Archive for May, 2014

Rubicon Cross – Live Review – H.O.M.E. Bar, Chicago (5/15/14)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on May 23, 2014 by novametalreview

I think it fair to say if I had heard myself say I was going to take two days off work, fly 700 miles to see a band that hadn’t released it’s first record, for their debut gig, with a billing third on a bill out of three, I think I would have thought I’d been drinking at the very least! I mean even writing that down now it looks a little nutty! However, any of you regular readers of the blog here will know I have been following and promoting Rubicon Cross for quite a while now, so the fact that Michelle and I did exactly the trip described above will come as no surprise. I believe we witnessed a new chapter in metal history – not by turning a page, but by tearing the book open and shoving a whole wad of blank paper ready for the Rubicon Cross story to be written in large bold font!

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First a quick recap for those who have avoided my previous write-ups on Rubicon Cross. On vocals we have the incomparable CJ Snare (yes, the one and same from FireHouse), however in this setting CJ is reaching back to his metal roots that sit firmly on a foundation of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the Scorpions. On lead guitar we find Chris Green (Furyon, Pride and currently Tyketto) who must truly be regarded as a future candidate to anoint the cover of Guitar Player magazine, read on for more… The second guitar spot is admirably filled by Jeff Lerman-Bones, a new name and face, but able to hold his own with Chris, which is no mean feat. On bass Simon Farmery (Pride) fills the bottom end, with the line-up completed with Robert Behnke (Seventh Omen) on the drums.

The debut self-titled CD was due to drop on May 19th, just four short days following the gig, so the excitement and general buzz surrounding the band was already peaking, with a strong publicity campaign reaching out to radio, the internet and magazines. This gig was what I will call a creature of opportunity, with Fozzy headlining – Simon had previously stepped in on bass at relatively short notice for them, so a call to the very accommodating Chris Jehrico secured an opening slot at the Chicago date on the Fozzy country-wide tour. Chicago is essentially the Rubicon Cross hometown, so this was as close to perfect for the band as possible.

The gig took place at H.O.M.E Bar in Arlington Heights, Chicago, so first a word or two on the venue. This venue is some 30 minutes or so from Downtown, so a bit of hike from the city itself, and is somewhat innocuously hidden in a strip mall, so there was no great sense of anticipation walking through the door, into what on the surface seems like any one of thousands of other sports bars around the USA. However, at the rear of the bar area, a couple of doors lead into a very nicely sized performance venue, that I would guess at max capacity could hold 1500 people or so. The stage is a great size and a nice height (perhaps raised 4 feet from the floor level) with an excellent sound system.

The doors opened a little later than the scheduled 7PM, perhaps around 7.20PM or so, and we secured a spot just left of center stage. Over the next 40 minutes or so the venue continued to fill and by 8PM (kick-off time for Rubicon) I would estimate there were around 500 people ready to be rocked. I believe this was easily the most people present throughout the whole evening, and by the time Fozzy took the stage the crowd had dwindled to perhaps 300 or so (least anyone think I’m playing favorites here, I thought Fozzy delivered a great performance and Chris Jehrico is a great front-man, and really worked the crowd over). Of course the attendance for Rubicon was boosted by the fact it was their debut performance and they are essentially local, but there aren’t many openers that can draw the biggest crowd of the evening when put up against a national touring act.

 

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Shortly after 8PM, Rubicon Cross took to the stage and with a rumble from the bass, we saw Chris Green bent over the front of his amp stack from which he drew a harmonic howl of feedback from his PRS guitar that screamed business from the very first moment. With a four count from Robert on the high-hat, the band came off the starting grid like a Formula One race car, all cylinders firing, gas-pedal to the floor – they opened with “Locked & Loaded” which is also the opening track off the album, and with only 25 seconds having passed, Chris delivered the first lead-off solo with such fluid confidence and poise that it was hard to compute that this was their debut gig. In a clever piece of showmanship, the track drew to a hard stop at the climax of the solo, with CJ Snare leaping on to the stage, with a yell of “What’s up Chicago!” and they were into the track, sounding heavy, tight and melodic – and therein lies the crux that makes this band different. There is a crushing heaviness to the underlying songs, but this is more than offset by the “damn-that’s-catchy” melody that runs through the vocal lines. Many of you reading this who already have the CD will understand this, but this point is doubly evident in a live setting.

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CJ sounded instantly recognizable, but with a much harder, meaner edge to his vocal delivery. If anyone was under the impression that FireHouse is CJ’s wheelhouse comfort zone, they will have their illusions shattered at their first Rubicon Cross concert, because to my ears this is where CJ is at home. The songs sit in a lower register, giving him the ability to use his full vocal range.

In my review of the CD, those paying attention should recall my comment on the jaw-droppingly-wicked guitar run that followed the end of the first chorus in “Locked & Loaded” and I was intrigued to see what Chris would do – silly me – he just about melted the frets off with a twisting arppegiated run which totally had me grinning from ear to ear. Rubicon had brought their own sound engineer (Brendan Seven) and he had the venue rocking, despite only being given time for a short ½ song sound check pre-gig. At this point I was able to take a breath and take in the rest of the band. Simon on bass is just a bad-ass, locking down the rhythm with Robert on the drums – truth be told he is a monster behind the kit. There’s an element of caged animal about Robert back there to be honest. He hits so hard and with such a passion, you can literally see the energy he’s delivering. Jeff over on stage right, was also totally laying it down, and the twin-guitar attack, coupled with Simon’s gritty bass lines is where the core power behind the band comes from.

“Kill Or Be Killed” was the second track of the night and on the CD I think this comes over as the heaviest track on the album, and this has a killer riff which just tears at you. At this point I think the band themselves realized, debut gig or not, this was crushing, and you could sense the pure exhilaration flowing off the stage. Naturally any band delivering their debut performance has an element of nerves, but this was not a factor here – it was time to rock out. I must stop and acknowledge the knocked-me-off-my-feet solo that Chris delivered in this track. I swear it was note perfect to the solo that is on the CD which is nuts – if you’ve heard the CD you’ll see why I say this.

The third track we were treated to is the song that started it all; the first track CJ and Chris wrote together, “Moving On” and the verse definitely comes across as much heavier live. It comes over with a bit more swagger and sleaze, when compared directly to the album version and this may be down to the lack of the acoustic guitar parts when played live. By this point, those people in the crowd who didn’t know anything about Rubicon Cross were convinced – I heard many comments behind me saying things like “These guys are amazing”, “They are destroying” and “Where are they from? They’re so good!”.

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The fourth track is one of my personal favorites, “My Next Worst Enemy” and this is a seriously catchy song. I can’t get the image out of my mind of this being played at a large festival and seeing the whole crowd rocking out and singing along with this. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the backing vocals contributed by Jeff, Simon and Chris – these really add a lot to the melodic aspect in a live setting and it would be cool to see this brought more to the fore – but let’s not forgot this was their debut gig!

“Bleed With Me” was dedicated to the men and women of the US Armed Forces and is a killer song. I noticed a really nice arppegiated part under the second verse, which on the record is played on keyboards, I believe, but Chris ripped it on the guitar – very nice. I also really liked the way CJ got into it with the crowd as he introduced the band. This was definitely the heavy metal, ‘full-metal-jacket’ CJ Snare.

After some frivolities involving pints of Guinness that seemed to disappear in less than 3 seconds, the set closer was cleverly chosen to be “You Will Remember Me” which of course was the intended message. This track opens with a nice dual guitar harmony line from Chris and Jeff that kicks in and flows into a very nice lead off solo. In fact this song is a guitar players dream with the main solo that was truly blinder; there aren’t really words that could do it justice, so you will just have to witness it for yourself. The version on the CD is close, but the live version was stunning. CJ tore into this song with growl and closed with a classic heavy metal scream the tore the roof off – and with that it was done. With a set time that ran just about 40 minutes, Rubicon Cross had their first show under their belt.

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So, let me take a step back and gather myself for a moment of reflection. Individually every person on the stage acquitted themselves with honor. Jeff over on stage right brought power to each track that ensured the energy level never dropped through the solo sections when Chris was off doing his thing. Simon on bass was cranking it out and I was a big fan of his bass sound on the night. Robert was just a monster behind the drum kit and I stick by my caged animal statement of earlier. CJ Snare brought the voice to the band and there was an intensity to his whole being that I have never seen at a FireHouse show. Here, with Rubicon Cross, CJ was the hunter, armed and dangerous and looking for prey.

So am I forgetting someone? Not at all. If I draw back to the roots of melodic metal, there are nearly always characters that are the lynchpin to a band’s success – Deep Purple had Blackmore, for the Scorpions/UFO it was Michael Schenker, Ozzy Osbourne with Randy Rhoads, Dokken with George Lynch, and I could go on. In the case of Rubicon Cross I believe this is the role Chris Green has stepped into (Haha! No pressure, eh!). Clearly the writing partnership of Snare/Green is the fundamental to the existence of the band, so we should take that as read, but the performance contribution of Chris in a live setting is critical to delivering what can be found on the album. What we saw on the 15th was that expectation delivered.

Chris has talent and technique flowing through his very being, but without wanting to come across as too much of a fawning fanboy, as indicated previously, the very first feedback induced scream from his PRS was a statement of intent, and what followed was a jaw-dropping display of outstanding guitar playing. The icing on the cake is it isn’t overblown; there aren’t any widdle-widdle-look-at-me antics, just great guitar playing that sits in the context of the songs. I currently have a relatively short list of modern guitar players that I hold in high regards; Dario Lorina, Patrick Abbate and Rick Plester spring to mind, but I have to put Chris a good head and shoulders beyond these guys. I mentioned it earlier and will say it again – if we don’t see Chris on the cover of Guitar Player magazine in the next 24 months, then there is something seriously wrong with the world.

Quite simply, the gig was easily worth the trip and if we had missed it I think it is one of those I would have regretted for a very, very long time. During the gig, CJ noted that those in attendance were “…getting in on the ground floor”, and I absolutely agree. The thing is I believe there are many floors that Rubicon Cross will rise past on the way up from here out. Of course there is one obvious complaint: I wanted a longer set, but that was out of their hands. To score this is simple: 10/10

You can get the album at:

Best Buy: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/rubicon-cross-deluxe-only–best-buy-with-bonus-tracks-poster-cd/6017091.p?id=3220147&skuId=6017091
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rubicon-Cross/dp/B00JHPRIAE

– Neil Waterman

(Photo credits: Mostly Michelle Waterman and some me!)

 

 

 

 

 

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Rubicon Cross – Rubicon Cross – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on May 19, 2014 by novametalreview
Rubicon Cross

Rubicon Cross

Those of you that follow this site will be pretty familiar with the name Rubicon Cross since I have been talking about them one way or another since early 2013, but finally the lid comes off, with the release of the debut full-length CD and in many ways it is a relief to finally be able to get these words out in public. The story behind the band and getting to this point is a little different from many, so please forgive me a paragraph or two while a set the scene here.

The two original protagonists first met back in 2003, so clearly this isn’t a flash-in-the-pan project, but something that has matured over quite some time. First we need to rewind 11 years to Madrid, Spain, where a relatively unknown band from the UK called Pride was supporting FireHouse. After seeing Chris Green (guitar, Pride) on stage, CJ Snare (who, of course, is the vocalist for FireHouse) approached him and asked if he might be interested in playing guitar on his “solo project”, which indeed is where this whole idea originated. The story winds it’s way forward, but becomes one of great friendship, best men at weddings, and lots of Guinness and Indian curry.

While the vast majority will know CJ from the massively successful FireHouse and may have him somewhat pigeon-holed as a somewhat lighter, dare I say it, “hair-metal” vocalist that brought two top ten hits in the shape of the ballads “When I Look Into Your Eyes” and “Love Of A Lifetime”, there is a much heavier foundation to CJ, built on classic metal such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the Scorpions. Indeed prior to FireHouse, CJ fronted Maxx Warrior and Scrap Metal, both much heavier outfits. While FireHouse is still a very active band, the urge to get some of that ‘heavy’ out is at the root of what became Rubicon Cross.

The first track penned by the duo was “Moving On”, which was written in a tiny bedsit apartment in Brighton in the UK (which coincidentally is the town where I spent much of my youth hanging out in rock clubs and playing guitar in a long list of pub and club level bands… small world, eh?). That track proved the mash-up of some seriously heavy guitar, overlaid with a dose of heavy but melodic vocals would ‘fit’, and over time another three tracks were written and polished up to bring about the limited edition EP, released in 2011, containing “Moving On”, “Next Worst Enemy” and “Shine”.

While all this was taking place, some pretty fundamental changes took place on a personal level leading to Chris to move to the USA, which made working on the project a good deal easier. The reaction to the EP was overwhelmingly positive despite the limited promotion and relatively straightforward production. It was clear there was massive potential. The project gained the name Rubicon Cross, which is a re-ordering of the saying “crossing the Rubicon”, meaning the point of no return, which in this context is more of a reflection on the mindset of the project team – onwards and upwards!

The EP success was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, and the “project” quickly became Rubicon Cross, the “band”. In another of those “small world” coincidences, the bass player from Pride, Simon Famery, had also moved to the USA sometime previously and ended up living no more than 20 miles from Chris, who had settled in Chicago. Simon was coopted to become the third member. Plans were made to record the album, this time going all in, with a full-up studio production at Black Dog Studios under the guidance of Rick Beato, who carries an impressive resume including: Shinedown, Needtobreathe, Crossfade, Trey Anastasio, Stuck Mojo, Charlie Mars. Bullet for My Valentine, Dark New Day, Boys Like Girls, Von Grey, Parmalee, Desmond Child and Vince Neil.

The band was completed with the addition of two-time Grammy nominated “Seventh Omen” drummer Robert Behnke and Jeff Lerman-Bones on second guitar. We were fortunate to see the band play at a rehearsal session almost a year ago, back in June 2013 – you can read my thoughts here > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-5a.

Finally we’re up to date, at least for all the most important milestones in the history of the band, so I can now turn my attention to the CD. Depending on exactly what version you end up with you will find ten tracks or twelve with the deluxe version that includes two acoustic remixes. I believe the Deluxe version is only available via Best Buy, and includes the lyrics and poster of the band > http://www.bestbuy.com/site/rubicon-cross-deluxe-only–best-buy-with-bonus-tracks-poster-cd/6017091.p?id=3220147

The album opens with “Locked & Loaded” which immediately comes out swinging, with a veritable barrage from the drums and a tight and heavy riff from the guitars, but at around the 12 second mark, at a point most will have barely had time to take a breath, the first blistering solo (of many to come!) hits you ((smack!!)) between the ears… this is but a taste of what is yet to come, but as a lead-off, throw-down, I think most would agree, you can tell we’re in for a classy-but-wild ride. As soon as the solo peaks, the verse kicks in and the immediately recognizable, but…wait…harder and meaner vocals of CJ Snare grab your attention. I’m going to get this out of the way right now; if anyone comes to this record expecting a FireHouse clone or similar, then give up now. This is an entirely different beast and not a tame one. FireHouse records have FireHouse music – this is Rubicon Cross.

CJ sounds like he is having fun here and the chorus rips, with the whole band in face-melting mode – and be sure to listen out to the bass line from Simon here. Next highlight for me comes when the track clock hits 1 minute 17s, with an absolutely ridiculous guitar run up the neck from Chris – the evidence from the intro solo and this little sample of outrageous fret burning is enough to convince pretty much anyone that Chris Green has thrown the glove down here – the next guitar hero? Hard to argue really… And we haven’t even gotten to the main solo yet, which includes some really beautifully executed melodic arpeggios amongst other fun stuff. Very tasty indeed.

Up next is “Next Worse Enemy” which just slaps you in the face when it kicks in to reveal a slightly slower paced track that features some of my favorite lyrics from the album. How’s this for a line or two: “I’ve been a victim of hit and run, serial monogamy. The one I love, my best friend, is my next worst, next worst enemy” – the lyrics overall are all very good and reflect various life experiences, good and bad. I really like the breakdown section of this song, that features the drums and CJ immediately following the solo.

The track that follows is “Bleed With Me” which was released as the video for the record a few short weeks back, so a few more of you may be familiar with this. Again, make sure you listen out for the wicked bass line that sits under the verse. The video can be seen here: http://youtu.be/dFneEfoJbn8. The solo in this track is a stunner and leads off with a feedback-induced howl, but the 32 seconds that follow are a showcase of Chris Green signature licks. The most important thing that strikes me after hearing this record many times over is the complete lack of extravagance and while, yes, this is heavy metal record, so you want and expect blistering solos and wild vocal performances, there is none of the smug “hey, look at me” guitar-virtuoso, widdle-widdle, that so many great players can fall into, accidentally or otherwise. In fact I think that is the essence of the success this album undoubtedly is – everything, vocals, guitars, bass and drums are cranked to ‘11’, but not a touch beyond. It’s a perfect storm of performance.

Track four takes the pace down, and is perfectly timed to give the listener a chance to re-group and take stock, with the very emotive “Save Me Within” which is a very personal tribute to the passing of Chris’ father, and addresses the mortality that we all have to face at some point through our lives. The lilting mix of 6- and 12-string guitar in the verse provides a very poignant counter-point to the soaring chorus. I’m sure the day this is played live will be a very emotional and powerful experience.

Lest anyone gets a little too chilled, “You Will Remember Me” is a slap-in-the-face-with-a-frozen-fish of a wake-up. The intro features a very melodic harmony that permeates the whole record in fact. While there is no doubt we the overall tone is a very modern up-front sound, underlying the whole thing is something that too many modern bands and records seem to have forgotten – melody. While smash-you-in-the-face riffs and vocals surely have impact, you can only try that so many times until it gets painful; the melody here serves to round off those rough edges, such that you want to come back over and over. While this particular song was written some time in the past, CJ’s recent personal life seems to be inextricably entwined with this song, having recent suffered through a divorce (which let me be clear he has mentioned in several recent interviews, lest I be seen as some demonic rumor-monger!). I’m sure there is some added vigor when it comes to this song live as a result!

I’m not going to play-by-play dissect the remaining tracks here because I want you all to go out and buy a copy… but “Moving On” mentioned earlier, should be recognized as the first track that Chris and CJ wrote together, which was really the litmus test as to how this whole experience was going to work out (or not…). The result was an immediate discovery that the synergy between the two was exceptional and brought two worlds together – the hard-edged modern energy driven metal, with a heavy dose of melodic “pixie dust”. Track seven, “R U Angry” is another relational couch-session, that again seems to reflect recent life events in the Rubicon Cross camp, but this track has a harder edge. “Shine” is perhaps the closest to the sort of track that some might have been expecting, and is the only song I can say might have made onto a FireHouse record. “Kill Or Be Killed” is a much harder edged track and has CJ in full-metal-jacket mode. This is perhaps the heaviest out-right rocker to be found here. To close we have the much less serious sounding “All The Little Things”. This might be the most immediate sounding track in the record and throws a sort of punky twist to the whole thing, excepting the solo, which is another ripper.

So there we have it. The over-arching impression here is that this CD brings a freshness to the table, and addresses something that seems to have been missing from a lot of recent metal – melody. There’s been a lot of power, a lot of edge, and even a resurgence of technique (which seemed to be a bad ingredient for a good while), but Rubicon Cross bring another dimension and that undoubtedly is this mash-up of the best of modern heavy metal, with melody, leaving songs that stick in your head, songs that you want to hear again, the sort of songs you want to hear live, and when you do, you know they are going to crush! My score for the album is a very easy 9.8/10 and so far is album of the year for me.

Update: Live review of the debut Rubicon Cross performance (5/15/14) from H.O.M.E. Bar, Chicago coming very soon!

 

 

 

 

M3 Festival 2014 – Keel, Jack Russel’s Great White, Stryper, Red Dragon Cartel, Queensryche, Autograph, Sebastian Bach, LA Guns, Night Ranger, Tesla – Concert Review – Day 2 (4/26/14)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2014 by novametalreview

The second day of the M3 Festival can be a bit of a marathon, running from just before 12 Noon through to 11PM late in the evening, so it is important to try to pace things. Although the organizers tout two non-overlapping stages, the reality is they do overlap, so it is important to pay attention to the bands you really want to see, and let those you are less interested in go. Sometimes it feels like you are missing out, and indeed you are, but planning is essential. Now, this is a LONG piece and I contemplated splitting it up, but just like the day itself, the length is a reflection of the event. If you can’t be bothered to read this, then you probably would not enjoy the festival!

First, a little rewind, if you missed my review of Day 1 you can find it here > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-6A . This contains some of the background info on the festival, so is probably worth a read. Fortunately the weather forecast for Day 2 was a good bit better than the previous day, though as you will see, not totally unblemished. For most this was not a big deal, but again I will say take note M3 organizers!

Since it is nearly impossible to see all the bands and do them full justice, I have “borrowed” a line or two from another blogger and all round metal nut, Steve Wass, for the bands I missed – you can find a link to his review of Day 2 at the end of my waffle.

So, grab yourself a fresh cup of coffee, tea or even a cold beer and see what M3 2014 Day 2 brought us:

Heaven’s Edge – Festival Stage

These guys opened Day 2 and despite several friends who mentioned they were worth a look, I had absolutely no reference for them and decided that we would pass, in favor of a good breakfast and making sure we were in our seats for Keel who were on my list. The following is taken verbatim from Steve’s blog (see end for link): “Their sound was spot on, and their coordinated rock moves were bar none the best of the whole day. They would synchronize their rockin’ movements for many songs, and for the first band of the day, they set the bar VERY high.  The crowd reaction seemed really strong, especially for a C or D level hair band.” I think they have released two CDs, so if I happen across them I will check them out, but I’m certainly not suffering for not seeing them.

Keel – Pavilion Stage

When Ron Keel left “Steeler” (late ’83) he had already left a legacy that is part of heavy metal history (Steeler was the lauch pad for shred master Yngwie Malmsteen), but the first three Keel albums are also classics and in particular the second, “The Right To Rock” (1985), is a great hard rock record, so the chance to see Keel was one not to be missed. Keel are now reformed with original members Ron Keel, Marc Ferrari and Brian Jay, after coming apart in ’89. They aren’t playing a ton of shows, so take any opportunity you can to see them.

Keel were due to take to the stage at 12 Noon and they arrived on schedule, opening with “Somebody’s Waiting” from Keel (fourth release) and immediately it was clear that despite the early start, they were here to rock, sounding tight and giving it all they had, notwithstanding the less than full Pavilion seats. “Speed Demon” from The Right To Rock album came next and was solid and driven. Next up was a cover of the Patti Smith song, “Because The Night”, followed by another cover of the Rose Tattoo song “Rock N Roll Outlaw”. At the time, this didn’t seem a problem, but in retrospect it seems there are enough Keel songs that at least one of these covers seems unnecessary.

Keel closed their short six-song set with “Tears Of Fire” from The Final Frontier and then the anthem, “The Right To Rock”, which was exactly the right song to close with. All-in-all they did a fine job, and kicked the day off perfectly. I scored them a comfortable 7.5/10.

Keel were scheduled for a meet’n’greet in the VIP area at 1PM, so we made the decision to go hangout and get our LPs signed. As you can see from the pictures they were very accommodating and fun to meet.

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John Corabi – Festival Stage

The man that appeared to be everywhere after the show was over! There seem to be more John Corabi photo-bombs than anything else in our photo albums. Unfortunately due timing, we missed his set, so here’s what Steve had to report: “He sounded really good, pretty heavy. For not having heard pretty much any of his songs (well not remembering the Crue ones) I thought he was pretty great. There was one jam at the end that kind of meandered, but overall I was pleasantly surprised by him.”

 

Jack Russel’s Great White – Pavilion Stage

Due to the Keel meet’n’greet we missed most of this set, but caught the last two songs, which were the classic “Rock Me” from the Once Bitten album, which was then followed by the anthemic “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” song, which although being best know as a Great White song, is actually a cover, the original being written and performed by Ian Hunter from 1975. The band sounded tight and Jack Russel was in fine voice. No matter the health issues Jack has faced he is still a fine performer and worth checking out if you get the chance. Since we didn’t really see much of the set I’ll reserve scoring them.

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Femme Fatale – Festival Stage

Unfortunately I really had no interest in seeing Femme Fatale – in the short time they were originally active between 1987-1990, they only released one album, which included two fairly decent singles, which were both co-written with external writers… They did start work on a second album, but that project was abandoned and the band fell apart. Maybe this is unkind, but the band appeared to be an MTV video project to me, with little substance. The fact they reformed in 2013 with a 100% female line-up (which is NOT how the original band was composed at all), seems like a marketing move with little to do with the music. Perhaps I’m being overly jaded?

Anyway we didn’t see them, so here’s Steve’s assessment: “They seem to be Vixen V3.0, from a band with a female singer to one composed entirely of females.  I think Lorraine Lewis has a couple members of the Iron Maidens (Courtney Cox and Nita Strauss, both guitars), in her band now, actually. Unfortunately, all this girl (lady?) power was not very well appreciated by the crowd- they had a pretty lukewarm response. All this despite the very energetic front-woman running around in leathers, and even spraying pink silly-string on the crowd at one point (wtf?).… I felt bad for them giving a nice performance, but the crowd was clearly under-whelmed.”

Stryper – Pavilion Stage

The return of Stryper to the M3 main stage is a welcome one for me; their last appearance he in 2012 was a solid one, despite some complaints about their on-stage sound, which to be honest weren’t evident from out front. I’ve been a fan of Stryper since the first album, Soldiers Under Command, released back in 1985, and first saw them live on the To Hell With The Devil tour at Hammersmith Odeon in the UK back in 1987 and several times since. A lot of people seem to get hung up on their Christian message, but for me it is no more meaningful than say some of the lyrics you might find in an Ozzy or Slayer song, and musically they are way up there. Their harmony guitar work has always been such a strong signature sound.

Interesting to me at the time, Stryper spent a lot of time on-stage sound-checking their equipment immediately Great White’s gear was cleared, and the first thing I noticed, almost unbelievably, was Robert Sweet had his drum kit set-up conventionally, facing the crowd. As long as I can remember Robert has always had his kit rotated 90 degrees facing to the right, which was always rather ‘odd’ and referred to himself as a “visual time-keeper” which I must admit came across as rather goofy and lame – but not anymore it would seem. Somehow Robert seemed to look rather like a member of the Bee Gees, with his long dyed-blonde hair and dark beard…

Each member of the band sound-checked their equipment and Michael Sweet spent quite a bit of time making sure the on-stage monitor mix was to his liking. At the time it seemed overly cautious, but in a post-show interview I read that the previous M3 appearance was marred by very bad on-stage sound, so I guess they had made a point of making sure that didn’t happen again.

They opened the set with the crushing “To Hell With The Devil” and immediately the power and overall heaviness of this band was apparent. Michael Sweet never fails to come out strong and his vocals are always powerful and on key and this was no different. If anything, I think the vocal harmonies from the band were some of the best I’ve heard from the band. Guitar-wise Styper are always masterful and the harmony work between Robert Sweet and Oz Fox was outstanding.

The set was comprised mostly of old classics from Soldiers Under Command and To Hell With The Devil, until we got to the sixth track, “Shout It Out Loud”, which is a cover of the Kiss song. I know this was included on The Covering album, released in 2011, but to be honest this didn’t seem like it was necessary. Stryper have plenty of material to pull from and this isn’t a particularly good fit for the band.

Next up we had two new tracks from the latest 2013 release, No More Hell To Pay, with “Legacy” and the title track, both of which were solid. The set closed with “The Way” and then a crushing version of “Soldiers Under Command”, which I managed to snag on video here > http://youtu.be/1lXgAAibNuc . Overall this was easily the heaviest set of the day, and I score this 8.5/10.

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Red Dragon Cartel – Festival Stage

This is Jake E Lee’s new band after having disappeared off the face of the Earth for what seems like forever, following his departure from the Ozzy Osboune band (his firing is still not really explained as far as I can tell). Despite his efforts with his band Badlands which turned out a couple of solid albums in ‘89 and ’91, he basically dropped of the face of the Earth until resurfacing in early 2014, with Red Dragon Cartel.

The Red Dragon Cartel debut album is a bit of a mixed bag, with a collection of guest vocalists that really pull the record in so many directions it sort of feels torn apart, but there is clearly potential. Live, vocals are handled by Darren James Smith who I believe is the full time vocalist for the band, so this would be a good reveal for where this was heading.

We had to walk from the Pavilion up to the Festival stage, so we missed the beginning of the set, so we missed “The Ultimate Sin” which I would have been most familiar with and perhaps allowed me to gauge best what we were dealing with. I’m not sure what song was being played when we did arrive, but I have to say two key issues were evident; the first was the incredibly rough guitar sound from Jake himself, which I was totally not expecting. For me it was very under-driven, which leads to a fairly scratchy buzzy tone and really didn’t work for me. Secondly, I’m not really taken with the lead vocalist, Darren – to me, he just seems out of his depth.

Steve saw the whole set and came up with this: “I thought Jake sounded pretty great, but his singer was… off. I mean couldn’t you have found Joe Lynn Turner or Graham Bonnet? Mats Levin? Hell, anyone who used to sing for Yngwie or Ritchie Blackmore?”

From what I saw, this sounds generous, but I’m going to go just a little more positive than neutral here and score this performance 6/10. He only played six tracks total, so it was a pretty short set, and we had to scoot back to the Pavilion, because Queensryche were up next and they were way up my list of must see bands at the show.

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Queensryche – Pavilion Stage

So, for those paying attention to my site, you will already know I broke protocol and dedicated a full review to the performance by Queensryche, since it was simply so superb. You can find it here > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-6r. If you can’t be bothered to read this, then shame on you, but Queensryche were easily band of the day, and scored a perfect 10/10 performance.

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Autograph – Festival Stage

After the massive high from the Queensryche performance, we decided to take a leisurely wander up to catch Autograph. I have been a fan since 1984 when I first heard Sign In Please, but sort of lost track of them and only recently picked up That’s The Stuff and Loud And Clear which were the albums that followed the debut. All have great stuff on them, however, the core of the band was always Steve Plunknett (vocals/keyboards) who started the project as a solo effort. The band disbanded in 1989 and had a half-hearted attempt at a reunion in 2002, but soon went away again, until 2013. A reunion was discussed between the original members, but Steve wasn’t interested, so Steve Lynch (guitars) and Randy Rand (bass) both originals, recruited Simon Daniels on lead vocal and guitar and Marc Weiland (drums), leaving out what seems rather critical to me – namely the central core of so many Autograph songs – the keyboards. Hello? How can this work?

As we arrived at the Festival Stage, I heard songs I sort of recognized, I think “Loud And Clear” was in progress, but… it just didn’t have the melody I was used to hearing. This was followed by “Blondes In Black Cars” but again it just wasn’t working for me. Unfortunately, not only are the very characteristic vocals of Steve Pluknett missing, but also the keyboards, without which the songs just loose their melodic groove. All in all this was a pretty major disappointment – as I said I would have classed myself as an Autograph fan – and I’m sorry to say I scored this a limp 4/10.

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Sebastian Bach – Festival Stage

I wouldn’t call myself a big Seb Bach fan, but I think his solo albums have been pretty decent and I will continue to buy them, and of course the Skid Row legacy is never far from the surface, but having seen him once before I wasn’t massively pumped at the idea of him appearing higher on the bill above both Stryper and Queensryche. I genuinely believe Seb has his heart in the right place and is a rock’n’roll icon, but I really think he belongs in a kick-ass band – whether a Skid Row reformation with him out front is the right place isn’t clear. We made our way back from the let-down of Autograph toward the Pavilion, via the merchandise area, and my ears were already aware that Seb was sounding really loud… now don’t get me wrong, I am a hard core rock fan and like my concerts to read fairly high on the Richter scale, but something seemed out of whack here.

We found our way to our seats and my wife immediately got back up and headed for the lawn area, complaining it was way too loud. Now I was also thinking this, but thought I’d give them a bit more of a chance. However, I then realized my teeth were being rattled together… WTF? The low-bass was literally shaking me bodily. Now, in my day job I am a sound engineer (not for the music industry) and have various sound measurement apps on my phone that I use for work, so I fired up the sound level meter – the peak levels were reading 118.6dB! This is ridiculously loud for any environment, but we were about 50 feet from the speaker stacks, so the level will double with every halving of distance, so at 25 feet from the stacks the levels would have read 124dB, which is a damaging level. This is totally unnecessary and later in the day I measured levels of 113.1dB at our seats for bands that followed, which were perfectly loud, but not uncomfortably so.

I don’t know what the sound engineer for Bach was trying to do, but I also left and headed to the lawn. Even up there the levels were very loud, since there are additional speaker stacks on the Pavilion roof, but no additional subwoofers, so the balance wasn;t quite so overpowering. Eventually we moved all the way to the back of the Merriweather area beyond the lawn, and it was only then that the levels seemed reasonable.

Of the nine-song set Seb played, six of the numbers were Skid Row songs, which I guess is what the audience wanted to hear, but shouldn’t they have booked the band Skid Row if that’s what was in demand? I’m kind of conflicted here. Another song was a Painmuseum cover, which it seems Seb has played since 2005, but I’m not sure of the connection. There was two new tracks from his brand new album, “Give ‘Em Hell”, namely “Temptation” and the catchily named “All My Friends Are Dead”, but nothing at all from the previous solo records. I really think someone needs to give the sound guy a good talking to, because he ruined the set completely for me, but I’m scoring this a tame 6/10.

LA Guns – Festival Stage

We were already up near the Festival stage and have a great affection for LA Guns, so it was an easy decision to head over and get some good time rock’n’roll with Phil Lewis and co. We last saw the Guns last year, when they played our home town, Leesburg, VA, which found itself renamed to Sleezburg that night – they played a binder of a set that night and rarely disappoint.

They had a good long set that ran to eleven numbers, mostly made of their classics, which is a shame because the most recent album, Hollywood Forever, is an excellent record and with exceptionally good production and great songs – all we got was one track, “Eel Pie” – I wish they had included “You Better Not Love Me”.

Unfortunately the rain that had been forecast for later in the day, decided to pick the latter half of LA Guns set to arrive and then set in with a pretty decent downpour, which was obviously no fault of the band, but sent a good proportion of the crowd to head for the Pavilion (at least those with covered seats), so the band had the misfortune to see people leaving, which they really didn’t deserve. They closed with the obligatory “The Ballard Of Jayne”, which to be honest I could do without – I think it’s outlived it’s time, but I guess many fans are not so deep in the band and cling to the obvious songs they know.

To be honest, I’ve seen the band play much better than this and I’m sure the weather didn’t help at all, so I can only score this performance a 7.5/10.

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Night Ranger – Pavilion Stage

I was looking forward to seeing Night Ranger again on the Merriweather stage, since the last time I saw then here (July 2012 supporting the Scorpions) they turned in an almost perfect performance, however, being realistic, matching that performance was going to be hard, particularly in festival setting. There is a small element of irony in the line-up for this night, because Tesla were the support on all the Scorpions dates except that one gig back in 2012 and I was a little pissed off at not seeing Tesla – fortunately Night Ranger changed my mind.

So, Night Ranger came out swinging with the heavy hitting “Touch Of Madness”, but… uh oh, there’s a ‘but’ – my initial impression was they were on some level going through the motions. Yikes! I don’t know what it was tangibly, but it might have been more Brad Gillis individually, who didn’t seem connected with the show. My focus was on him since he can deliver such an existential performance when on his game, but my vibe this time wasn’t there. “Sing Me Away” followed and all the pieces of the jigsaw were there, but it just didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders – close, but not all.

The audience were certainly “with” the band and there was a lot of singing along, but lets remember it was now early evening and a lot of people had been sampling the (expensive) bars throughout the day – certainly there were several people in the near vicinity of our seats that were three sheets to the wind. Clearly this wasn’t the only reason, but it may have been one contributory factor. Jack Blades seemed to be talking quite a lot between songs also, which I didn’t recall being part of his normal routine.

Things took an interesting turn with the fifth number of the night, when they dug up “Coming Of Age” from the DamnYankees and followed this with a new number, “High Road”, from their forthcoming album of the same name. After a bit more chit-chat from Jack, we got “Eddie’s Comin’ Out Tonight” and then, surprise, another Damn Yankees song, this time a favorite of mine, “High Enough”, which they did nail very nicely. Perhaps it was just they needed to warm up, because the set seemed to switch up a gear, from this point out, particularly with Joel Hoekstra who seemed to step up. I still think Brad Gillis wasn’t giving it full throttle, but Brad at 3/5’s is still better than 99% of most guitarists. Perhaps I was spoiled last time around just too much!

You can see my video of “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”, which included a section where they morphed the song into the Deep Purple classic “Highway Star”, which was pretty cool. Even the standard, “Sister Christian”, which is a truly classic ballad, couldn’t take all the wind out of the sails and they finished strong with the audience pleasing “(You Can Still) Rock In America”. It wasn’t perfect, but it was solid – I scored it a decent 8/10.

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Slaughter – Festival Stage

I would have liked to have seen Slaughter, but the trek up to the Festival stage seemed just a hike too far at this point in the day, so we decided to make camp and stay in our seats and see what we could from the video feed that was being piped to the big screens. One MAJOR GRIPE with the organizers of M3 – why the hell don’t you pipe the audio feed from the Festival stage over the Pavilion? You run the video, so why not the audio? Do you really think people won’t bother walking over for bands they want to see? May be some won’t but so what?

So, we’re watching the feed and things seem to go a little screwy? I’m not sure at what point this was in the set, but Mark Slaughter disappeared into the crowd and soon after the drummer started dismantling his drum set and throwing parts of it across the stage. Now, I’ve had people tell me that’s what he does, but this seemed out of control. At one point he disappeared from the kit entirely. When he did come back more parts were throw around and Mark Slaughter was back, looking pretty pissed off to be honest. It wasn’t a happy vibe.

Remember we were only able to see the video, so may be it wasn’t how it looked but Steve who was over there reported the following: “Mark Slaughter took to the crowd for a song or two, which was odd because you could NOT see him on the big screens and there was no spotlight to focus on him.  Another odd point was when the drummer started to hit and dismantle his drumset and even throw pieces on the ground. I’m not really sure what he was trying to accomplish, but it was a bit unnerving. Not to mention the awkward roadie/drum tech trying to grab the pieces and try to restore the set.  Regardless, Mark Slaughter sounded pretty great- the high wails were pretty remarkable.  That was only half the story, because there seemed to be something off, among the drummer, Mark’s kind of odd stage performance (throwing picks out on like the first song, going to the crowd as above), and the short set.

Basically that’s exactly how it looked to us too – odd. I can’t even attempt to score this.

Tesla – Pavilion Stage

The last time we saw Tesla was back in 2008 at Rams Head in Baltimore and they basically blew the roof off the place, and ever since I have been looking forward to seeing them again, but somehow those planets refused to align. Not this time, and having them headline the Saturday night was a massive improvement over the lame Bret Michaels headline last year – this time around the majority of the audience actually bothered to stay and watch the band. I’ve never really classified Tesla as a “hairband” as such, since they always steered clear of image and let the music do the talking. It’s interesting because all I can really classify them as is a “hard rock band” with a “slight Southern twist” – anything more is easily rejected.

In reviewing their history, one fact that smacked me upside the head was that guitarist Frank Hannon was only 15 years old when he first teamed up with bassist Brian Wheat to form “City Kidd” in 1982, and of the five current members, four are original from the line-up from 1984 onwards, which is really when the band really came together, adopting the name “Tesla” in ’86, more or less coincidentally with the release of their debut record, “Mechanical Resonance”, which went on to become a platinum selling disc.

The only change to the original line-up was the replacement of Tommy Skeoch (guitar) by Dave Rude in 2006, originally under the pretense of “spending more time with his family”, but it seems it was more related to substance abuse perhaps, but the core character of the band remains to this day. Tesla currently list 10 studio albums, but they have a new CD due for release within the next month or so.

Work on stage revealed Tesla had a fairly nice looking stage set, but nothing over the top, and as 9.45PM ticked around down went the lights…

They opened with “I Wanna Live” from Forever More (2008) and immediately the sound was good, the band sounded tight and most important to me was Jeff Keith’s vocals were spot on. He has lost none of the unique character that makes Tesla’s sound so identifiable. Next they rolled out “Hang Tough” and it was clear they had come to take care of business, sounding both heavier than on record, but very, very tight. The guitar playing from Frank Hannon was spot on and I would say he’s a pretty underrated player overall.

They powered through “Heavan’s Trail (No Way Out)” from The Great Radio Controversy, “Mama’s Fool” from Bust A Nut, and then “Into The Now” from Twisted Wires & the Acoustic Sessions… and then we met something new from the forthcoming album (called Simplicity) with a track called “MP3 (Too Much Technology)” – this definitely had the Tesla signature sound, but on first pass the lyrics seemed a little… how can I put this… twee… but may be it’s a “grower”? I reserve judgment for now, though I think the message they are trying to get across is pretty much spot-on. Next up was “The Way It Is” (TGRC) and then we met a change of pace, with the acoustically opened “What You Give”, followed by “Love Song”, which is just a beautiful song and it was performed perfectly.

The set closed out with a great version of “Signs”, an absolutely stormin’ version of “Modern Day Cowboy” and closed with “Little Suzi” which had the crowd singing every word. Basically they didn’t miss a beat and crafted a perfect set list. As the last time I saw them, I was left wanting to see them again – hopefully it won’t take another 6 years for them to come around again. My score for Tesla a solid 9/10.

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After-show Fun

This review is already monumentally long, so briefly:

Todd La Torre (Queensryche) – super nice, met him on the way into the hotel, snapped a pic or two and signed the M3 poster.

Eddie Jackson (Queensryche) – also super nice and seemed genuinely interested in what the fans think. Was hanging out in the hotel bar.

Michael Wilton (Queensryche) – had a great chat with him in the hotel bar. Seems very positive on all aspects of the bands future.

Parker Lundgren (Queensryche) – was a bit rushed in the hotel bar, but managed to snag a “selfie” with him! Met him again at Clyde’s.

Oz Fox (Styper) – had a cool chat with him about his online guitar tuition video courses in the hotel bar.

Robert Mason (Warrant) – hanging out at Cylde’s.

John Corabi – he was everywhere. No matter where you looked, there was Corabi…!

Eddie Trunk – sort of ran into him in the hotel lobby. Of course Corabi was there too, telling fun tales that had my wife and Eddie in fits of laughter.

Troy Luccketta (Tesla – Drums) – was in the hotel lobby.

 

Final thoughts – the line-up this year was strong and better than the previous year by a good lot. The organizers need to hold this about 4 weeks later in the year, since the weather is a big deal for this kind of venue. Extreme held the honors for “Best of Day1”, while Queensryche took “Best of Day2” and “Best Overall” with a superb performance. Given the news the following day that they had retained the name, I suspect this was a performance based on knowing they have a strong future and could put the legal wrangling behind them – and good on them! We’ll be back next year! \m/

– Neil Waterman

Thanks to Steve Wass for the additional review material – you can find his full blog site right here > http://heavymetalcowboysteve.blogspot.com/

 

 

M3 Festival 2014 – Winger, Lita Ford, Extreme – Concert Review – Day 1 (4/25/14)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2014 by novametalreview

The sixth year for the two-day M3 Festival and they took a gamble with the dates… and basically lost. The M3 Festival is held in Columbia, Maryland and pretty much anyone who lives in the MD/VA/DC area raised their eyebrows when the dates for M3 were first announced… April! Really? It can be damn cold in Maryland in April, even if it is the end of April. As it turned out, we had snow here only a few short weeks back, so my eye was on the weather as the show date approached. Dang it! Rain was forecast with about an 80% certainty for the Friday night and 30% for Saturday, and both came true, though the downpour on Friday really sucked, as it caught pretty much everyone since it rained from about 4.30PM (doors open time) to about 8PM or so. Hopefully this is a lesson learned for the organizers.

A quick recap, for those that don’t know what M3 is, or who (shamefully) didn’t read my review of the show last year… M3 is perhaps *the* defacto 80’s/90’s hairband festival in the country and takes place in the organically pleasing Merriweather Post Pavilion concert venue, in Columbia, Maryland. According to Billboard magazine, Merriweather is the second best amphitheater in the USA and I really like the venue. I don’t know what the attendance figures were for this years show, but it was stated they were the highest ever for any M3. The max capacity for the Merriweather site is 19,319, and I’m sure it wasn’t sold out, but there were a lot of people there, a very big lot! This is good.

The show runs over two days, with the Friday evening kicking off with the doors opening at 4.30PM, and the first of five bands starting at 5.10PM. All the bands play on the main pavilion stage on Friday, while on Saturday, an additional stage, called the Festival Stage, is set-up toward the opposite back of the site from the Pavilion, giving a near continuous stream of music alternating between the two. I will cover the fun and frivolities from Saturday in Part 2 of this review, but for now I’m going to focus on Friday.

So, the line-up for Friday was five bands, starting with a youngster school age group called “Bad Seed Rising” who we managed to completely miss unfortunately. Word was they did a fine job. ‘Nuff said. So in the following I will cover Winger, Lita Ford and Extreme. Wait, that only accounts for four bands… what about the fifth? Groan. Somehow, it has become cast in stone that Kix (who are local, originating from Baltimore, MD), will play Friday night, headlining all years, except last year, when W.A.S.P. took the honors. Now, I have no significant axe to grind with Kix or their music – but, it is evident that once you have seen Kix play one show, you have seen pretty much all their shows. Let me guess, there will be a lot of lame jokes between songs, balloons and a set built around the same core songs that fail to set my heart racing as they played last year, the year before that and before that… since they were playing last, it was the perfect opportunity to leave early, and establish a defensive position at the bar! A much more worthy way to spend their set time. Apologies to those diehard Kix fans, but this is my blog and I decide!

Winger

OK, since this is a festival review I really will skip my usual historical insight into the band that I tend to lead off with, and simply say that Kip Winger is one of those musical geniuses that has done far more than most people would ever realize, despite the first two Winger albums both reaching and exceeding platinum status. He has co-written a lot of songs, including the Kix track “Midnite Dynamite” – ah ha, a local connection!

The latest Winger album (“Better Days Comin’”) was released earlier this month and had arrived just the morning of this show, so it was and still is relatively new to me, but it was already clear after just a couple of spins that this was a much less heavy record than the previous CD (“Karma”) which I thought was an outstanding record. As it stands right now I am still trying to make up my mind about the new one. Most people have been giving it decent praise, but I certainly need more spins to make sense.

So, Winger were effectively the first band of the day, and took to the stage with a number off Karma called “Pull Me Under” which is a good paced rockin’ track. In reality they made it look easy, with Kip dominating the center of the stage on bass and lead vocal, Reb Beach on lead guitar, John Roth on 2nd guitar and Rod Morgenstein on drums. Reb Beach is a seriously good guitar player and checking out some of the video from the show only re-enforces that position. He played some very nice hammer-on arpeggios that seemed to reach from one end of the neck to the other at times.

They managed to fit one new song into the nine song set, this being “Rat Race” from Better Days Comin’ which is one of the more up tempo numbers from the record, with the remaining seven coming from the first three albums. In particular “Easy Come Easy Go”, “Heading For A Heartbreak” and the closing pair of “Madalaine” and the classic “Seventeen” stuck in my mind. It wasn’t an outstanding performance in any way, but nevertheless a lot of fun and high on entertainment value – a solid 8/10 for me and a good start.

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Lita Ford

I have to be honest; when I saw the running order for the show I was a little troubled by having Lita follow Winger. I’ve seen Lita Ford a couple of times previously in small club settings and while she is a fun entertainer, I was never convinced of her as a lead vocalist. I get it that the Runaways legacy is a significant feather in her cap, but it isn’t a get out of jail free card, and let’s not forget she was the guitarist… and even here I think “competent” is a fair label. Many reading this may not agree, but side-by-side, in a blind listening test, I think you’d be hard pushed to pick Lita Ford over a very, very long list of other guitarists. Unfortunately, this seemed to come to a head during this show.

Her set opened with “The Bitch Is Back” which would have been fine, except it completely lost that initial impact since her radio mic wasn’t on… Yes, I know it’s not really her fault, but when you’re the one standing at the front of the stage pulling fish-out-of-water impressions it’s hard to see past that. Eventually after what seemed more than a few seconds that was sorted out. My next niggle was her guitar sound seemed horribly raw, which might work for some players, but these days it’s very easy to find a nice effects unit that can just tighten everything up and add a little polish. One other thing; for some reason Lita was wearing some kind of fingerless glove on her right hand, which was a great distraction to me – it just looked goofy.

To be fair, there were three other musicians up on stage with her, but I have no idea who they were, but they were not the same band I had seen previously, I’m pretty sure. The bass player and drummer were perfectly competent and I can’t really fault them for anything, except they have completely erased themselves from my mind. The was also another guitarist up there, sporting a Les Paul, but again, all I can say is one word: adequate. I don’t really understand it; I’m sure Lita Ford could assemble a pretty kick-ass band around her if she wanted, but unless I am completely missing the point this wasn’t the case.

There was a small ray of light when after the fourth song of the set, the “big surprise” was revealed (this had been hinted at after the first song); she was joined on stage by Cherie Curie, lead singer of the Runaways. This had the potential to lift things up a good bit, but unfortunately it really didn’t. Now, least any of you reading this think I am being completely unfair, take a look for yourself. The following link isn’t my recording, but is from someone in roughly the 4th or 5th row > http://youtu.be/EY4knbS-Pn8 (apologies for the drunk commentary from whoever was filming this!). What really bugged me during this part of the set was an inordinate amount of what seemed like sucking up to each other. You can see and hear it for yourself in the video.

If you do watch the video you will see why I’m coming down so hard on the guitar playing from Lita – check out around 7 mins 28 secs in with a real clanger and the well iffy guitar solo at 11 mins 22 secs. After four songs with Cherie Curie, we were treated to what might just be the absolutely worst moment of the 2014 M3 Festival… The song “Close Your Eyes Forever” on record is an absolute classic, what we were treated to at M3 was perhaps one of the biggest train wrecks I’ve seen on such a prestigious stage. In the video this song starts at about 13 minutes and 28 seconds. If you can make through to the twin guitar solo at 16 minutes 40 seconds and keep the video playing you are a brave one indeed – unfortunately Lita’s guitar is out of tune from the very beginning, which in this day and age is a beginners mistake, but the solo is the epitome of all that was wrong with this performance: the attempted harmony solo is destroyed by the mistuning and I’d venture howling street cats would have more melody. Sorry, but I say it, the way I see it. Ouch.

The final song, “Kiss Me Deadly”, is normally a fine tune also, but the same out of tune guitar was still being played out of tune, and it just sounded rough. At the time I thought I was just being unkind, but seeing the video has actually just convinced me I was being overly kind; it was a horrible performance and definitely the worst of the weekend. My score for Lita Ford: 3/10.

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Extreme

I have never seen Extreme before, so I had a pretty decent level of expectation for them, in particular having been a fan of Nuno Bettencourt since the beginning. Extreme are a bit of an enigma these days, but it seems they are on a world tour of sorts and have a few festival dates in the USA. The core of Extreme always has been Nuno and Gary Cherone, and they continue the partnership, with Pat Badger on bass and Kevin Figueiredo on drums. This line-up has been stable since reforming back in 2008, even if the band hasn’t been continuously active. It seems in part this has been due to schedule conflicts with Nuno playing lead guitar in Rihanna’s touring band (yes, the popstar…gulp!).

So, following on the heels of a less than stellar performance from Lita Ford, they had what I will call a soft start – it would be hard to be anything other than a lot better than we had just witnessed, but Extreme came out of the starting blocks with a growl and roar! They opened with “Decadence Dance” and they came out with an intensity and energy as if they were there to whip the venue into frenzy. This was good and wiped any thoughts of this being a lame M3 immediately from my mind.

From the opening notes it was clear my expectations related to the guitar-god status of Nuno were met. There really aren’t enough superlatives available to me to express how good he was and I spent their entire set with my eyes glued to him, particularly whenever the big screen zoomed in on his fretboard. He’s a very interesting player, with a metal-funk vibe that few others can touch. There were some particularly neat hammer-on arpeggio runs that he made look insanely easy that I know would have my fingers tied in knots.

Gary Cherone was also on fire and delivered a note perfect performance, through a sequence of gtreatest hits, including: “Kid Ego”, “It(‘s a monster)”, “Rest In Peace”, “Am I Ever Gonna Change” and “Play With Me”. All this was high energy stuff, but this came down to earth with a bump, with the song that so many will associate with Extreme, the acoustic, “More Than Words”. Of course, Nuno and Gary did this song the justice it deserves and had the whole crowd, and I mean everyone, singing along. Awesome.

After picking up the pace with “Cupids Dead”, Nuno got the spotlight again with “Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee”, half of which I managed to get on video, along with “Get The Funk Out” which you can see here > http://youtu.be/MOpL-XjHbbY. The set closed with “Hole Hearted”. There’s really nothing negative to say, whatsoever, and Extreme were great – my score 9/10.

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After-show Fun

So, as indicated earlier, as soon as Extreme left the stage, we made a run for the hotel, so those hoping for a Kix review should look elsewhere. One of the coolest things about M3 is your ability as a fan to get access to the rockstars that one minute are up on the stage and the next you might find sharing an elevator ride in the hotel, or even checking into the room next door. The primary hotel in question is the Sheraton, where pretty much all the artists stay. Of course, after a long day rocking out you need to eat and drink, and this usually involves a visit to Clyde’s which is a short 5 minute walk from the hotel. I’m not going to make this a play-by-play, but after the show we met: Robert Mason (Warrant, who was just hanging out for the weekend), Nuno Bettencourt, Gary Cherone, and Jake E Lee. Heck, I might be forgetting a couple too! So, Day 1 of the 2014 closed with a couple of very decent performances and one that really was off boil… Day 2 to follow!

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