John 5 is a renowned guitarist who has graced many well-known musical acts with his unique playing skills including Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth, and Rob Zombie. As a solo artist with his own band, John 5 and the Creatures, who are set to release their live album, ‘It’s Alive!” today on 60 Cycle Hum Records, he takes center stage for the all-instrumental act. In the vein of Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and others who sit upon similar thrones, 5 takes on the role of guitar aficionado, or “shredder” with the confidence and (seemingly) the greatest of ease.
I’ve always hated when reviewers of music, or movies, or anything for that matter, use the word “fun” to describe the piece of art being discussed. I always looked at it as a cop-out. You couldn’t come up with any other descriptive words so you fell back on “fun.” Well, here I am eating my own words as I am about to describe John 5 and the Creatures ‘It’s Alive!’ as exactly that – fun. From track one to closing note, fun is precisely what can be expected.
As previously mentioned, 5 is a shredder – no question – but the songs on ‘It’s Alive!’ are not merely ego-stroking platforms for showing off, as is the case with a large majority of the shredder crowd. Instead, he brings a personality and high level of accessibility for guitar geeks and casual music fans alike. Overall, these songs are downright danceable.
The set list on this record ranges from a wide spectrum of genres including metal, hard rock, funk, blues, southern rock, and even a little bit of jazz. Armed with arpeggios-o-plenty, 5 takes the listener through a light-hearted musical history lesson of original songs, most of which come from the band’s studio album ‘Seasons of the Witch,’ and some exciting, crowd-pleasing cover tunes to finish things off.
For personnel on “It’s Alive!,” along with John 5, “The Creatures” consist of Ian Ross on bass and Logan Nix on drums, filling out the complete lineup. Throughout the genre-hopping and suddenly tempo-changing collection of tunes heard on this album, each band member is able to not only pull their own weight, but demonstrate flawless musicianship as well. Immediately when listening to this record, it becomes evident that this is not just a guitar god with a backup band, but a finely-tuned trio of truly talented musicians playing together.
As with any great live album, part of the magic is knowing the music is being performed in front of a real audience without any studio tricks or retakes. About recording ‘It’s Alive!,’ John 5 had this to say, “I remember pulling up to a beautiful venue that we played in Sellersville, Pennsylvania and before we were unloading the equipment, the soundman said, ‘Hey guys, would you like to record the show?’ We said, ‘sure that would be amazing!’ I always wanted to have a really great recording of the show. We were a few weeks into the show so we were really well rehearsed, so I said, ‘Alright guys, let’s not jump around. Let’s just really try to get a great performance because we only have one shot – no other shows if we mess up!’ So, we explained to the crowd that we would be recording. You can hear that on the recording of the album, which makes it very magical. It came out amazingly! That’s the magic of live albums to me – capturing the performance.”
As the opening number starts, we hear the epic walk-out track and the crowd noise begin to swell just before the first notes ring out. Other than sporadic moments of crowd cheering, the album is relatively very clean sounding with very little background noise affecting the clarity of the music. As far as sound quality, this record is on par with any professionally-done studio release.
Track one is “Guitars, Tits, and Monsters” to start the show. It’s a funky, upbeat number to get the crowd going before shifting into the thrash metal meets Dick Dale number, “Flight of the Vulcan Kelly.” Track three, “Six Hundred” keeps the energy going with a fast-paced jam that runs the gamut of styles from rockabilly, to reggae, to hard rock. “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” is a chilled-out, Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk/rock number with some wicked grooves and exceptional, rhythmic lead work.
Around the midpoint of the album things get less “shreddy” in favor of showcasing intricate stylistic proficiency such as on the palate-cleansing “Jiffy Jam” with its old school country/bluegrass vibe and fast-picked surf rock guitar leads; and “Hell Maw,” a jazzy, swingy number perfectly suited for some serious rug-cutting.
Later, things go a bit more metal with the industrial-tinged, Rob Zombie-flavored “Season of the Witch,” that features some chaotic laugh sampling and on/off muted soloing. “Portrait of Sydney Sloan” showcases some intense fretwork with aggressive tremolo picking and complex arpeggios that shift between metal and hard rock styles. “Triple D” ventures into darker territory with a Black Sabbath-esque, doomy opening riff before transitioning into a freestyle John 5 guitar solo featuring some insane arpeggios that has the crowd really feeling it.
Ending the record is an excellent cover tune and a final ten-minute medley of some of the greatest classic riffs in music history that covers every genre from pop to metal to hard rock. So as not to spoil the surprise, I won’t mention the songs covered, but for any fan of popular music, they will be surely recognized; and 5 is not only able to sufficiently do them justice but also showcases them in a sequence that very effectively builds the excitement while progressing from one riff to the next.
Overall, ‘It’s Alive!’ is an amazing live album. As a casual music fan just looking for something to play in the background for your next poker party or for the hardcore music nerd and guitar geek who prefers dissecting every note, this album delivers on all levels. Including a substantial sixteen tracks at a one hour and fifteen-minute runtime, it’s an entertaining and “fun” listen from front to back.