Friday, January 20, 2012

NAMM - Day one features a wealth of performances

While the 110th NAMM got underway with a media preview day on Wednesday, the first official day of the world's largest music products trade show played out at the Anaheim Convention Center on Thursday (Jan. 19) with plenty of excitement and an ambitious performance schedule to match. While there were highly-anticipated sets from Brian Wilson and Collective Soul (I shot the photo of the band, performing under the Sweet Tea Project moniker, seen on the left), there were many other strong performances that played out over the long day.

The first time I caught finger style guitarist Laurence Juber at NAMM in the mid-1990s, he was performing before a handful of fans at a guitar string manufacturer's booth. No more.
As is the case whenever the one-time lead guitarist of Paul McCartney's Wings performs nowadays, he draws big crowds that can't get enough of his long sets.

Performing at the Mogami Cable booth at noon on Thursday, the Los Angeles-based guitarist thrilled with selections from several of his solo discs. The most dynamic selection was his version of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" off his 2010 album LJ Plays the Beatles: Volume 2 (a follow-up to his first tribute album of Beatles classics released back in 2000). It has to be heard to believed, but armed simply with an acoustic guitar Juber was able to rework the originally-dense and experimental Fab Four track into a wonderful solo guitar arrangement.

Not every artist featured at a myriad of outdoor patio, booth and concert stage locations at NAMM is well-known. But even relatively-unknown artists can make an impression at NAMM to be sure.

Such was the case with three area artists I caught in the afternoon. Hermosa Beach-based blues-rock singer Shari Puorto and her excellent four-man band tore up in a packed patio at the convention center. While several hundred attendees were enjoying their barbecue chicken and burgers, Puorto dished up some original blues-rock material from her latest album, the aptly-titled "Real" and several earlier albums. Highlights included the slow burner "Don't Mess With Me" and a striking ballad "Free."

Moving inside to Center Stage at the Marriott, Orange County's thriving scene was celebrated courtesy of two winning sets. Surf City singer-songwriter James Grey performed a range of his well-crafted songs, including the upbeat "Wonderful Day," descriptive "Monsters" and soulful "Seabreeze". His 45-minute set was followed by an appearance by Laguna Beach-based Jason Feddy, who played his genre-defying blend of pop, rock, jazz and other styles pulled from his solo albums and his work in the band Hautewerk. His song "The Bridge to the Island" (off his 2008 album "Connected") was particularly memorable.

The day ended for me with the event's tribute to NAMM members who have passed away over the past year. That performance featured the Los Angeles Scots Pipe Band performing a bagpipes- and drum- anchored version of "Amazing Grace" that segued into a stripped down take of that instrumental song featuring headliner Doyle Dykes (seen here playing guitar) and his band. Influenced and often compared to the late Chet Atkins, Dykes is one of the world's best country-Americana guitarists on the planet.

As in years past when he has performed at NAMM, even a crowd filled with musicians is blown away when Dykes plays his acoustic or electric guitar. After performing a wonderful take of the old classic "Return to Avalon," Dykes closed his long set with an amazing medley that began as an instrumental version of U2's "With Or Without You" and blended "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and even "Amazing Grace" to bring the fitting tribute to an emotional - and ultimately uplifting - finale.

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