Area 54 / Marty Friedman
The Underworld, Camden, London, England
2nd April 2007
Review and pics by HannTu
Anyone calling himself a metal fan needs no introduction to Marty Friedman. Anyone calling himself a guitar aficionado needs no introduction to Marty Friedman. On the off chance that a non metalhead, non guitarist, is visiting Metal-Rules.com, where should we start with Marty Friedman? Ah heck, go and Wikipedia him, I’m here to talk about the gig in London.
Touring on the back of his latest solo album LOUDSPEAKER, Marty Friedman takes an accomplished band with him on a journey that includes Holland, the UK, Germany and Israel. He is accompanied by the wild and wacky Ron Jarzombek on guitar, the experienced drummer Jeremy Colson and bassist Chris Catero. For the London leg of the tour, they are joined by local boys and winner of the numerous best-new-band awards in the year 2000, Area 54.
I have mixed feelings about this band. I’d never heard of their material before tonight so I was going into this completely unbiased. What I heard alternately disappointed and excited me. They started off the evening with sheer pace and energy and never let up. I’ve not seen a band so energetic on stage since Dragonforce. The two guitarists swapped places every five seconds on a tiny stage the size of a Subway sandwich, almost never pausing for a moment. On that tiny stage, us front row people nearly had our heads taken off every time they spun and got into position for mock guitar duels. They played the gig like it was a 10 000 strong arena: in this tiny club of capacity 300 at most, they posed, preened, and basically acted like million dollar rock stars (think Kiss and Manowar). They definitely had stage presence, and their confidence was amazing. I’ve never seen a drummer ham it up so much, he almost forgot to drum!!! Stick twirls, OTT drum rolls, exaggerated cymbal crashes and highlighted extended splashes, with the accompanying facial expressions of agony, ecstasy, humour and pervo. Their guitarists had obviously watched School of Rock and taken a few lessons to heart: legs wide, wider, wider – time to solo, lean back, eyes closed mouth open and orgasm. “Scream for me Long Beach Arena” you expected him to cry.
It’s unfortunate then, that their music was really nothing to shout about. In a day when bands are popping up daily thanks to MySpace, you really need something to stand out, and I think Area 54 need to take that extra step to be a band people will talk about. Their performance was competent and high octane, and certainly worthy to headbang to. However their material felt like recycled Iron Maiden riffs and Metallica solos. The bass was there to provide low end, nothing else. He played nothing worthy of note all evening, he kept the groove well and followed the rhythm guitar, but nothing else. The drummer, as mentioned before, was busy preening and posing, which was good for a laugh, but also did nothing of substance. He kept the beat, injected some humour and aggression, but did nothing else. The guitarists, while able to play and definitely possessing the technique (and flashy fingers!), but they also seemed one-dimensional, and there was nothing that was really able to hold the interest for very long. At times, they seemed to be playing the same thing. For god’s sake, with two guitars in the band, use them! Arpeggiate, or play a harmony, or in a different key, or some fills, anything for some variation! There were some nice twin solos and harmonies that had me going for a while, but it sadly tapered off. Their only highlight of the evening as far as I was concerned, was their performance of Megadeth’s Tornado of Souls, which was not bad and certainly had us moving and singing along.
They certainly have potential, and the guitarists certainly have the skill to make it in the metal world. Sadly, they need to buck up their ideas and find something fresh. I’d take their music over nu-metal riffing any day, but that’s not saying much either.
Ah so! The great Marty Friedman on our doorstep, and I could hardly wait. The man best known for his work in Cacophony and his collaboration with Jason Becker, his omnipresence on Japanese TV and the Japanese music scene, his instructional videos and guitar clinics, as well as his endorsement with Ibanez. And of course, the small matter of Megadeth, where as far as I’m concerned, he comprised the classic lineup that will be THE Megadeth for many people.
Marty for me always stood out from the other guitarists, I have to admit, firstly because of his weird technique, both left and right-hand. He performed in Malaysia once, which I missed, but a friend told me about this numbskull who, at the Q&A session asked Marty why he had such a silly looking technique. Understandably Marty wasn’t too happy about it.
But he also stands out in the way he approaches the guitar, as a trade and as an art. He made his name with Cacophony and Jason Becker, where he could be said to have equaled Vinnie Moore and Yngwie Malmsteen in the fad-of-the-time, the neo-classical shred era. However, he branched off to Megadeth and their brand of thrash metal, imparting his unique style onto classic albums like RUST IN PEACE. But he’s never been one to tie himself down to one genre or style. Where Malmsteen kept producing the same thing over and over again, where Michael Angelo Batio seemed more intent on breaking the sound barrier than writing good songs, where people like Impellitteri and Vinnie Moore rose, shone brightly and faded away, Marty has kept reinventing himself and his special brand of guitar playing. His instructional videos are to be recommended to any guitar players of any level of proficiency, because his philosophy is simple yet profound: Be different.
We all know Marty can shred (MUSIC FOR SPEEDING was aptly named) but he also has something that Michael Angelo and Impellitteri don’t, that is the ability to slow things down. He has an impeccable Vai-esque ear for harmony and melody, he has the ability to ask what fits the mood of the song other than a 32nd blazing three-note-per-string scalar run? Honestly, ask yourselves, when was the last time you heard Marty use a generic pentatonic blues scale? Weird bends, funny scale patterns, Eastern, Oriental and Arabic influences – they all make the listener sit up and take note. And so The Underworld in Camden, London was ready to sit up and take note.
Chants of “Marty! Marty!” greeted him as he launched straight into the set. His classic MUSIC FOR SPEEDING was well represented, as was his newest (IMHO, better) album LOUDSPEAKER, although there was only one from TRUE OBSESSIONS. You got a sense that we were in for a treat tonight. And we were duly treated to a virtuoso performance. The band as a whole were very good. Ron Jarzombek is an extremely good guitarist, and it certainly must be a tribute to Marty’s playing that Ron is willing to take a back seat. Not that he couldn’t speed it up and flash it around too, oh boy, did he ever when given a chance. Chris is an absolute monster on bass, a real livewire and a massive ball of energy. He showed us what he had with a few subtle and probably unnoticed licks that really enhanced the performance.
But the star of the evening did not disappoint, no sir he didn’t. Perfect execution of the songs, seamless transitions, brilliant and flashy solos, crunchy and aggressive rhythms, melodic, heavy, fast, in-your-face, mellow, emotional, pissed off, raunchy, sweat-dirt-and-cowboy-boots, we saw and heard it all. Highlights surely must include the emotional “Devil Take Tomorrow” and “Lust for Life” (I told you I liked it when he slowed it down!) and the fast and upbeat “Elixir”. I only have a couple of tiny minor insignificant gripes. One is that his stage banter can be improved. I mean, 300 screaming fans can’t have overwhelmed him so much that he lost his tongue??? Two, his jokes were awful! Work on it Marty! Three, he kept chucking picks to the centre and back of the crowd, when everyone knows that it’s us poor saps in the front row that lined up for two hours outside the venue to get front row, whereas those at the back came late, or couldn’t be bothered with the opening band, or put the demands of their bladder and/or thirst before the show. Work on it Marty!
Seriously though, it was a great night for all who came, and the band looked like they enjoyed themselves as well. The crowd definitely did. And the signing and photography session afterwards was just the icing on the cake. Here’s hoping that Marty passes through the UK again!
4. Gimme a Dose
5. Street Demon
6. It’s The Unreal Thing
7. Fuel Injection Stingray
8. Stigmata Addiction
9. Lust for Life
10. Devil Take Tomorrow
13. Paradise Express
15. Cheer Girl Rampage
16. Thunder March
17. Ballad of the Barbie Bandits
18. Dragon Mistress
19. Hound Dog