January 6, 2019
In a recent article I mentioned that I thought the whole “guitar hero” thing was dying (much like the game) and I wondered who the next generation of guitar heroes might be. To my surprise, the answer nearly hit me over the head as I got word of a new touring group of guitarists that were unknown to me except for one – Nita Strauss. The guitarists were co-headlining a tour called “The Guitar Collective” that consisted of Angel Vivaldi, Nita and newcomer Jacky Vincent. Though Nita is the latest of the well-known female guitar players, to me she wasn’t the first. I’ve been cognizant of female guitarists for a number of years. The first one I can remember was Jazz guitarist Emily Remler. Along the way I read interviews with Jennifer Batten and saw her perform when she was a member of Jeff Beck’s touring group. I first became aware of Nita as one of the guitarists in Alice Cooper’s band. Tall, blonde and attractive as well as being a more contemporary player (shredder), she brought a physical presence to Alice’s band that complimented his showmanship. The fact that she can play parts in Alice’s band that the other old-school guitarists probably can’t makes her even more valuable to the group. Having seen Alice a couple of times recently, I was intrigued when I found out Nita was releasing a solo album – “Controlled Chaos.” A Shredder fan’s delight, the album is packed full of speed licks, blended with melodic passages that showcase her guitar playing ability. Timing for the release coincided with the announcement that she had become Ibanez Guitars’ first female endorsee. Ibanez released her signature model; The Jiva (Model: Jiva10) this past year, made to Nita’s specifications – with a slim, light body, custom pickups, finish and fingerboard inlay. Being that the tour was stopping at a venue not too far from me, I decided to check them out. I wondered: would the performances live up to the hype?
It was another rainy Friday night (which seems to be a constant these days anytime I go to a concert.) I made the hour or so drive to the House of Independents in Asbury Park, NJ to check out the show. It appeared to be a new club – with an upstairs bar and balcony and a lower level you took the stairs to, down to the stage floor which was all standing room. A surprisingly light crowd had already formed at the front of the stage. Being that it was the weekend before Christmas, a lot of people may have already made other plans and as the successive bands played, the crowd got bigger but not by much. I stood near the front, with only one or two rows of people in front of me, hoping to get some decent video. A couple of local bands (Among Us and Fragments in Motion) came on playing short, twenty minute sets to warm up the crowd. Next, the first of the headliners – guitarist Jacky Vincent came on. Honestly, I had never heard of him before but was pleasantly surprised; he was a shredder, blending Neo-Classical and Jazz stylings. He had no backing band, but instead played to a pre-recorded soundtrack. Now, I’m not particularly a fan of paying to see someone play to a backing track but he was a fine player, nonetheless. He did his best to entertain the audience as well, frequently walking back and forth, across the stage as he played. Shredders tend to be repetitive but he wasn’t. He really showed his mastery of the instrument and blended melody with his technical ability. He played for about forty five minutes and then bade the audience “adieu.” After his set, I spent a few minutes talking to him at the merchandise table. He seemed like a really down to earth guy and I picked up his CD to listen to for the drive home. Next, it was time for Nita. The lights dimmed, fog engulfed the stage and on came Nita – tearing into “Pandemonium”, playing her new Jiva guitar. It was full on shred as she tore up the fretboard accompanied by her boyfriend, Josh Villalta – pumping out the double-bass tempo on drums.
Next, she played “Algeria” followed by another headbanging tune which really got the crowd going – “Mariana Trench.” She then dove into “Lion among Wolves” (metaphor, anyone?) To the surprise of almost everyone, she followed that by covering Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” Seemingly overwhelmed by the crowd’s enthusiasm at times, she spoke to the audience often between songs and constantly expressed her appreciation for their enthusiasm and support. Her next song was “The Quest” with the accompanying drum solo (throwing the boyfriend a bone, no doubt) followed by “Stillness at the End.” Another cover tune was next as she played Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” – a cover that she said she had decided to record long before the popularity of the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” came into vogue. Finally, she played her last video released song – “Our Most Desperate Hour” which really got the crowd, (including myself) going and then all too soon, her set was over. It was too bad she only had one album’s worth of material to play because I felt her set ended way too quickly. What’s a few more cover songs or maybe an extended jam? Oh, well. Angel Vivaldi came on and played his set of songs including a Joe Satriani cover (“Crystal Planet”), “Serotonin” – a shredding duet with Nita and the Megadeth cover “Tornado of Souls” with Nita and Jacky Vincent as they traded mind blowing solos to the audience’s delight.
All in all, it was a good night of guitar playing but in all honestly, I thought Nita was the most complete player. I think she put on a great performance. She played to the crowd, constantly working them and putting on a show. The songs were better live too, as is usually the case. The album doesn’t do her justice in my opinion – to appreciate her ability you have to see her live and not just as a member of Alice’s touring band. Hopefully she’ll put together another album soon and hit the road again for a full set. I can’t wait!
More videos from this show can be found at: