansas, Colorado, Egypt, or wherever, though few ask about my day in NYC. That’s a topic for some other time and place. She was grateful to tell me about how that ended her career as a flight attendant.
After a lovely meal and conversation with other patrons it becomes clear that while the show starts at 7pm, John 5 wasn’t going
on till midnight. I quickly reevaluate my evening. I parked in NJ and would have to Lyft home. I also had a big day coming up and wanted to get sleep. So much for that. 6 other bands played before John 5 however, many at the diner had already had a glimpse. Seems there was a VIP ticket option that included a meet & greet. Of course there was. This is the first mention herein of how amazing John 5 is. He is incredibly generous with his time. From lessons online to interviews, product reviews, and photo ops, I consistently hear how open and accessible John 5 has been. I have no idea who any of the other bands are so it was going to be an adventurous night of musical delight!
I will spare you the details of each band but will give some flavor and context to the highlights. The band on stage, when I came in, was made up of young Asians playing classic hard rock covers. They had a School of Rock vibe meaning their passion was high, their technique showed promise and their fandom was palpable. They did not seem nervous before their following of friends, family, and fans. I don’t think they made the poster but I enjoyed the youth and stirred up memories of my early gigs. Bonus points for playing If I Close My Eyes Forever
and a great original tune to close the set.
The two stand out openers were Common Wealth
, and Panzie
. They were the most confident, most well defined (musically, thematically, and theatrically), most commanding performers. I would see either band again.
By 10 pm, the rail was getting tight. I was second row center behind the dad and son team who promised me in the diner that they would be front row. They must not have drank much with dinner because they did not move from their spot once. The stage was being given its first major overhaul of the night. Two printed screens on either side of the drummer hid the amps. The entire band is John 5, a bassist stage right, and the drums. All amazing musicians. The guitar tapping begins and the crowd goes wild. Then, running in from stage left comes John 5 with lights in his mouth, facepaint, and a road warrior outfit finished with mismatched keds.
John 5 has a style and vibe that is all his own. He plays a lot of tapping runs, a lot of sweep picking, and a unique blend of metal/chickn pickn (think country shred). Many guitarists have solid technique in these categories but few have a unique voice. Joe Satriani always sounds like Joe Satriani, Randy always sounded like Randy, but these greats managed to cultivate a voice from the technique. It feels odd saying these musicians “play guitar.” They are so smooth and so clean, the instrument becomes an extension of some world beyond. John 5’s playing is a paradox to witness. It sounds complicated and you know it must be difficult but he makes it look so easy. You can hear every note, you can’t believe he’s moving his right hand enough to make these sounds and his left is reminiscent of Thing from the Addams Family (the movie version).
Jazzy, funky, rockin, country, and some great stuff in between came across with energy, excitement, and a fully engaged crowd. Most importantly, he looked like he was having fun. At the end of many songs, he’d throw his head back with a huge smile with his arm raised high like the ringleader at an old time circus. The impression was less, “Check me out!” and more “We all just had an amazing musical experience!” At the end of the night, he apologized for not having an encore but made up for it with a medley of some classic guitar riffs all strung together including some from bands he played with. I can’t say enough great things about this show. If you love the guitar, if you want to learn more about it, if you want to see someone who is blending genres in a respectful and creative way, check out John 5. It was worth what would later become a diabolically unholy trek home. That’s another story.