The Jason Becker's Not Dead Yet Fest benefit show came off beautifully this past Saturday night with great music and vibes, all for a great cause. There was no guarantee that things would run smoothly, however. Despite an unbelievable amount of work on the part of Flipsyde guitarist and longtime Becker buddy Dave Lopez, who was the de facto point man for the gig, this show was like herding cats. Lots of performers, lots of details, and plenty of chaotic craziness. (Joe Satriani’s soundcheck was packed, with fans, techs, and a film crew!) But Lopez—with help from Tao Music’s Gary Avila, Mike Shannon from the ALS TDI foundation, and Thom Tucker of Triple Crown Clothing—pulled it off.
The guitarists on the bill certainly did their part by playing unreal music from start to finish. First up was GP’s own Jude Gold with his VH tribute band Hot for Teacher. Jude played Jason’s famous Peavey, with the custom-colored Duncan pickups and numeral inlays, and did a bang-up job on the Jason Becker/David Lee Roth tune “It’s Showtime.” No pressure there: playing a super-difficult tune in front of a room full of guitarists (including one of the all-time great shredders, Becker himself), on an iconic shred instrument. But Jude killed it, along with a “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”/“Panama” mash-up.
As the bill progressed, the crowd was treated to Flametal. Guitarists Ben Woods (nylon-string) and Brian T. Spaulding (electric) delivered a special message from Uli Jon Roth, who was unable to perform, and then tore into Uli’s signature tune “Sails of Charon,” expertly blazing through it in all its Phrygian Dominant glory. The Kehoe Nation added a touch of wackiness as guitar madman Bryan Kehoe, upright-bass genius Amir Zitro, and drum superhero Gene Hoaglan dished out psychobilly shred that was as funny as it was impressive. Michael Lee Firkins played Hendrix on slide and brought the house down, with many in attendance citing him as their favorite player of the night. Greg Howe was up next, playing his signature orange Laguna solidbody. For anyone who hasn’t seen him perform, Howe really brings a cool combination of chops and melody and his cover of “Tell Me Something Good” is bitchin’, with a deep groove, great wah work, and a tasty solo.
Jeff Watson brought his new band, Lone Ranger, to the gig and he, along with guitarist Tal Morris and bassist Uriah Duffy, played some Night Ranger tunes and some solo stuff with Morris holding down both rhythm and lead roles, and Watson showing off some of his killer picking and eight-finger tapping.
Funk/soul/rock/shred star Richie Kotzen amazed the crowd with his tunes “Peace Sign” and “Paying Dues.” Given the fact that he played pretty much all the parts on those tunes in the studio in addition to singing his ass off makes it seem kind of unfair that one guy should possess that much talent. Actually not kind of unfair, really unfair.
The “surprise special guest” of the night showed up in the form of Marty Friedman, who flew out from Japan for one day to play the show. Rocking a PRS Singlecut, Friedman played a soulful instrumental that was a great showcase for his sweet bends and vibrato, as well as his patently unorthodox phrasing and note choices. Nobody sounds like that guy and it was a treat for the old-school Cacophony fans in attendance to see Friedman and Becker in the same room again.
A definite highlight of the evening was the performance of Mr. Steve Lukather who played a touching version of his “Song for Jeff.” In his intro, Luke explained how his former bassist Mike Porcaro also suffers from ALS and then proceeded to wring every bit of emotion out of each crying bend, expertly backed by Duffy, drummer extraordinaire Michael Urbano, and keyboardist Phil Bennett. No matter how great all the previous guitarists were, something different happened when Luke took the stage. The guy is just able to more weight, depth, and power behind his notes than most people can do. He only played one tune, but he kicked every ass in the place. You can see a video of his performance here.
The only guy left was the one and only Joe Satriani. He came out with a trio that included Jeff Campitelli on drums and Allen Whitman on a great-sounding blue P-Bass. They ripped it up on “Ice 9,” “Satch Boogie,” and others. Satriani got a massive tone and just destroyed the place with his melodic, burning, crazy, future blues. He brought out former Becker bandmate Steve Hunter to play “Goin’ Down,” and the two traded blues licks to close out the show. The crowd was clearly knocked out by the opportunity to see such a huge guitar star in such a small venue. Props to Satch for donating his time, star power, and chops to such a great cause.
The only downside in an otherwise amazing night was the fact that Vinnie Moore wasn’t able to make the scene. Travel arrangements just got too complicated and despite everyone’s best intentions it couldn’t work out. It’s a drag because Moore is not only a great player and an original Shrapnel shredder, but he’s also a huge Jason Becker fan who would do anything to help Jason out. He’ll get a rain check for next year’s gig for sure.
The man of the hour, Jason Becker, caught the whole show from the side of the stage and caught the love that filled the room from start to finish. Just about every performer talked about how awed they were by Jason’s talent and spirit. Tellingly, Jude Gold was the only shredder who attempted one of Jason’s tunes. The guys in Flametal put it best when they said, “We’d love to play some of Jason’s music but it’s just too f***ing hard.” On a night that was wall to wall insane guitar playing, there was no question who the best player in the room was. Congratulations on a great night, Jason! You are the man and everybody there knew it.
Anyone who couldn’t attend and still wants to help Jason out can bid on some amazing auction items here.