PICKUPS AND CHEESECAKES: For any professionally driven and/or
neurotically habitual visitor to the NAMM show at the Anaheim
Convention Center each January, the meaning of the term “too long
at the fair” is bound to strike. It might be two days or two hours
into the sprawling music merchants and instrument expo (NAMM =
National Association of Music Merchants). You reach a point where
the sheer muchness of the experience wears on your mental

Suddenly, you feel like a bumpkin on a first encounter with the
big city, initially dazzled but soon enervated by the multiplicity
of perspectives and values of right and wrong. Is it wrong, for
instance, to ogle the scantily-clad cheesecake gals propped up at
certain booths, in cornball conventioneer fashion? The jury is

On the other hand, there may be no other more democratic forum
in the music world than NAMM, where all manner of music-related
businessfolk gather, from staid Midwestern music retailers, to the
expanding domain of software nerds seeking newer versions, and
sneering rock ’n’ rollers. Music becomes an evermore fragmented
cultural realm, broken up into different demographics, radio
formats, and lifestyle flavors. Here is a rare place where the
gamut meets. No wonder the experience gets dizzying.

From the local-ish contingent, familiar music businesses put out
their shingles. From San Luis Obispo, kitschy-fun Ernie Ball had a
Caddyshack-themed little piece of convention floor real estate,
while S.L.O.’s National Reso-phonic Guitars (i.e., Dobros) and
Triplet Harps held forth with humbler, more unplugged wares in the
downstairs zone.

The German-made Warwick basses, as well as Framus guitars, are
funneled through a Santa Barbara distributor. And, reassuringly,
there is always Seymour Duncan, the world-famous custom guitar
pickup — and then some — manufacturer, based in our own good-land
burg of Goleta. Many of your favorite pop stars and other concerned
guitarists have Duncan pickups tucked into their instruments. This
year’s Seymour Duncan product line included new guitar effects
pedals, aiming at a warm retro sound — adding polish to the days
and memories of old. Nostalgia is alive and well in the electric
guitar world. Just ask the throng of folks in the Fender booth
gawking at Jeff Beck’s well-battered old Telecaster (pictured). If
anyone knows how to soulfully abuse a guitar, it’s Beck, and this
object glowed with a funky-assed mythic aura.

Sensory-overloaded NAMMsters can always find respite from the
racket, in genuine musical form. Over lunch, the old-timey Tora
Bora Boys displayed their bluegrassy grit ’n’ glow and sang
honeycomb harmony on “Mother Ain’t Dead, She’s Only Sleeping.” The
womb-like Taylor guitar booth hosted new artist Susie Suh (who
played SOhO with Glen Phillips a year ago, before her fine Epic
album came out), dishing out her nicely moody originals and a fresh
take on Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

On a sadder note, this was the first year in many that Bob
Moog — who died last year — didn’t show up at his NAMM booth,
extolling the virtues of the Moogerfooger or talking shop and high
musical ideals with any and all. NAMM 2006 reminded us that the
marketplace and the tools of the trade change only incrementally
from year to year, despite the built-in capitalist urge to make
things seem newer, better, bolder, and hipper. Musical tools change
shape, color, and programming, but the song — and the desperate
need for it — remains largely the same.

SPANISH CASTLE MAGIC: Gifted Colombian guitarist/singer Juanes
was going along, channeling his early love of pop, Metallica, and
Latin American folk music into his metal-ish band Ekhymosis. When
it came time to cut the umbilical cord and launch his solo career
at the turn of the Millennium, Juanes leapt up several notches, on
the strength of his Latin Grammy-magnetized albums Fijate Bien, Un
Dia Normal, and Mi Sangre. By this point, Juanes, whose show
tonight at Chumash Casino is very sold-out, is a veritable
Spanish-language pop superstar, with plenteous chops and a heart in
the right place. (Got e? fringebeat@aol.com.)


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