So, following on from a decent Day 1 kick-off, Day 2 of M3 rolled around with the early attraction all being on the Festival stage, at least for me. The Festival stage was moved to the very back of the Merriweather site last year, and hence is almost exactly facing the main Pavilion stage, but separated by quite a decent hill. On the Pavilion side this forms the ‘lawn’ area, while on the other, the slope provides an almost perfect view, no matter where you are, to see the action down on the stage, however we got there nice and early and were on the front rail. The only down-side to the Festival stage location is the surprisingly long walk to get over to the Pavilion, so be prepared for some hiking through the day if you plan on hopping from one to the other more than a couple of times.
As we walked in we could hear “Bad Seed Rising” who opened the day on the Pavilion stage. They are a young, mid-early teen band and did a decent enough job, considering no one was really interested, but their female singer could have cut back on the f-bombs which seemed to make up every other word between songs…
Now I have to confess, despite the fact we have at least one Killer Dwarfs LP at home, I hadn’t heard anything by them (at least consciously), but for some reason I had a good buzz waiting for their set to begin. This was totally on the money and from the moment Russ Graham bounced onto the stage to the last riff I was greatly entertained.
To me they came across as a sort of NWOBHM-infused AC/DC, very much in the vein of a heavier April Wine (to pick a Canadian comparison) – strong melodic riffs, with tight vocals, and perhaps the most energetic vocalist of the weekend. Russ spent nearly as much time flat out on the stage, as he did rolling around, as he did singing. I’m not sure quite why, but Russ also smashed a perfectly serviceable three-wheeled kiddy scooter into lots of little pieces… Overall this was a perfect start to the day and the six-song set delivered a solid slice of metal to earn them a score of 8/10.
Over on the main stage Rhino Bucket kicked of the ‘real bands’ on that stage, but I knew less about them than I did the Killer Dwarfs, so we remained firmly glued to our spot up front and watched the proceedings on the video screen. Fortunately the audio was also piped over the PA, so this was a decent comprise. I’m sure there are plenty of Rhino Bucket fans, but to me they seemed a touch too close to Kix in style – basic rock’n’roll – but with a rather strained scratchy vocal style. I did a quick video search using “Rhino Bucket M3”, and I think my memory was spot on – the vocals just don’t work for me. Admittedly this is a sort of phoned in score, but for me it’s a 4/10.
Now, in all fairness I have to confess a little bit of “insider trading” for this review, since my good friend Chris Green (also of Pride, Furyon and Rubicon Cross) is now the guitarist for the band, but my affection for Tyketto rolls all the way back to the debut release of “Don’t Come Easy” from 1991, with the opening track “Forever Young”, being a sort of anthem at the time. I still get a kick out of the opening guitar riff of that song, no matter where or when I hear it. However, friend or otherwise, I had high expectations for the band based on reports from the MOR cruise and performances from last year’s UK tour, and this would be my first chance to see them live. The fact they were appearing so early in the day was a concern, but come about 12.30 the Festival stage area was packed as far as the eye could see, so clearly I wasn’t the only one expecting good things. We were not disappointed!
Taking the stage with an air of confidence, vocalist Danny Vaughan and rest of the boys kicked off the set with “Lay Your Body Down”, and immediately the first thing that hit me was Danny doesn’t appear to have aged one damn minute. The second was his voice… absolutely on the money! Unlike rather too many of the vocalists from the 80s/90s, Danny has clearly done a fine job of holding onto his vocal chops, and I swear he sounds exactly the same as back in 1991, at least as far as the album recording goes. But that comment also applies across all members of the band, from Michael Clayton on drums, to Jimi Kennedy on bass, and the newer members of the line-up, Bobby Lynch on keys, and of course Chris on ripping guitar.
Given they only had a 30 minute set, it was always going to be a case of squeezing in as many crowd favorites, which basically meant tracks from “Don’t Come Easy”, which will see it’s 25th release anniversary next year, and we were not disappointed, with four of the six total coming from that recording. There was a slight lull in the energy from the crowd with “Dig In Deep”, the title track of the latest album and fourth track of the set, which I am sure skipped over the heads of most attending M3, but it is perhaps one of the more accessible rockers from the latest record. The set closed with a strong pairing of “Wings” and “Forever Young” from “Don’t Come Easy”. You can see my video of “Wings” here: https://youtu.be/bbi1NEgUM3g I dare anyone to try to claim Danny doesn’t sound EXACTLY like he does on the original recording…
And that was the set done. In the aftermath of the weekend there were lots of polls and “best of M3” lists, and it was rare to see any without Tyketto being listed in the top 3 or so bands of the weekend. I would totally agree with this and certainly hope to see them back at the next M3 on the main stage, later in the day and with a longer set. My score is an easily earned 10/10.
Next up on the main stage was Vixen, who I know bring out great gobs of affection from certain members of the metal community, but, at least to me, seems quite unwarranted. This was convincingly demonstrated when most of the members appeared back at the 2013 M3 as JSRG, which I scored a weak-to-pathetic 4/10 – least anyone of you reading this forgets – the 2013 set included a cover of a song by ADELE…WTF? Why anyone would include a cover song of a modern pop artist in a set at M3 still baffles me… Anyway it was clear there was no reason to walk over the Pavilion stage, so again we watched the video screens.
All I will say is the performance was painful. Just as Dokken the day before demonstrated, just because you are still willing to perform, doesn’t mean you SHOULD still perform. Now, I’m sure you die-hard fans are just about wanting to kill me or something, but, before you do, watch this video first: https://youtu.be/x2WF4HhW47c OK, assuming you are still alive, can you honestly tell me this was anything other than horrible? And this was their big “hit”? I’ve heard cats fighting that are more melodic. My score 3/10.
Black ‘N Blue
Next up on the Festival stage were Black ‘N Blue, and I have to say Jamie St. James was perhaps the friendliest ‘star’ of the weekend, seemingly appearing at all the hot spots over the weekend, including the bar and lobby of the Sheraton at all times of the day and night, and over at Clyde’s, the de-facto post-gig watering hole for all the event. He was always welcoming and happy to take pics and sign stuff – a good way to build fan rapport, so score one for B’N B.
So B’N B hit the stage and opened with “Get Wise To The Rise” from the 1988 release “In Heat” which is a great rocker and set the scene for a solid dose of 80’s hair metal. This was followed by “School Of Hard Knocks” from their 1984 debut release, and we were rockin’. The two newest members happen to be both guitarists (Shawn Sonnenschein and Brandon Cook), and they did a solid job, while original members Jamie, Patrick Young (bass) and Pete Holms (drums) rocked out and seemed to really having a great time up there. The seven song set closed with the crowd favorite “Hold On To 18”, which was perfect. My score 8.5/10.
So, now we’re off to the main Pavilion stage, but by this point starving hungry, so a bit of an extended food stop delayed us a bit, so we missed perhaps the first three or four songs of their ten song set. However we could still hear them and, no surprise, they were sounding in great form. If you follow this blog you will know we’ve seen the ‘Guns’ a few times including a couple of times at our local venue, the Tally Ho, in Leesburg VA, so we are pretty familiar with the lads in the band, with the one exception being the recently returned bass player, Kenny Kweens (though we did end up meeting him briefly backstage to the very end of the night).
I’ve seen a few on-going comments complaining that Michael Grant (guitarist, since early 2013) doesn’t play the solos exactly like the originals… which to me is a bit like complaining that Ronnie James Dio didn’t sing Paranoid the same as Ozzy Osbourne did. Well, may be he doesn’t, but it’s time to get over that. Obviously Phil Lewis and Steve Riley are happy enough with the way they are being played, so let’s put that one to bed – the band consists of the members on the stage, and they play the songs the way you hear them now. Not the way some former member did. Deal with it!
Basically the band looked like they were having a great time up there, which always is an encouraging sign, and that for me that was echoed in what my ears were hearing. I did miss hearing anything from the latest release, “Hollywood Forever” which is a great album, but of course there was no way we could get away without “The Ballard of Jayne”, which to be honest I could go my entire life without hearing ever again… The set closed with a pretty riotous version of “Rip and Tear”. I think LA Guns have played M3 every year now, and I’m pretty sure they did enough to come back next year. I think they were a solid 8/10.
These guys were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing, particularly since the 2013 release, “Dirty Dynamite” was a decent offering. Krokus have always carried an AC/DC-wanna-be label, and notwithstanding this, they seem to have turned out solid records, though it would be misleading of me if I did not make it clear I am far from their biggest fan, with not much more than a recollection of a few tunes from Headhunter (1983), aside from the aforementioned latest recording. This was the first time I’ve seen them live I believe.
When they took to the stage I must admit there seemed to be a lack of energy in the Pavilion generally. I’m guessing most people were not big Krokus fans, and were in a similar frame of mind to myself – interested in the novelty of having them there.
To cut to the chase, to me, they came across as sort of a cross between AC/DC and Accept, and were tight and functional, but the spark just seemed to be missing. I was a little confused by the cover “American Woman” (originally by “The Guess Who”, but later Lenny Kravitz), until someone more knowledgeable than me explained this was a hit for Krokus in 1982… I think we made it through another two songs before deciding to head back to the VIP area for the Queensryche meet’n’greet. All-in-all I scored them a middling 6/10.
We headed back to the Festival stage around 6PM in order to get a good spot for Y&T, which meant we missed Bang Tango and the Winery Dogs entirely, so I can’t comment on them from a performance perspective, but I did hear reports that the Winery Dogs delivered a ripping set, although I am rather confused why they were at M3 at all – since the Winery Dogs were not around in the 80’s/early 90’s…
Once established down the front of the Festival stage again, we turned our attention to the video screens, which were relaying Warrant’s set from the Pavilion stage. I had previously seen Warrant with Robert Mason back in 2013, and despite all the right moves, couldn’t help but feel there was a sense the band were going through the motions. Unfortunately this time around nothing appeared to have changed, and, if anything, things were a little worse. I don’t think this opinion was helped by seeing Robert Mason stumbling into the hotel late the night before, more than obviously the worse for wear, and it may be the case that there was a little too much partying in the hospitality before there set, but the vocals were definitely iffy all through the set. This was not helped by an obviously out of tune acoustic guitar during the intro to “Heaven” and a multitude of wonky guitar parts throughout the set. For those that don’t agree, take a look at any of the videos that have been posted on YouTube from the show – the end of “Heaven” is a veritable train wreck of epic proportions. My score 4/10.
Now I am happy to confess I am a big fan of Y&T and have never seen them deliver anything other than a killer show, no matter when or where, so I must admit I had high expectations for Dave Meniketti and crew, and I am happy to report there was to be no disappointment. The nine song set they delivered was absolutely on point from the opening riff from “Don’t Stop Runnin”, through to the last notes of “Forever” from the classic Black Tiger album that closed the show.
Dave Meniketti is a sorely under-rated guitarist and there are few that can touch him when it comes to blues-based hard rock; he has an innate ability to deliver crushing riffs that you just can’t avoid rocking out to, but his solos are off-the-scale. Sure, there are players that are technically more proficient, but Dave has the ability to select and deliver a sequence of notes that are just ripping and, when it comes to some of the slower ballads he is one of the few players out there that can deliver such emotion through the strings of a guitar. Perhaps Gary Moore was on the same level, but let Dave loose with a Les Paul and a hot amp, and he’s deadly.
It would also be a travesty to overlook Dave’s vocal abilities, which are also excellent –if you haven’t seen Y&T live, check out their recent live album “Live At The Majestic” which is a excellent representation of what you will experience at any live show, and pay attention to Dave’s vocals. Awesome.
Of course the band is more than Mr. Meniketti, and the newest member, Brad Lang on bass, does an awesome job of locking down the groove that is so important to the overall Y&T sound. I remember seeing Brad at his first show with the band, at Jaxx (sadly now closed…), who basically learned the set on the flight over from the West Coast back in 2010, following Phil Kenmore’s diagnosis with cancer. Brad has an undeniable energy and passion for the band.
John Nymann on rhythm guitar is the perfect partner for Dave Meniketti and is no guitar slouch when he is let loose to solo, and let me not underplay Mike Vanderhule on the drums. He hits hard and was also quite a hoot at the bar later in the evening. It’s good to meet a band who are not only great players, but also know how to have fun.
All-in-all Y&T delivered a nigh-on perfect set and it would be difficult to score them anything other than a 10/10.
Once Y&T were done it was time to make the rapid transit from the Festival stage back to the Pavilion, and despite hustling, Queensryche didn’t wait for us! However, we had already had a massive dose of the ‘Ryche earlier in the week after a quick, 250 mile, there and back trip to Pittsburg to see them headline the Altar Bar on the Wednesday. That was a killer show, but not the subject of this review, however we were pumped from seeing them so recently.
Last year Queensryche were perhaps the surprise of the show for many people, and turned most of the audience from indifferent to captivated, so this time around I think more people were clued into what to expect.
Now, it is true there will always be those with their head in the sand and refuse to accept Todd La Torre in place of Geoff Tate, but to be honest they cannot be fans of the band. I’m sure there are some of you reading this now and are already yelling obscenities at the screen, but face facts – Geoff was not interested in Queensryche the band, he was interested in Geoff Tate, and the last 10 years had seen the band in a sad and steady decline, in both recorded music and live. If any of you have the chance to talk to Michael Wilton or Scott Rockenfield or indeed Eddie Jackson, ask them about the band before and after Todd joined and you will see the fire is back in their eyes. I have seen QR perhaps five times now with Todd and the energy he brings to the stage, particularly when delivering the classic material from the first five albums is like stepping back in time to the late 80’s when QR were at their peak.
The set opened with “Nightrider” from the debut EP, which is an absolute killer track and was followed by “Breaking The Silence” from Operation Mindcrime, which is just about when we found our way to our seats. It’s very hard to really review Queensryche in their current form because they are simply so good. “En Force” followed from The Warning and I think it fair to say, any true Queensryche fan was simply locked in the groove at this point. There are so many great songs from the first five QR releases that you could almost pick a set at random and see an amazing show. However, I must admit I missed the inclusion of “Where Dreams Go To Die” from the latest album, which we had heard at the Altar Bar show. I guess that was a concession to the nature of M3, which focused the set on the older material, and probably was the material the vast majority of the audience wanted to hear.
One thing I also want to mention is the way the Parker Lundgren on second guitar is really coming to life in these more recent shows. I remember seeing Parker on his first tour with the band back in 2009, and there was an undeniable “outsider” feel to his inclusion on stage, and this was probably due to the way he was brought into the band (a story I need not repeat in detail here, but will only mention it involves Geoff Tate, his daughter and a marriage that is no more…). However, Parker has always stuck to the original guitar work on the older material and keeps all the solo work true to the originals, which is more than can be said for Mike Stone and Kelly Gray who preceded him. These last couple of shows really show Parker as a fully integrated and key member of the Queensryche line-up, and, I should also mention, if you happen to meet him he’s a nice chap to boot!
The twelve-song set closed with “Jet City Woman” and an absolutely crushing version of “Take Hold Of The Flame” and as far as I have seen, again Queensryche were widely reported as taking the title of “band of the day” – and no, don’t shoot the messenger, I am simply reporting what I have seen online since the show, however I totally agree…. My score is a maxed out 10/10.
Some reading this may be a little outraged that I skipped Tom Keifer’s set on the Festival stage, but by this point we were some 8 hours or so in, tired, and I was pretty disappointed that it wasn’t Cinderella performing. Of course Tom cranked out a Cinderella-loaded set with 9 out of 14 songs being Cinderella “covers” (haha, what else can I call them…?), and did them justice by all accounts, but there just wasn’t any impetus to get me up out of my seat and over that damn hill. One thing that was a little odd was this was the only set of the day that overran and they had not finished by the time Europe hit the Pavilion stage to close out the day.
I think it would only be fair to say that most of the attendees at M3 probably know Europe for one album – The Final Countdown – and unfortunately this is quite a travesty, because once you set away from this record you will find a band with a great maturity and depth of material, and that is where the true fans will be found. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the great proportion of the audience at M3. In fact anyone reading this really should get themselves a copy of the latest Europe offering, “War of Kings” which is a phenomenal record. Very much in the vein of classic Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, but with crushing riffs and massive production – it truly is a masterpiece.
Europe currently consist of the “classic” Final Countdown line-up, with Joey Tempest on vocals, sounding better than ever, John Norum on guitar, who is an absolute guitar hero, John Levin on bass, a groove master if ever there was, and Mic Micheli on keyboards, who really pulls some showman moves up there, leaving Ian Haugland as the final member on drums, who hammers his kit with great authority. Both on record and live these guys really deliver.
So, was it a mistake to open the set with the title track from the latest record, “War of Kings”? Well, for me it was the best opening, but it was clear from many around me in the audience it was going straight over their heads. Next up was “Hole in my Pocket” another War of Kings track and I felt there was a definite sense of frustration in the audience… Bring on the hits! Fortunately, the day was saved with “Rock The Night” from the Final Countdown, but at this point I would say perhaps 5-10% of the audience had decided they were done and it was tangible that there were fewer people watching than was true for Queensryche for example.
The audience thinning continued with the fourth track, which was a rather deep cut, coming in the form of the rather obscure title track from the 2009 release, “Last Look at Eden”. For me, and any real “Europe” fan, all this was a great set, but that is difference between a festival set-list, and a headline-of-our-own-show set-list. These are two different things. I’m not sure anyone had explained this to the band perhaps, or maybe they just didn’t care?
However, this is perhaps the problem with a festival like M3, where most of the audience is there because of the nature of the festival, not so much the specific bands, and perhaps more so the headliner. There isn’t one aspect of Europe’s performance you could point to that wasn’t absolutely on point, but the end result, which was reflected in comments on various forums after the show, wasn’t a slam-dunk for the band. You will definitely find people like myself that have most of the bands releases (but not all mind you) who thought they knocked it out of the park, but there will be those who don’t quite agree, I’m sure. Of course, The Final Countdown tracks got the biggest reaction all night, and this included “Carrie”, “Cherokee” and of course the final… track, “The Final Countdown” which was greeted with an absolute roof-rousing roar. In fact, this track probably had the highest audience participation of any played all day, and was a stomping good way to end the day. On reflection, I loved Europe’s set, but it wasn’t the best of the day by any means – for me they were a decent 9/10.
So, there we had it, another M3 was done. There’s always a post-M3 let-down, where you suddenly realize it’s over for another 363 days…. They pass fairly quickly, but I find myself wondering can they keep this up? Can the organizers keep finding enough bands that will keep the venue full? I think so, at least for the next 5 years or so, but these bands won’t keep playing forever, and, as noted, some really should quit while they are still more or less ahead… For me the top three bands of the weekend (in no particular order) were: Y&T, Tyketto and Queensryche. All three delivered killer performances. Of course, I’d be happy to see any of them back at M3 next year, but I’d be especially happy to see Tyketto over on the Pavilion stage and later in the day – they deserve the exposure and would get that place rockin’ hard. ‘Til next year then!