NAMM – Music product trade show, or excuse for Hellbound writer to party?

By Jay H. Gorania

Gaining access to the revered, precious backstage and/or VIP areas of shows can mean a lot to some folks. The elusive, exclusive Golden Ticket sparsely doled out by Willy Wonka, the Holy Grail for star struck fans and big-bosomed groupies.

“Your wristband is pink. You need to have a green wristband for VIP,” the lovely (stupid) waitress said, suggesting I leave the VIP upper deck that overlooks the stage at LA’s House of Blues.

Almost immediately, I was handed a green wristband. The Golden Ticket. Validation!

Quite honestly, I would have been quite at home in the sweaty crowd below, but I didn’t want to part ways with my friends. VIP/backstage areas are akin to the first class area on a flight, where a select few douche bags believe they’re inherently better than those thrown back in coach class (the proverbial “back of the bus”).

Several days earlier I was literally flying coach as I flew in to LA. I was fortunately seated next to a stewardess who hooked me up during my subsequent layover in Denver. She took me to the luxury style President’s Club for free drinks and snacks. Golden Ticket!

After landing in LA that evening, it wasn’t long before my friends and I hit up The Rainbow. During last year’s NAMM debauchery, my friends apparently/allegedly snorted lines in The Rainbow’s bathroom with the guy who played Leatherface. No, I didn’t party that hard, but I did hit on—and get shot down by—a porn star seated at a table with members of Skid Row and LA Guns, one of whom was her boyfriend. I suggested that I be her husband, but rather than gain a Golden Ticket to her special place, all she offered me was a chuckle and a hug.

The next morning, my buddy gave me his friend’s NAMM badge to get into the event. I didn’t even bother getting press credentials since the reason for my trip was to hang out with friends and see some bands outside the scope of NAMM, an enormous music product trade show (NAMM was originally an acronym for National Association of Music Merchants). Walking from our hotel down a street lined with picture-perfect palm trees next to Disney Land, we entered the Anaheim Convention Center where my friend’s friend’s badge was taken from me. I was stonewalled at the door. (Don’t worry, reader, even if I got in, I wasn’t gonna tell you about the new Gibson Jibba Jabba anyway.)

The Golden Ticket was a fake!

Waiting for my bros outside the convention center wasn’t as boring as I thought. I saw countless rock star types pretending they were mighty important, for some reason or another. I found amusement in that, but I was annoyed by some people condescendingly looking at my chest because it wasn’t adorned with a pass. But the protesters didn’t piss me off. That’s right. There were protesters.

Apparently a Korean-based guitar manufacturer exploits its workers and violates their labor rights. So, to jab back at that company, the protesters wanted to bring attention to the issue and pressure big name guitar companies to discontinue their operations with the company. As the protesters’ ringleader was rambling off some artists who support their cause, some alt-emo-“punk rock” looking dudes were making light of the entire situation—that is until the ringleader mentioned Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello as being one of their supporters. The top hat and flannel wearing gents roared in support! Apparently the mere mention of Tom Morello’s name can sway opinions as quickly as one can change his hair dye.

After our late lunch at the Hilton, located directly across from the convention center, I saw Yngwie Malmsteen in the lobby surrounded by an entourage that actually included private security. His enemies sure must be numerous, because he sure as hell isn’t popular enough in North America to need security.

The humorous sight amused me. I laughed and screamed, “Yngwie!” Startled, his hair-sprayed mane shook. A moment later, I saw Lemmy and his two warts bouncing down the escalator. (Moronically, I suppose I was surprised to see these metal “stars,” because this was a party trip. I didn’t put too much thought into the event.)

After filling up on party juice at the hotel, our motley crew took on the Hilton’s massive bar at which there were countless metal “celebs.” Chuck Billy, dudes from Vital Remains, John Tempesta, Mike Inez, and on, and on. I wasn’t sure if it was the party juice doing a number on me or if I actually was chatting with Jeff Walker in an upstairs conference room where the all-female tribute act The Iron Maidens passionately performed classic NWOBHM songs. Speaking with the dude from Carcass in a posh hotel conference room filled with sophisticated music industry types, many of whom were uptight as hell, was utterly surreal.

It really didn’t need to, but the partying continued back at our hotel room. Some band guy with a slanted-emo haircut annoyed me to no end as he bitched about a problem facing his band. Apparently for every positive message they receive on their MySpace page, there’s a negative one. “It doesn’t feel good when people tell you your nose is too big, or that you’re too fat. I mean, I’m a person.” Woe is me! Sorry buddy, most people can’t identify or sympathize with such problems. Getting diagnosed with a terminal disease is a reason to bitch, not receiving hate mail from MySpace kids. Fuck you.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of my hotel roommates was an example of a cool dude in music. Drummer for prog/death metal band Into Eternity, Steve Bolognese constantly talked about the music he loves to hear and play. “All I wanna do is listen to Nocturnal Rites and sell zero records,” he said one night. God bless ya.

The next evening we went to The Slide Bar for the Chi Cheng benefit show (the Deftones’ bassist has been in a coma, or a coma-like state, for a year-and-a-half). This bar (like The Rainbow and other LA area metal/rock bars, from what I’m told) fit the LA/Hollywood stereotype quite nicely.

A beautiful disaster. That’s how my friend describes the wonderful act of bukkake. In some ways, that’s also the slimy face of LA. Wannabes, hanger-ons, swindlers, junkies and scumbags who want to “leverage” (ahem…use) anyone they know for success, who want you to know why they’re so important, who want you to know how they never get credit for the hit songs they actually wrote, blah, blah, blah.

That’s simply not the way I roll. I don’t care to impress, unless it’s a gorgeous woman like the one scraping the outskirts of Steve Adler’s entourage that was seated at The Slide Bar’s patio. I’m assuming she didn’t really know the famous GnR drummer, but I’m almost positive that she was there to…make a living. Because she was so stunning, I had to pull out all the stops, so I told her I was President Barrack Obama’s Republican nephew. I think she believed me, but the lie didn’t amount to a pile of beans. But I digress…

The hodge podge bill didn’t make any sense. There was some kind of bland female-fronted pop-folk-acoustic something that preceded a satirical stand-up comic and a generic metalcore band. But my friends came for Suicide Silence, who generally prove to be monotonous on record, though their sophomore record, No Time to Bleed, is relatively innovative in the realm of deathcore, marrying brutal growl/screechcore with melodic nu-metal sensibilities. Live, however, as this short set proved, their energetic pummeling would leave most open-minded metalheads at least slightly satisfied.

This show took place on the final evening of NAMM, and back at the hotel everyone seemed too partied out, though I had a few drinks with some Northeastern dudes hanging out in a neighboring hotel room. At first I got along with a dude who had a pace maker at the ripe age of 25 or so. He said his condition made him want to live life to the fullest, a position I respect. But I wasn’t too impressed when he asked me to join him to a prostitute-filled area of Hollywood, especially since he said they were high class girls…and he didn’t have any money. “We can use chloroform. I’m not above that, Jay.”

Sorry, buddy, I might be a weirdo on some level, but yes, sir, I certainly am above that.

So…the next evening was that of the aforementioned House of Blues show (see: green/pink wristband situation). It was a smorgasbord of geeky tech ’n prog wizardry, kicking off with Texas’ Scale The Summit whose guitarists and bassist had a sum total of, oh, I’d say 100 or so strings to their instruments. And they made the most of them with songs that are progressive in the truest sense, though after a while, their tech-obsession leads to boredom.

The Devin Townsend Project might as well be called The Devin Townsend Experience, because what Hevy Devy does in the studio and onstage transcends the limitations of music. He scraped across the material from his solo career, focusing primarily on the two solo albums released in the last year. He’s a showman in every sense. With genius, Devin grasps the crowd by the nuts and by the gray matter all at once, with his banter and his musical/vocal virtuosity, with his pummeling music and his rhetorical wit. One moment he’s mocking the crowd with grimacing faces and demonic screams during “br00tal” parts (because a tough guy he’s never been, nor has he ever identified with that element of metal subculture), the next he’s genuinely telling show-goers he loves them very much following the most beautiful vocal melodies you could imagine. Indeed, Hevy Devy’s dynamic shifts are smooth and flawless.

Cynic wasn’t nearly as impressive in terms of aura, presence or showmanship; however they were equally, if not more, mind-boggling as far as overall band musicianship. Their jazz-accentuated tech-death was relatively subdued compared to Devin Townsend, yet their song-writing and live execution was astonishingly sharp. More than an accomplished guitarist, Paul Masvidal is an emotive melodic vocalist.

Up next was Between the Buried and Me, and thankfully my friends wanted to leave as much as I did. Sure, they can play the shit out of their instruments, but their gimmicky genre-bending approach is laughable at best.

After the show, as we made our way to my friend’s car in a parking garage, we noticed a film crew capturing footage of some people interacting, but they were blocking several cars, including our own, with their massive gear. At one point, a “gentleman” asked if we could wait until they took some more footage. I was speechless…well, not exactly. I was so bothered by the inconsideration at hand that I felt that it was entirely proper for me to subject them to a hostile verbal lashing. Fucking Hollywood.