John 5 and The Creatures Mesmerize Mesa, AZ 3-20-17

John 5 has one goal in life, to slice and dice with his axe. Now, before panicking and scouring the web for the latest information about an axe murder, John 5’s weapon of choice is his guitar. Born John Lowery, but affectionately known on stage as John 5, the talented guitarist has spent years polishing his skills. Growing up with dreams of being a musician, John 5 would go on to work in the studio with likes of David Lee Roth among others prior to joining up with the infamous Marilyn Manson in 1998. Now a part of the Rob Zombie family for over a decade, John 5 is one of the sharpest players around today. 

A busy man, somehow in between all the touring over the past 20 years, Mr. 5 has found the time to build a collection of solo releases. In fact, the list is quite long, eight albums long to be exact following the release of  Season Of The Witch on March 3rd. A body of work displaying his talents and diversity, Season Of The Witch could be his craziest work to date.

Now taking the music to the people, John 5 and his band The Creatures stalk their way across North America on the Season Of The Witch Tour. A run of shows that kicked off with an album release show out in Fife, Washington, John 5 continues to tour through April 16th. Shows that find him visiting everywhere from San Francisco to Houston, on March 20th, the madness arrived in in Mesa, Arizona. 

Though it was a Monday night, the engagement held at Club Red was buzzing with fans of all ages. Some of the fans came ready to pay homage to John 5 with their faces painted in a similar style to the musician, others just came to be dazzled by his skill. No ordinary work week show, joining John 5 and The Creatures were four talented local bands, each with their own signature style ready to dish out a smorgasbord of Rock, Punk, and Metal. 

Setting the tone, the first act of the evening were the local band Latency. Consisting of members Michael Reck (vocals/guitar), Jeremy Dasher (guitar), Chris Cornell (bass), and Phil Hernandez (drums), Latency adheres to solid Hard Rock grooves and “bluesy” guitar licks and solos. Being the first band is not always an easy task, but these guys immediately took command of the stage with their gritty Hard Rock riffs and energetic presence. Despite Reck admitting to the crowd that it had been quite a while since the band had performed, there were no signs of being rusty. Every band member showed solidarity and cohesion, even with some technical difficulties with malfunctioning monitors. Their energy and musicianship won the crowd over and created the momentum that would continue through the night.

Next up was the band calling themselves As Thick As Thieves. Founded in Phoenix, Arizona in 2012, the group strives to incorporate the sounds of some of their favorite acts as well as creating their own Progressive Hard Rock style. The 5-piece band includes members Nate Butcher on vocals, Kenny Barton and Zachary Banks on guitars, Ryan Robles on bass, and Ryan Mabee on drums.

Just before starting their set, the band set up smoke machines and additional lights. The effect was well worth the extra work. The band put 100% of themselves to putting on an energetic show. Covered in colorful tattoos, Butcher was a charismatic frontman, always on the move and maintaining a strong connection with the audience. The band’s version of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” was one of the crowd’s favorites. From the start to finish, As Thick as Thieves kept the energy in the room high and the audience entertained.

Moving right along, the time came for Sicmonic to take the stage. A little over a decade since their formation, Sicmonic continues to be one of the most respected Metal bands in the southwest. The group consists of Vocalist Billy Zane Muna, Lead Guitarist Ray Goodwin, Rhythm Guitarist Zach Kasmer, Bassist David DiGilio, and Drummer Zack Sewell. Their music could be described as Modern Progressive and Experimental Metal, which immediately suggests the musical prowess of these musicians. In addition to being a virtuoso on guitar, Goodwin is a highly skilled pianist and violinist. The incredible talent in this group has afforded them the ability to expand their style beyond the parameters of Metal.

At one point in the set, Goodwin played a violin solo against the backdrop of the Sewell’s powerful drumming. The sound was Classical with a Heavy Metal rhythm from the drums. There was not one person in the crowd who was not mesmerized by the harmonious mixture of two very different musical styles. Muna’s vocals were strong, tearing through the heavy songs with force. He demonstrated incredible vocal range when they covered The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” Sicmonic consistently plays solid shows and tonight was no different.

Act as direct support, the collective calling themselves Doll Skill were ready to rock. Though they may be young (some of the members are still in their teens), the girls from Doll Skin have proven to be a force in the Punk Rock scene. While all-girl Rock bands tend to be a novelty because there are so few of them, it is evident that these musicians do not take that fact for granted. Since forming the band in 2013, Vocalist Sydney Dolezal, Guitarist Alex Snowden, Bassist Nicole Rich, and Drummer Meaghan Herring have already opened for major bands, toured nationally, and recorded an album under Megadeth Bassist David Ellefson’s label, Megaforce.

One of the qualities that makes this band fun to watch is the closeness between the band members. Being such a young band, these young women are growing up together as people as well as musicians and that is a special chemistry all its own. Dolezal was completely at ease on stage. Whether she was playing guitar or just being the frontwoman, Dolezal had a great connection with the fans. Herring and Rich stood out with their Punk attitude and playing, and Snowden’s fast, groovy solos were met with applause and cheers.

While every song seemed to be a success with the crowd, including selections such as “So Much Nothing,” Furious Fixation,” and “Family of Strangers,” Dolezal got the fans excited when she announced that they would filming a music video at Club Red for a brand new song the following week. A band on the rise, expect to see more of Doll Skin as they will be a part of this year’s Vans Warped Tour on select dates.

Now with the crowd completely warmed up, the arrival of John 5 was moments away. Even though John 5 can shred with impeccable ease, and even though he graces the stage with his face painted like that of a mischievous clown, there is an unmistakable authenticity that makes him feel approachable. His showmanship and musicality are equally impressive.

While his fingers moved quickly across the fretboard, John 5 always maintained a connection with his fans. In fact, many times during the performance at Club Red his painted face broke into a huge grin, and sometimes he leaned out into the crowd. The audience in turn was captivated by his performance while all eyes were glued on him, and no one moved as though they were in fear of missing a note or perhaps the music took them to a place that was an escape.

As for the music itself, John 5’s song selection showcased his versatility and incredible range. Some of the songs were Metal, while others, such as his cover of Jerry Reed’s Jiffy Jam had a Country twang vibe. Of course, he included a few songs, such as “Season of the Witch” and “The Black Grass Plague,” from his newest album. The Creatures, Bassist Ian Ross and Drummer Rodger Carter, completed the show with their incredible rhythms heard throughout, including cuts like “This is My Rifle” and “First Victim.”

Adding to the fun, John 5 blazed through one guitar solo after another, and even sprinkled in a killer cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Sadly, it all had to end sometime, and it was apparent that no one wanted him stop playing. Fortunately for all his fans, there will always most likely be more music coming sooner rather than later because the master axeman is always sharpening his blade.

With more than a handful of shows left on this run, John 5 and company will be heading towards the southern states, finishing up in Chicago on April 16th. As for the stop at Club Red, it was nothing less than spectacular. John 5 proved to be the ultimate showman, but best of all, he did it with a smile on his face. Offering a mixed bag of styles, John 5 is a must see for anyone who fancy themselves a well-rounded music lover. 

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