A version of this blog post originally appeared in the OC Register. I took the photo while standing relatively close to the stage, before some goon with a large professional lens nearly hit me in the head.
While walking through the trade show at NAMM, it’s common to stumble upon surprise artist appearances. Such was the case on Day 3, when I saw a large crowd assembled in front of the small TOCA percussion booth, peeked around and glimpsed the Escovedo family (including Sheila E. and father Pete) going to town on a feisty, fun rhythm jam on bongos and drums.
Then an enticing, folksy cover of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” suddenly caught my ear. Huddled on a small stage at the Sennheiser microphones booth was Sara Haze and her band. Orange County resident Sara Haze has played the Grand Ole Opry, had songs placed on TV’s “The Hills,” worked with top Nashville songwriters and just put out an independent album (My Personal Sky).
The 20-year-old blonde singer did several appealing selections in a country/pop vein. It didn’t take long before an assembled throng started clapping along. An atmospheric “Beautiful Day,” where Haze incorporated a bit of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” was a clear standout. Definitely one to watch.
Across the expansive Anaheim Convention Center , surf guitar legend Dick Dale and teenage son Jimmy played instrumental electric guitar tunes. Before launching into “Miserlou,” the elder Dale explained how Quentin Tarantino came to use the popular 1962 track in “Pulp Fiction.”
Nearby, familiar prog rock keyboard textures emanated from the Infinite Response space, where Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa) held court. The synth/violin master did a fascinating demo of the new dual VAX77 keyboard system with mini-Moog that he helped develop and did bits of songs as examples. He ended up blowing out the small sound system’s woofer speaker.
Some junior high school student musicians displayed their talent on the ACC’s Main Lobby stage with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” Once they exited, Motor City Madman Ted Nugent suddenly walked out and dashed off “The Star Spangled Banner,” Hendrix style, on electric guitar. He added some of trademark warped humorous quips along the way.
Orianthi – the 24-year-old Aussie hard rock guitar gal originally tapped to tour with Michael Jackson on the ill-fated “This is It” world tour - closed the Main Lobby stage’s Saturday lineup. She turned in a mighty impressive 50-minute set culled from recently released Geffen debut disc Believe. The large audience flanked all the entrances and watched from stairwells leading to other floors.
Despite an iffy sound mix, Orianthi and her tight four member group packed quite a wallop, especially amid tunes bolstered by three electric guitars. On the powerful “Suffocated,” Orianthi’s hammering style recalled Eddie Van Halen (Lita Ford would be the closest female comparison). Sassy, wailing rocker “According to You” – currently climbing the top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 – bore shades of Alanis Morissette. Power ballad “God Only Knows” was a definite highlight, as was the volcanic instrumental “Song for Steve,” written in honor of fellow axe slinger and 2007 tour mate Steve Vai (he also guests on the new album).