Ripper’s Rock House; Akron, OH
Dead in 5, John 5 and the Creatures
It seemed like serendipity that brought an advertisement for John 5’s first ever instrumental tour to my Facebook feed about a month ago, but over the past week or so that’s all I’ve been reading about.
It’s hard to believe that this is J5’s first time out as a solo artist. I bought his first guitar instrumental album Vertigo when it came out back in 2004 and since then I’ve been more interested in what he does with his telecasters than with what he’s done with Marilyn Manson or Rob Zombie. But the demand for instrumental guitar music isn’t as high as it was during the shred heyday of the ’80’s or even when Joe Satriani and Steve Vai did their G3 tours in the 00’s.
Still, there were enough people to pack Ripper’s Rock House. I was expecting the place to be a professional concert venue, but really it’s more of a neighborhood bar and grill with a stage. I always like being able to say I saw big time rock stars in little dives like this though. It makes for a better story. And there were a lot of people from all walks of life who felt the same.
I’m not sure if the opening band, Dead in 5, just got on the bill because of the number ‘5’ in their name. I wasn’t extremely impressed by their 80’s influenced type of metal. They weren’t awful, but I wasn’t interested enough to buy a CD.
And after a long-but-not-excruciating wait John 5 stood on the stage with a telecaster in his hands and a grill spouting green light in his mouth. Over the next hour and ten minutes I found it hard to look away from the stage. It’s not everyday you’re 15 feet away from the greatest guitar player on the planet. And aside from shredding some great heavy metal, J5 is also a pretty talented showman. He signaled every song was over by holding out his right arm like a carnival barker saying ‘there it is.’
Most of the set was heavy metal (I’m sorry I can’t name most of the songs, I bought his first two albums but sort of lost interest after that). But there were forays into other genres. I was especially impressed by his take on Spanish flamenco music. Once he started the finger picking I grew uncomfortable that the girl dancing in front of me would brush up against me and think that my boner was for her. Sorry babe, that was a full on guitar erection!
And don’t forget J5 is an accomplished country player:
There wasn’t much talking from the stage aside from a few song intros and some gabby ‘thank yous’ to all of us for coming out. It really seems like he wasn’t sure if people would pay money to watch him play guitar!
LIke most rock shows the best parts were saved for last. A liquid filled tele proved noise and feedback for an intro to “Feisty Cadavers” from Vertigo. This is the song that really made me love John 5. Sure, there’s plenty of fleet fingered guitar virtuosity, but there’s also a chorus theme that you’re almost able to singalong to. I feel most instrumental guitarists are more interested in self-absorbed masturbation of their instruments, but J5 is actually a talented songwriter.
The quiet part on the album was replaced by a bass solo live to accommodate one more costume change before they ripped through the cover of “Beat It.” That song is so much better without Michael Jackson. Not only did J5 invite a young kid on stage to play his guitar, but he also held it out in the crowd and offered the first few rows a grab. Quite a generous offer when you consider how much that thing must have cost.
I was a bit disappointed at the announcement of the last song, but it was a medley to beat the ages. They tore from one classic metal song to the next. Of course, “Thunderkiss ’65” and Manson’s version of “Sweet Dreams” were included. But also were “Running with the Devil,” “Living After Midnight,” “Crazy Train,” “Detroit Rock City” and just about any other song you’d imagine being packed in there.
My biggest problem with the show was the shortness of the set. I could have listened to John 5 play for another hour without getting bored. The only other issue I had was that Ripper’s Rock House is a bit of a small venue not really suited to being a packed house. I’d have rather seen the show in a bigger place with a bigger stage and more room to move around.
But maybe I’ll get all that the next time he comes around. I just hope he doesn’t wait another decade before he does it.