June 14, 2019
It was an amazing night this past week, as Nita Strauss and Paul Gilbert appeared on a rare gig together. Gilbert was the headliner but Nita Strauss took the opportunity to open for one of her idols in a fantastic show in Ardmore P.A. Nita, as you know is the lead guitarist in the legendary Alice Cooper’s band. She released her debut album last fall – “Controlled Chaos.” The self-produced album displays Nita’s thunderous chops in an instrumental album featuring her and boyfriend Josh Villalta. She played guitar and bass herself on the album while drummer Josh handled the skins. I had seen Nita last December and while the set list was basically the same, she appeared more confident this time out and less nervous. Six months of touring has made her and her band tighter and sound even better. On this leg of the tour, she added a second guitarist (Johnny Young) which helped fill the holes when Nita was soloing or when covering songs that called for twin-guitar harmonies. It was ironic in that prior to the show Nita talked about how bum notes here and there were part of the live experience. She stated also that if people listening expected an error-free performance, it just wasn’t going to happen. That being said, I thought she played better than the last time I saw her and there was not a sour note to be heard. Prior to the show, I had the opportunity to sit down and ask Nita a couple of questions in this mini-interview:
GR: Nita, you stated that you started playing guitar at age thirteen. What bands did you start copying when you first started out?
NS: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth…
GR: Pretty hardcore stuff at the time then?
NS: No doubt, pretty hardcore metal.
GR: What was your first guitar?
NS: A Squire Strat, pretty much like everyone else (laughs.)
GR: You talked earlier about how you became sober in January of 2015. Several well-known guitarists have said that when they were drinking, they thought they played better after a few drinks, but when they got sober then realized they hadn’t. What’s your feeling on that?
NS: Oh totally. I remember the first time I went on stage after I quit drinking. I kept telling myself: “I can’t do this.” “I don’t know where to move to, I don’t know what to do with my feet.” I was panicking the whole time. After the show I had a beer to try and calm down and I thought: “I can’t handle this.” Then, the next day I was online and people kept telling me how great I played. I couldn’t believe it; it was all in my head. From then on, I knew I could do it and I never looked back.
GR: That’s amazing. If you were to meet someone who was first starting out on guitar and didn’t think they could be good at it, what would you say to them?
NS: I started playing guitar when I was 12. I became totally obsessed with it. I played twelve hours a day. I quit school at fifteen and started playing gigs. I’ve been touring since I was seventeen and I’m entirely self-taught. I didn’t take a guitar lesson until I joined Alice in 2014, so if anyone who has the desire is willing to put the time in and learn, they can do it. There are no guitarists that just pick it up and are an instant virtuoso. You have to put the time in, and if you do, it will happen.
GR: Thanks Nita!
Nita and her band took the stage shortly after seven o’clock to rousing applause from the audience. They launched into “Pandemonium 2.0“ followed by “Alegria” and the new single – “Mariana Trench.” Firing on all cylinders, Nita followed with “Lion Among Wolves” and then the Cooper Classic; “I’m Eighteen. In a bit of a surprise, they covered the Iron Maiden classic “Aces High,” with the aforementioned dual guitar harmonies to the crowd’s delight as they sang the lyrics. “The Quest” was next which featured boyfriend Josh’s brief but rowdy drum solo followed by the melodic “The Stillness at the End.” The only cover tune on her album was Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” which she played without vocals, to the audience’s approval before closing with “Our Most Desperate Hour.”
She and her band departed but it was clear she had won the audience over; those who weren’t so familiar with her. She made it a point to let them know that she would be sitting at the back listening to Gilbert’s set and inviting them to come over for a selfie or a quick chat. A people pleaser, Nita is very appreciative of her fans and is very approachable. This will only help her in the long run. She and her band put on a great show.
Twenty minutes or so after Nita’s departure, Paul Gilbert and his band took the stage. Dressed unassumingly in a business suit with tan alligator shoes, his appearance is quite a departure from his days in Mr.Big and Racer X. Playing more in a blues/jazz vein these days, he still plays with the same flair that made him so well known in the eighties. Frequently introducing songs with a joke or an anecdote about how he came to write them and even what key they were in, he had the crowd eating out of his hand. His set consisted of originals from his new album; “Behold Electric Guitar”, Racer X and Mr. Big songs. He also sneaked in several cover tunes. Putting his own spin on classics such as Rush’ “Fly by Night”, The Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill/While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good”, he constantly changed things up. Being that this gig was a short distance from Philadelphia, it never hurts to throw in a bit of hometown flavor. To that end, he also covered “Gonna Fly Now” – the theme from the movie “Rocky”. He kept his gear on this tour to the basics. For guitars, he primarily played his Ibanez signature model, the FRM200. He also brought out his classic Ibanez RG model from the 80s and a small, short scale Ibanez guitar which may be a prototype, not the miKro model currently available. His amps were two Marshalls – a JMP-1 and a reissue JTM45. His pedalboard was fairly simple, consisting of various stomp boxes and a mini Cry Baby wah pedal. Technique-wise, he likes to alternate between playing slide (usually for parts reserved for vocals) and using a pick, quite often during the same song. He’ll occasionally fingerpick as well.
All in all, it was a great night for guitar-based music. When you get the opportunity to see two excellent guitarists on a double-bill together, don’t pass it up! The set list for Paul’s show can be found here. Be sure and check out some of our other reviews for Experience Hendrix, Michael Schenker Fest, Badflower and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter!
Have you seen Nita Strauss or Paul Gilbert live? What’s your impression of their show? What’s your favorite song by Nita or Paul?