JOHN 5 isn’t a household name, but the guitar wizard has worked with a vast array of artists who are exactly that. Whether it’s performing in arenas with ROB ZOMBIE and MARILYN MANSON or lending his talents as a session musician for the likes of ROD STEWART, PAUL STANLEY or LYNYRD SKYNYRD, the six-stringer has been there and done that. And now, with numerous solo albums under his belt as well, the veritable shredder has just released his first live album: “It’s Alive!” It’s also his first album to be featured on vinyl.
JOHN 5 AND THE CREATURES, which includes bassist Ian Ross and drummer Logan Miles Nix, were well-rehearsed since the Sellersville, Pennsylvania, show was a few weeks into the group’s tour. So when the venue’s sound technician suggested to record the show as he met the band upon its arrival, JOHN 5 took him up on the offer. “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,” the frontman stated via a press release. “I’m so proud of it that I wanted to put it out and also tour it like bands used to tour live albums back in the ’70s.”
The spontaneity of the decision to record and the delightfully unrefined edges of a live performance are all in tow on “It’s Alive!”, a release that presumably took its name from the famous quote in the 1931 horror classic feature film “Frankenstein”. While the raw fluidity of a live show perspires through every pore of the release, it doesn’t mean the performance is sloppy. With JOHN 5, we would expect nothing less than world-class musicianship and performance. His supporting musicians provide a strong rhythm section that’s enjoyable in its own right. But there’s no question that they essentially serve to anchor JOHN 5‘s flamboyant, adventurous noodling that is unmistakably front and center.
Impressively, “It’s Alive!” is an instrumental album that won’t exclusively appeal to musicians. His body of work includes songwriting credits for the likes of AVRIL LAVIGNE, ROB HALFORD, K.D. LANG, GARBAGE and MEATLOAF. Considering such success and understanding of what works in pop music, it only makes sense that he would parlay his knowledge of hooks and memorability within his solo work as well: he does exactly that.
Following a cinematic intro and the murmur of the crowd, it all begins with the same degree of subtly as the namesake of the first song: “Guitars, Tits and Monsters”. Epic twiddly twiddly soloing unravels from the get-go prior to the trio playing hopscotch through a variety of styles within the song, scraping across bluesy rock, pseudo metal and funk. The group carries that approach across the entire album, and it works. The following track, “Flight of the Vulcan Kelly”, clobbers with thrashing metallic fury that might appeal to MEGADETH fanatics. Elsewhere, tracks like “Hell Haw”, “Black Grass Plague” and “Behind the Nut Love” are replete with skillful country music licks.
In stark contrast to an act like PANZER BALLET that reeks of disingenuousness, when JOHN 5 AND THE CREATURES jump in and out of different musical styles, it comes across as adventurous and with sincerity. The talented ensemble’s horror shtick isn’t very telling as to what the band is capable of and what it produces. Sure, there are shades of PG-13 level horror, predominantly with regard to its visual aesthetics. But JOHN 5 AND THE CREATURES are more akin to JOE SATRIANI or STEVE VAI than THE MISFITS or NEKROMANTIX.
A healthy portion of his latest studio effort, “Season of the Witch”, is included on “It’s Alive!”, as well as choice cuts from recent albums like “Careful With That Axe”, “God Told Me To” and “The Art of Malice”. His live album debut represents an adequate cross section of JOHN 5‘s solo project’s back catalogue for new comers. But whether someone is familiar with JOHN 5 or not, “It’s Alive!” is a diverse, accessible release that has the potential to appeal to many well beyond metal circles. And if you close your eyes, you just might feel as though you were at the show.