By “Tampa” Earl Burton, Journalist, and David Lucas, Photographer – Rock At Night
Live Review: Mammoth WVH w/Nita Strauss – House of Blues, Orlando-Pre-Thanksgiving Rockfeast -November 22, 2023
Many people spent their Thanksgiving Eve traveling through whatever avenues to a familial gathering. For us here at Rock at Night, however, the best way to spend the pre-Thanksgiving holiday was to head out for a concert! On this Thanksgiving Eve, there was no better way to do just that than the outstanding concert put on by Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH and the incomparable Nita Strauss.
Strauss Demonstrates Power and Virtuosity
Opening the festivities at the House of Blues in Orlando, FL, on Wednesday evening was the guitar virtuoso Nita Strauss. Strauss, who has long been one of the favorite “hired guns” of many a band leader (she has a standing position as the lead guitarist for Alice Cooper and has served as musical director for pop princess Demi Lovato), has been able to build her solo career in the spotlight over the past few years. Her first album, the instrumental compilation Controlled Chaos, has only been topped with her first foray into a lyrical album, this year’s The Call of the Void.
Strauss and her band – fiancé/drummer Josh Villalta, keyboardist Katt Scarlett, rhythm guitarist Johnny Young, and bassist Christopher Dean – attacked the stage at the House of Blues with an intense forty-minute set that encompassed both of her album releases. The band opened with a searing version of “Summer Storm” and brought a wall of sound for what was one of the best instrumentals from Chaos, “Mariana Trench.” The show kicked up, however, when the band moved into the material from Void.
Strauss considers herself more of a guitarist than a vocalist, so she needed someone to come in to handle the work that such vocal giants as Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale, Disturbed’s David Draiman, and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz brought to the Void CD. Enter Kasey Karlsen, who ably performed the “death growl” of White-Gluz while also reaching the heights of Hale with her vocal gymnastics. Karlsen was a huge and welcome addition to the show and, once the band wrapped up the anthemic “Victorious” (Strauss’ current tune with Dorothy Martin of Dorothy), the crown estimated at 1600 was primed and ready for the main event.
Wolfgang Van Halen Claims the Throne with Mammoth WVH
A few years ago, I reviewed the first Mammoth WVH album by saying that Wolfgang Van Halen, who had performed every instrument on that self-titled record, written and produced the effort, had his entire life to get ready for that moment. He had trained at the feet of his legendary father, the late, lamented Eddie Van Halen and toured with his father’s namesake band. Suffice it to say that, with this new album and this tour, Wolfgang is ready to claim the throne with Mammoth WVH.
In a brisk and enjoyable ninety-minute set, Van Halen brought out the traveling band that he has put together to give voice to his work (he can’t do it all live, you know) – rhythm guitarists Frank Sidoris and Jon Jourdan, bassist Ronnie Ficarro, and drummer Garrett Whitlock – and they leaped into one of the banger tracks from the first album. “Mammoth” led the way before a flip to the second CD, “Right?” which was filmed by the band for a future music video. “You all will be immortalized on YouTube for all eternity!” Wolfgang joked with the crowd.
One of the most fascinating things about the evening’s performance was the ease with which Wolfgang handled being the leader of the band. From his banter with the crowd (he kept insisting he would play the Oasis tune “Wonderwall”) to his searing guitar work that he made look effortless, Van Halen showed that he has become every bit the musician that his father was. He may have spent his whole life making the first Mammoth album, but he has certainly claimed the throne with his work on the second CD (entitled Mammoth 2).
Throughout Wednesday night, Wolfgang blended his two albums seamlessly, bringing out the best from both records with a power and fury that kept the crowd rocking through the night. Whether it was some of the work from the first album – Wolfgang did a solo, acoustic rendition of “Distance” (his tribute to his father) that was touching and well-done – or from the second (“I’m Alright” was particularly notable), the overall effort from Mammoth WVH was excellence you don’t see from such a young band. By the time they finished up the night with “Another Celebration at the End of the World” and “Don’t Back Down,” the crowd was hyped and knew they had seen a top-notch rock show.
That was one of the things that I and many of us in the crowd wondered – why wasn’t this show in a theater or even an arena? Both Strauss and Van Halen could take their teams into the larger venues and be able to bring the thunder, just as they did on this pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday night. If you get a chance to check out Mammoth WVH and Nita Strauss on their fall/winter tour, you’d best not miss it – it is a chance to see two young bands at full-throat, rocking the world. It is safe to say that, with Strauss, Van Halen, and their respective bands, rock and roll is in good hands for the future.
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