M3 Festival – Danger Danger, Kix, W.A.S.P. – Live Review – Day 1

Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD – 5/3/13

This is the fifth year that the M3 Festival has been held and it is perhaps the premier festival for those looking for a dose of 80’s “hair-metal” music. This is third year that the festival has split over two-days, with an opening on the Friday evening, followed by a day-long event on Saturday, divided across two stages, the main Merriweather Pavilion stage, and second stage known as the Festival stage, at the top of the hill overlooking the Pavilion. Hard to explain in words, but simple enough when you are there. This review will focus on the shorter of the two days, the Friday night.

For Day 2 see my review here > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-4h

Of the three bands here, “Kix” has played every year that M3 has been run. These boys are a local favorite, hailing from Baltimore, MD, just a few miles up I-95, and unofficially claimed Friday night as their own, headlining the previous two years, naming the evening show the M3 “Kix-off party” or something yucky and similar.  However this year they lost the headline slot and were second on the bill to the mighty W.A.S.P., led by Blackie Lawless. I will be totally honest here – I don’t really get it when it comes to Kix? Sure, they put out a handful of albums in the 80’s and 90’s (6 total, from ‘81 through ’95) of which “Blow My Fuse”, from 1988, was most successful and the only one I personally own, but have released nothing since ‘95 (Hmmm? That’s 18 years folks…), and actually disbanded in the period ’95 through ’03 following a distinct lack of sales for the final album. Anyway, more of my misgivings later. As you will see, the fall from the mighty headline position was not received quite as graciously by Kix as it might have been.

Whether Kix deserve a slot on the bill every year is debatable anyway. My opinion would be to switch it up and give another band time on the main stage, since basically all Kix do is roll out the same show, year-in, year-out. To be honest, what else can they do? They don’t have any new music…  In the earlier years of the festival I suppose they were a local draw that ensured a certain audience attendance, but I fail to see that is relevant five years on now. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

Danger Danger

“Danger Danger” were actually the second band to hit the stage, having been preceded by a young school of rock band called “Bad Seed Rising “ who sounded pretty good, but we missed in the scrum to claim our VIP passes. This is an aspect of M3 that I don’t like, since the line can be long, but was made worse for many people because the organizers required the original purchaser to be present. I realize this is an attempt to keep the ‘scalpers’ at bay, but at the point you go to collect your VIP package, it is way too late to teach people a lesson. Many people that had either bought VIP tickets from resellers or even their friends, could not get their VIP passes or packs, which, given they have the ticket in their hands, seems pointless. The problem is at the time of purchase M3 organizers, not the day of the show…

Ignoring that fuss for now, we made our way to our seats at the sound of the opening chords to “Boys Will Be Boys”. First impressions were the sound was good, the stage was clear of stacks and stacks of gear (so that meant they were clearing the stage between acts) and giving everyone a fair amount of stage room, and that Danger Danger were sounding great! The band consists of three of the original members from the days of the first two albums (their most successful), with Ted Poley on vocals, Bruno Ravel on bass, and Steve West on drums, with new-boy Rob Marcello on guitar.

Over the course of the next six songs we were treated to a run through of the most popular tracks from the first two albums, including “Monkey Business”, “Beat The Bullet” and “Rock America”. They also squeezed in the soppy ballad “Don’t Walk Away”, which is a nice change of pace and I suppose one of Danger Danger’s ‘standards’, but I can’t help but think the 5 minutes it soaked up could have been used to play something from the latest DD release “Revolver” (2009) which is a great record and was untouched for the duration of their set. Shame. The set was brought to a close with the audience being invited to choose between “Bang Bang” and “Naughty Naughty”, with the latter winning out by a good cheer and a half.

Ted Poley sounded great on vocals and seemed to have brought his A-game this particular night, leaving me wanting to hear more for sure. A particularly endearing moment was when Ted jumped off the stage and took a tour through the crowd. I think it was during “Rock America” and actually ended up right in front of me, despite being 20 rows back! Rob Marcello also impressed on guitar and was tight, keeping the solos pretty much note perfect to the recorded works. Nicely played. Overall, given their short set time, it’s hard to fault them, and they delivered a strong performance. I scored them an 8/10, and would definitely go see them if they toured. Basically the only complaint I had was the lack of recent material in the set.

KIX

At this point in the proceedings we met some friends, so we headed to the bar, as any self-respecting festivalgoer will do between sets. Now it wasn’t planned, but that was exactly where we stayed for the duration of Kix’s set, so I can only comment on what I heard from the bar and second-hand comments from other friends who did watch them. Not much of a reviewer you might think, but perhaps it was just as well. Now I did see Kix at the very end of 2012 at a smaller venue in Raleigh, NC, and to be fair, they brought it that night, and delivered an entertaining set. One of the better things that particular night was Steve Whiteman seemed to have left his between-song comedy show at home, however, I had previously sat through that experience at the 2012 M3 and kind of hoped he kept it locked away this time around. Unfortunately not.

From our bar spot, the decent songs that Kix have were clearly obvious, including “No Ring Around Rosie”, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, “Cold Blood” and “Blow My Fuse”, while most of the others come across as also-rans, at least to my ears. But, it was the lame comedy that drew most comments. I mean there are only so many references to “cornholes” and similar, until it just becomes lame, and it appears to all intents and purposes that the jokes were pretty much the same ones as last year. And was it really necessary to throw in a drum solo? At the best of times this seems like a ploy to give the rest of the band a couple of minutes off stage, but with the best will in the world, does anyone really think that Jimmy Chalfant is worthy of a drum solo? However, the comments from Steve at the lead-in to the final number that gave the game away. Now I don’t have it word for word, but it was something about having to play the ‘short version of Yeah, Yeah, Yeah since they were pressed for time’ which was clearly a dig at the promoters for not having them headlining this time around. Sheesh! Does anyone think Blackie Lawless would agree to have Kix headline over them? Do Kix think they could follow WASP?

For a band that has played M3 every year since it started, perhaps a little dose of reality would be appropriate. Sure, Kix are entertaining and have a pretty loyal following, but would anyone NOT buy tickets, simply because Kix weren’t there next year? Really? There are a long list of bands I would rather see other than Kix on the main stage next year, so I really hope the organizers have a long hard think about this next time around. Nothing personally directed at the band, but I believe their time is past. To close this I won’t score them, since I didn’t watch them.

W.A.S.P.

With a legacy stretching back to 1982 and fourteen full-length studio albums to their credit, sales over 12 million copies (mostly in the 80’s and very early 90’s), W.A.S.P. represent a true headliner in the M3 criteria sense, but even so they are not perhaps a household favorite for the average hair-metal fan. Personally I lump WASP in the same bucket as Mötley Crüe in their early days (up to about ’85) and then Crüe went the “Girls Girls Girls” route (decidedly more glam), while WASP kept on the same path (heavier and nastier), until ’92 when “The Crimson Idol” took them on a darker course, with a strong dose of introspection.

Trying to make sense of the former members of W.A.S.P. is next to impossible, and it is simpler to just state that Blackie Lawless is the lynchpin around which a revolving assortment of musicians have ebbed and flowed. Certainly Chris Holmes on guitar was a key member from ’83 through ’90, but despite returning in ’96, his presence did not bring back the former vibe and he finally left (again) in ’01.  I’m sure there are true WASP-ophiles that will point out the criticality of other members, but to me it’s Blackie and the rest, and I’ll stick by description with the line-up today, even recognizing that Mike Duda has been on bass since ’97.

I’m not what you would call a massive W.A.S.P. fan, but I was looking forward to seeing them, the last time being sometime in the mid-80’s in the UK, so as show time approached, expectation was growing. I also noted the temperature was dropping fast, which wasn’t so good, since I was only wearing my cut-off denim over a leather waistcoat and t-shirt. Why didn’t I bring my leather jacket? Ahhhggg… For folks that had lawn tickets things were about to get chilly pretty fast.

Finally we dragged ourselves out of the bar, just as the house lights dimmed, and bam!, there was Blackie and crew, opening with “On Your Knees” which immediately segued into “The Torture Never Stops”. The band sounded powerful and pumped, with an interesting backdrop of perfectly sequenced videos from back-in-the-day. Now, that rather gave the game away that there was a lot of technology at work here, and there were several “Is it live or is it Memorex” moments (if you were anything more than a baby in the 80’s, you’ll get that, otherwise Google it!) through the show. But, to be honest none of that really bothered me, since Blackie was hammering out the lead vocals and doing his thing. As I sit here writing this, I really can’t remember much about any other members of the band at all. I don’t know if that was some kind of tunnel vision on my part (perhaps due to the encroaching cold), or some magic that Blackie was weaving, but it’s the way it sits in my memory.

Following the opening pair of songs, next up was “The Real Me” (which is a Who cover, but a staple of the W.A.S.P. set), followed by “L.O.V.E. Machine” and “Wild Child”. At this point we’re sitting pretty and the crowd is going nuts, but just about now Blackie announces that 2012 was the 30th anniversary for the band and this concert was part of the “30 Years Of Thunder” tour and that the set was to be split into three parts. The part we were in now (oldies), then a 30-minute medley featuring of The Crimson Idol album (’92) and then, well, the end, I guess. At this point Blackie kind of had me worried. “The Crimson Idol” is a great record, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a concept album and one that has a rather dark story line, ending in the suicide of the main character. Not really cheery festival fodder…

Another couple of oldies slid by and we are treated to a kick-ass version of “I Wanna Be Somebody”, which personally felt should have been the ‘closer’ for the evening. And then we get to “The Crimson Idol” medley. As a W.A.S.P. fan, I was totally cool with this and it was great to hear these songs, but it really wasn’t festival music, and by about half-way through it was clear that the combination of cold and this mostly unfamiliar music was driving folks to leave. So the drama unfolds on stage and the video backdrop continues to entertain, but clearly this wasn’t M3 mainstream material and the lawn in particular was pretty much thinned out when this section concluded. I think it fair to say WASP have always played what they wanted to play, and there are plenty of stories from the early 80’s, where WASP snubbed other bands by dropping in a 2 hour set, while only being a support band for example.

With the Crimson Idol set out of the way, we were then rather bizarrely treated to a drum solo. Oh, great. As noted before, unless you are well known as a master of the kit, a drum solo seems a little superfluous and that’s what I think this was. At this point I was pretty cold myself, so the idea of wasting my time with a drum solo is still stuck in my head. I realize Blackie Lawless isn’t in control of the weather, but the drum solo or not, yes. The show closed with “Heaven’s Hung In Black” from the ’07 Dominator album, which is unknown by me at least. After a brief exit from the stage, signifying the show was “over”, there was enough yelling and screaming from those left in the crowd to get the band back on stage for an encore of “Blind In Texas” which is a dead certainty for any WASP show, but that was it. Day 1 over.

What we got here was a W.A.S.P. show. Not a festival show, but a straight-up W.A.S.P. show for the fans, and damn anyone who wasn’t up for it. Since I would put myself in that classification, I enjoyed the set and spent much of the time going nuts. It was reported that we even made it to the video screens – several times, since we were up front against the first tier railing and easily spotted. However, I can totally understand anyone who isn’t a big fan of the band being way less than enthusiastic about the evening’s headliner.  Personally I scored them a 7/10 and was glad I got to see them, but I suspect they will not be high on the return invite list.

So to close this Day 1 review, how would I score the overall experience? Danger Danger were great and I have no problems there. Kix are a recurring 3rd tier band that have shoehorned themselves to become part of the scenery for this event, but add very little for anyone that has been to M3 previously. You get the same songs (well, actually 9 out of the 13 songs were the same, but of the others only “Hot Wire” is much of a song), the same jokes, and the same balloons. And of course, W.A.S.P. weren’t playing to the festival at all, so that doesn’t help. Not a totally convincing start to the 2013 M3 then. Well, I think overall for Day 1 I can only get to a 5/10.

Danger Danger

Danger Danger

Ted Poley right next to me!

Ted Poley right next to me!

W.A.S.P.

W.A.S.P.

IMG_1833

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