M3 Festival – Love/Hate, Steelheart, Trixter, JSRG, Great White, Loudness, FireHouse – Live Review – Day 2

Merriweather Post Pavilion – 5/4/13

For those who attended the festival, the list of bands in the title above clearly isn’t complete; there were some fifteen bands total playing on the second day of this 2-day festival, but I am going to fully cover those listed, simply because they killed it and I like them! However, they weren’t the only bands I saw, and, as you will discover, not all passed the M3 “rocked-it” test.

For those that blinked and missed my Day 1 Review here’s a link: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-3Y

The Saturday for M3 is always a bit of a marathon, with both stages in use and bands scheduled from 11AM all the way round the clock dial to 11PM. What most people don’t realize is the sheer distance you can end up walking in a given day, especially if you happen to like bands on the main Pavilion and Festival stages that keep you switching back and forth. Add in a little bit of midday sun and a few beers…

For me the schedule was front-loaded with bands I wanted to see starting early with Love/Hate on the main stage at 11.50AM and a planned early exit prior to 9.40PM to ensure we missed the (lame) headliner, “Bret Michaels”. I know a lot of people planned similar early getaway strategies. I’ll try to keep my rhetoric under control, but this is by a long, long, long-way the weakest headliner that M3 has offered up and if they pull such a limp move again, you can be sure my $200+ ticket money will not be heading their way. Value for money isn’t hard to calculate. Most of the acts on the bill this year can be seen at venues such as Empire in Springfield, VA, or Soundstage in Baltimore, MD, for a $15-$30 ticket price, so it takes a full line-up from the headliner down to make that ticket price stand up. I gave them a pass this year and went to see the bands I cared about, but next year I suspect I will be more critical.

Love/Hate

You pretty much have to be on your A-game in the world of hair-metal to know much about Love/Hate, but those that were fortunate to discover them at the very beginning of the 90’s will typically be strong fans and both albums that received US-release were exceptionally good. “Blackout In The Red Room” (’90) and “Wasted In America” (’92) both have a pretty cool metal-funk-sleazy-vibe going on that demands the volume to be cranked up to ‘11’. Who knows what great music we would have enjoyed had grunge not come along and slapped down everything before it?

The vocals from Jizzy Pearl have an edge and character that are somewhat unique in my book and I had previously seen him performing with one of the 48 variants of LA Guns (one of the now-defunct Traci Guns versions I believe) back in 2011, at Jaxx (now Empire, Springfield, VA). The only LA Guns recording to feature Jizzy (“Shrinking Violet”, ’99) is a great record too, so I have a lot of respect for him as a vocalist. The remainder of the line up was made of the excellent Robbie Crane (Ratt/Lynch Mob) on bass, Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper, Slash’s Snakepit) on guitar and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley).

We made sure we arrived in plenty of time to ensure we did not miss any of their set since they only had a 45 minute slot, meaning a short set of perhaps 25-30 minutes tops, and pretty much right on the dot of 11.50AM Jizzy hit the stage and they slammed into “Why Do You Think They Call It Dope” from Blackout’. Immediately it was clear that Jizzy had come to bring it, with all the character in his voice per the albums. The PA was nicely cranked up, with a clear powerful sound – hey! What the hell do you expect? We are at a rock-show dummy! If it’s too loud, you’re too old… haha!

Unfortunately I was right regarding the set-length, and a short 25 minutes took us through “Tumbleweed”, “She’s No Angel” (both from Blackout’), “Wasted In America” (from the album of the same name) and closed with “Blackout In The Red Room”. By this time most people had shaken the sleep out of their ears and realized they were at a metal show – hello people, you just missed one of the highlights of the weekend. Basically they slammed it and I scored them 9/10. It will be a crying shame if they don’t tour the East Coast sometime again real soon.

Steelheart

Another latecomer to the hair-metal scene, Steelheart delivered their self-titled debut album in 1990 to much critical acclaim and significant sales in the Asian markets (33,000 sold on the first day in Japan alone) and quickly achieved platinum status. The second album, Tangled In Reins (’92), was a slightly more dirty sounding record and was not nearly as successful in the US due to the arrival of the dreaded ‘grunge’, but in Asia the ballad  “Mama Don’t You Cry” was a massive #1 hit and is still to this day a staple of cover bands throughout the region.

The band is still led to this day by vocalist Miljenko Matijevic, who provides the key character to the Steelheart sound with his wide-range and piercing high-notes. So, the number one sniff test for the show at M3 was could he still deliver? I must admit I never realized until recently that the primary reason Steelheart stopped playing and disbanded in 1992 was a serious injury to Matijevic that occurred during a concert in Denver on the Tangled In Reins tour, when a 1000lb lighting truss broke free and knocked him to the ground, breaking his nose, cheekbone and jaw, and leaving him with a back injury that would take several years to fully recover. The original guitarist, Chris Risola, is still in the line-up, completed by Rev Jones on bass and Mike Humber on drums.

Another odd fact I never paid any attention to was Matijevic provided some of the vocals behind the lead character in the movie “Rock Star” (2001), for the fictitious band “Steel Dragon”, and the set here for M3 kicked off with “Blood Pollution” from the movie. It was quickly obviously that Matijevic still has that amazing vocal range, and as soon as they broke into “Gimme Gimme” from the debut record, I was rockin’ it. Live they came across as a much heavier band than perhaps is obvious from their records.

Again they were fighting the clock and were only able to play six songs, with the breakdown being 3 tracks from the Steelheart album, “Blood Pollution” and “We All Die Young” from the movie (the latter track was also re-recorded on the “Wait” album released in 1996), and a new track called “Cabernet” that I don’t believe is on any recording to date. Missing from this list is anything from the quite excellent “Good 2B Alive” album which is their most recent recording released in 2008. Also nothing from Tangled In Reins. So much good material left untouched!

Their performance was top notch and the band was firing on all cylinders, with the guitar work from Risola being tight and meaner than I anticipated, while the whirling stage presence from bassist Jones was quite a show. At one point he was playing a vicious looking 6-string Dean bass that I swear looked about 6 feet long. Again, anyone that missed them should be slapping themselves as they were excellent. I’d score them level with Love/Hate at a 9/10. So far so good, eh?

Trixter

Up next were Trixter, who I was intrigued to see for the first time. I picked up their most recent release, “New Audio Machine” (’12) earlier this year and it’s a pretty decent record, spoiled by a couple of seriously lame and limp ballads that are so yucky I have to skip them any time they sneak onto my iTunes playlist. Perhaps I should just delete the damn songs? Without the two offending tracks it’s a pretty good listen. While Trixter have a history pretty much that parallels both Steelheart and Love/Hate that preceded them, they really didn’t achieve quite the same level of success, so I was rather perplexed as to why they were playing later and indeed might have seen them as a better fit for the Festival stage really. What is interesting is the band retains the same line-up today, as they did back in early 90’s during the peak of their success.

Their set opened with a backing track, I think from the latest record, but pretty much as soon as they kicked off it was apparent that things were a little bent out of shape. Oh dear. Now, as a guitarist of some 35 years experience, any time any one is having any kind of issue with gear or their instruments I tend to pick up on it, and it was obvious to me that the guitar of Steve Brown wasn’t in tune with the backing tape or the bass of P.J. Farley. Not good. I don’t know what it is, may be we can blame pollen or something, but this is the second show in as many weeks where we’ve experienced a bit of a mess, with instrument tuning issues. This then went from bad to worse, when the guitar rig cut out entirely. I fully understand the pressures of the festival environment, but come fellas, no one else seemed to have a problem all day.

I think we tried to hang in their for the second song, but the fire was out for me, and we decided to make a run for it and scout out the merch stands. Later we found out that the temptation of a little too much backstage hospitality was probably to blame for the issues we had just walked away from, though I need to be clear and state that is entirely rumor. Personally, I’d rather it was that, than a fundamental and basic cock-up – I can excuse a rock band hitting a couple of six-packs hard, but screwing up sober is harder to understand. Sadly I scored them a 3/10.

JSRG

Let me be clear, just because you are a ‘girl band’ does not excuse you the necessity of performing at the exact same level as a ‘guy band’, so I’m assuming that we all agree on that? I say that, because there seems to be some exceptions to the rule, perhaps more so recently, with a few ‘girl bands’ that seem to think the less clothes you wear, the less it matters how well they play or write songs (or don’t write them to be more accurate). Now, there have been some great ‘girl bands’ – Girlschool and The Runaways – and some great musicians – for example “Orianthi” is an outstanding guitarist, and when we saw her with Alice Cooper she shredded like the very best. So, what we have here are the remains of “Vixen” who were hailed as the “female Bon Jovi” back in the day. Hmm? Yeah, right…

Vixen put out two albums in ’88 and ’90 and then imploded. When you dig a little deeper you find that the biggest hit they had, “Edge of a Broken Heart”, was co-written and arranged by mega-songwriter Richard Marx. Unfortunately for some, image triumphs over substance.

Let me keep this brief. We walked back from the merch area and JSRG were already into their set. I don’t know how many songs in to be honest, but somehow it seems they were allocated time to fit nine songs into their time. We took our seats and listened to the song in progress, as I said, I have no idea which one. Then the next one started. Odd, the vocal melody seemed exactly the same as the previous one, give or take. To be fair, the crowd seemed to be into it, but I must have been missing the point or something. Then the next song started. Er, hello, didn’t this one also sound the same as the one before? Well, not quite, because this was a cover of an Adele song! WTF? An ADELE song. Seriously? Is that what M3 has become now… an opportunity for 3rd tier bands to turn out cover songs of current pop stars? Bloody hell, that was lame. I will say, Roxy Petrucci, the drummer was good and that was about as far as I can take it. Everything else was sort of, blah, whatever. My score for them 4/10.

Great White featuring Jack Russell

After leaving the Pavilion and stopping for a beer or two in the VIP area, we wondered up the hill to see what was going on at the Festival stage and found Great White absolutely swamped with people, and they sounded great. I won’t drag out the “this or that Great White” debate… There is enough of that with Queensryche to last all year currently, but this version of Great White sounded right-on, and Jack Russell clearly still has it vocally. We saw the last two songs of the set, which were “Rock Me” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and both were rocking. I’d score them 7/10.

Loudness

Last year Loudness just blew apart the Festival stage and most people regarded them as the best band at the show, so expectation was high. This would be the third time I’ve seen Loudness in the last 2 years or so, and they are in my top 10 bands to see live. I was excited to see them again! But… in the week preceding there was a lot of conjecture as to whether they would be at the show. There were all sorts of rumors circulating and a string of club dates were cancelled. Allegedly there were problems with work visas. Not good. All this “will they, won’t they?” was answered on Friday night, when we walked into the hotel reception and found Akira (guitar God!) and Masayuki Suzuki (drums). Obviously they were very tired, but pleased to be here at all. Yes, visa problems!

We found our seats well ahead of the 4.20PM kick off time and waited with great expectation as their gear was set-up, and just slightly later than scheduled they ran an opening intro tape. This quickly became “Fire Of Spirt” from the Metal Mad album  from 2008. Holy hell, Loudness have released no less that 28 studio albums. Yes. Read that again. Twenty-eight studio albums. That’s damn close to one per year (just short, they formed in 1980). It was clear that there were some problems with the sound at this point. There was NO bass guitar at all and it was clear from the scuttling around on stage that the sound crew was well aware of this. However, Akira on guitar is a monster and his sound is always so awesome that I was dealing with this.

Some people have a problem with Minoru Niihara’s vocals, but those who are hardcore long-term fans understand that once you go with the flow this is not an issue. To be fair the mix could have given us a little more vocal, but Minoru was in fine voice and worked the crowd as best he could given English is a long way from his first language. By about the third track (“Crazy Nights”) they sound crew had found the bass and the mix suddenly caught fire. Loudness easily score the “heaviest band at M3, 2013” award of the weekend. Sounding both heavy and melodic Loudness slammed us with power and a display of out-right master craftsmanship on all of their respective instruments.

Up fourth was “Crazy Doctor” which is a crowd favorite, even for those less fanatical fans and they tore this one up. Akira is perhaps one of the worlds top 10 guitarists in my book and he was on form today. He has a mesmerizing ability to mix melody with just crazy technique and today was no different. There were times when he let rip with riff upon riff that just pummeled you into submission – and then he tore the fretboard off his guitar with a solo that most guitarists could only imagine in their most out-of-world dreams. This guy is a *master*.

Next up they destroyed “Heavy Chains” and then we were hammered by a vicious drum solo. OK, I’m not a fan of drum solos. Give me a guitar solo and I’m smiling, drums not so much, but this was heavy and a part of pretty much every Loudness show. Even so, this was the only part I would have skipped if I were writing the set list.

To close out the set we were hammered with “King Of Pain” (title track of the 2010 release), followed by “Survivor” (Eve To Dawn, 2011) and the classic “SDI”. Of course this track is a must-have for any Loudness show and had the audience fully powered up. And that was it. Loudness were easily the heaviest band of the show and that in itself is a challenge for many in attendance. For me it was perfect. Looking at it in retrospect I would still rate their performance from 2012 better than this time around ,and that may be a function of the intimacy that the Festival stage brings, versus that of the more distant Pavilion experience. Despite this, I still rate them a 9/10.

FireHouse

Ok, at this point I am horribly out of sequence… what the hell happened to Kings X and Steel Panther? Well, we did catch the very tail end of Kings X and they sounded good. I can’t claim to know anything much beyond how to spell the band’s name, so I will leave it that they sounded tight and very musical.

Turning now to Steel Panther… haha! They take what Kix allude to do and wind the comedy dial all the way past ‘11’ and much more. So, Kix tried to be funny, while Steel Panther ARE funny. Since we had seen them a few months back at Rams Head Live in Baltimore, I figured they would pretty much roll out the same set. They did, but shorter. They are both a parody and enigmatic at the same time, primarily because they can play the hell out of their instruments. On a certain level they frustrate me, because I suspect they would be a damn good serious band. Looking at it from a purist perspective you could argue they are wasting a slot a serious band could be playing in, but lets not loose perspective – this is the entertainment business.

So, while Steel Panther did their thing, we waited right up the front of the stage for FireHouse who are one of my all time favorite “hair bands”, whether that hair still applies or not! So, like several of the earlier bands who played earlier, FireHouse arrived on the scene in 1990 with the self-titled debut that spawned three massive hits, including “Love Of A Lifetime” which is one of those hits that any self-respecting musician would love to write and ensures that paying the bills for the rest of their career is not so challenging. This was then followed by the album “Hold Your Fire” which delivered another top 10 hit in the shape of “When I Look Into Your Eyes”. Lightning does strike twice.

From the moment FireHouse hit the Festival stage they were firing on all cylinders and delivered a basically faultless performance from the first note to the last. The sound up front was heavy and pounding, and I will say that FireHouse always come across as a heavier band than their records might have you believe. They opened with “Hold Your Fire” (title track of the second album) and from then on it was a master class from every member of the band.

CJ Snare is still nailing those high notes despite the 23 years that have elapsed since the first record, and you’d have to look hard to see any evidence of that time having passed. Bill Leverty is a seriously good guitar player and he was note perfect throughout the set. There wasn’t a hammer on out of place. Excellent. Michael Foster on the drums is a riot to watch. He is constantly twirling sticks or throwing them impossibly high into the air and still pounds out a vicious rhythm on his super low-slung kit. Allen McKenzie fills out the line-up with tight bass-lines and some super sharp vocal harmonies.

Up second is the massive “All She Wrote”, which still sounds fresh to this day, followed by “When I Look Into Your Eyes”, which of course has all the couples in the audience groping each other… This was soon put to rest with the rocker “Overnight Sensation” which is a wicked head-banger of a track. Keeping the hits coming, we then slowed back down to fit in “Love Of A Lifetime” and sadly the set closed way too soon with “Don’t Treat Me Bad”. Something is wrong when a 3rd tier band like JSRG can make it to the main stage and have time for nine songs, while a top tier act like FireHouse only gets time for six songs. Hello M3 organizers are you listening? My score for the superb FireHouse 9/10.

And We’re Done….

And at this point my M3 was done… huh? What the hell? No Twisted Sister? No Bret Michaels review? LOL, well, no. For the latter, you’d definitely have to buy me several 6-packs of a good IPA to get me to even consider listening to him. In fact I might just pour that IPA in my ears for Bret Michaels. Funny, I never noticed until now, if you shorten Bret Michaels you end up with B.M., which also stands for… Enough! No B.M. for me, not tonight or ever. There are plenty of other Poison cover/tribute bands, that another one is unnecessary.

So why no Twisted Sister? We had already decided to head up to New Jersey for the Old Bridge Militia Reunion show on the next weekend featuring Twisted Sister, Raven, Anvil, The Rods and TT Quick, so we knew we were going to see Twisted Sister a short seven days later, and what a killer line-up the rest of the bill indeed! So, we decided that a tactical retreat to a civilized dinner would be a better way to close the evening. On reflection we could have probably stayed for a couple of T.S. numbers, but all the reports were they nailed it and were one of highlights of the weekend. I totally believe it. I will report from the Old Bridge Militia show.

As for B.M. I am so pleased we didn’t even get a whiff of the ol’ bandana himself. From the fact that he felt he could keep the crowd waiting and come on late, to the Skynyrd cover and the fact he only delivered eight songs, it all leaves me with a sense of relief that I was in a ‘not crowded’ bar knocking back Guinness with some good friends and eating a decent meal at that time. I bet the temperature had dropped something wicked too…

So, closing thoughts? For me Loudness, FireHouse, Love/Hate and Steelheart (in that order) took the day, though I should probably award Twisted Sister a virtual tie with Loudness. Unfortunately this year was a definite step down compared to last year, and that in itself was a step down from the previous, so there is a slide in the wrong direction taking place. M3 needs to step it up next year, or we can begin to count the event out pretty soon. My overall score for day 2 was again a 5/10. It might have been lower had I actually suffered to hear any of B.M., so be thankful!

M3Day2 007

Jizzy Pearl – Love/Hate

Steelheart

Steelheart

Loudness

Loudness

Loudness

Loudness

Akira - Guitar God

Akira – Guitar God

Michael Foster - FireHouse

Michael Foster – FireHouse

M3Day2 027

CJ Snare – FireHouse

M3Day2 030

Bill Leverty – FireHouse

M3Day2 031

Allen McKenzie – FireHouse

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