Thursday, January 30 I got to see Michael Angela Batio (heretofore referred to as MAB) perform at the Shovelhead Lounge in Casselberry (Orlando’s home for metal and shred, and a great place to see shows). I debated whether or not to go. I like shred in small doses, and I’ve had mixed experiences seeing shredders live. These days, between family and work, I have to pick and choose which concerts to go to very carefully. I also can’t be up until 2am and then get up at 6am… When the ticket said “7:30” I didn’t know if that meant the first of four opening bands started at 7:30 but MAB goes on at midnight… I messaged him on Facebook and he responded the same day that he expected to go on around 8:15. Fantastic! Before we get to the show itself, kudos to MAB for being so responsive and helpful to fans.
A Word on Shred
To me, “shred” is a genre – it’s guitar-driven, instrumental heavy metal. Musicians can shred – verb – on any instrument. It can be short for “woodshed” – to intensely practice. There are lots of guitar players considered shredders, whether they play instrumental music or not. Examples include Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Jeff Loomis and of course Michael Angelo Batio.
To put it simply, this was one of the best shred shows I’ve seen. He played solo, using backing tracks. The sound and mix were quite good – not too loud, but nothing got drown out. His tone was great. I had my mild ear plugs in, but didn’t need foam, and I never got ear fatigue. The Shovelhead is pretty small, so I was able to sit at the bar for about a third of the show, and up front for the rest. I never had a problem seeing or hearing clearly.
What made this show special is that before every song he told an entertaining and usually funny story to give the song context. Not only did it draw you into the music, and give you an insight into him as a person and musician, but it gave your ears a rest between songs that featured lots and lots of notes. The storytelling and humor made the show. I’ve seen other shredders just go up and play song after song with no break, and while I like the music, it’s hard to take in like that.
My wife made a comment at that it was like the folk and Americana acts we used to go see frequently – and that’s spot on. It was interesting how well between-song storytelling sets up this type of dense music, obviously very different from folk. He came across as such a nice, authentic, passionate, friendly and funny guy. You can’t help but have fun. His personality came across so well – it added a lot to balance and complement the technical nature of the music.
I also loved that he was so inspirational to listen to. He expressed over and over how grateful he was to be there, to have such a long career, and to have played with so many other great musicians. He exuded positive energy, and you coudn’t help but root for him. MAB was unapologetic about his musical direction (although many may not know he studied jazz and spent time writing jingles). I loved his attitude that you have to be yourself, do what you love and what you believe in, and don’t worry about the people that try to tear you down. You’ll never please them, anyways. I’ve heard a lot of other great musicians, including Steve Vai, express a similar viewpoint.
He kicked off the show with tributes to Dimebag Darrel and Randy Rhoads – both set up with great stories of his background with them. Later on he did a tribute to Metallica. Each one featured familiar riffs and vocal melodies played on guitar; some solos close to the original performer, some his own version. I thought it worked well.
I’m honestly not that familiar with MAB’s catalog, and with that in mind I was pleasantly surprised that he played two of my favorite songs of his: Rainforest and Hands Without Shadows.
MAB is known for playing super fast, and while his technique on the instrument is incredible he can craft a great melody. The barrage of notes is mixed with singable lines. Like the show overall, it makes everything more listenable than some others in the genre. All that said, seeing him perform live, and seeing how fast and clean he played, was pretty mind-blowing as a guitarist.
I was surprised that he did not play his long-used Dean guitars, but instead relied on an array of Sawtooth guitars and amps. When he first warmed up I thought his tone was a little too saturated for my tastes, which sometimes happens with shred, but actually it worked great once he started going with the backing tracks. It emphasizes the concept that tone is in the hands (or probably more accurately, in the ears). Sawtooth isn’t an expensive, boutique brand of instruments. In the hands of a great player, they sounded great.
He had a small wall of Sawtooth amps, and for most of the show he played a double humbucker S-style, pulling out a LP-style as well. I was surprised to see he had a double-neck tele-style guitar (instead of his trademark metal-looking double neck). It was cool, and the crowd was psyched when he pulled it out and did all the fancy stuff.
Lots of fun, amazing technique, and great showmanship. That’s a MAB show. Go see him if you get a chance. Current tour dates here.
MAB was fairly famous for his articles in Guitar World, as well as his Speed Kills instructional video. Check those out if you want to explore the genre of shred.
Follow and listen to MAB on Spotify here: