Archive for the Gig Reviews Category

Anvil – Live Review – Café 611, Fredrick, MD (2/6/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by novametalreview

Lips w/Red Lips-O-Matic

Strangely I thought I had previously reviewed Anvil in a club setting, but now I’ve checked I see I’ve only reported on them once before as part of the bill of the “Heavy Metal Heaven” Sandy Hurricane benefit concert, so it definitely time to fix this. Now, I have to say this is the fourth time I’ve seen Anvil headline a venue, and all but one of these could have been a scene taken directly from the Anvil movie, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend you take care of that immediately – it’s definitely worth a couple of hours of your time, and reveals the raw underbelly of the ins and outs of being in a band. The harsh reality that so many musicians have to deal with is brought sharply into focus. Obviously you need to make up your own mind, but one of my most enduring thoughts after seeing it was the incredible friendship-bond that exists between Steve “Lips” Kudlow (guitar/vocals) and Robb Reiner (drums), which has survived some 37 years of Anvil ups and downs.

I won’t drag the entire Anvil history out for a retrospective here, but the debut release, “Hard ‘n’ Heavy”, in 1981, still remains to this day one of my favorite heavy metal records. It’s raw, uncluttered and relatively unsophisticated (as it should be), and gets right to the core of what heavy metal should be all about. The next two albums, “Metal on Metal” and “Forged in Fire” are seen as seminal roots for many heavy metal/thrash bands, often cited as hugely influential, but during this time, the band was basically screwed due to management and record company wrangling’s that took all the momentum from the band and basically ship-wrecked them. In fact I think if you ever wanted to award a trophy for the band that looked to be on the brink of massive success and then had it all thrown away, you’d find it hard to not list Anvil as a candidate.

Anvil are currently fifteen albums in now, but I have to say the last album, “Hope In Hell”, was a bit of a disappointment. The previous two, “This Is Thirteen” and “Juggernaut of Justice” were quite entertaining, so there’s definitely still life in the old dog. One thing that is often forgotten is that Anvil was originally a four-piece, with a second guitarist, but the band has been a 3-piece since 2006, which is relatively recent. I don’t know why, but whenever I think of them, it always seems to be the power trio that comes to mind. Now, personnel have been changing, really meaning the bass player… Over the past years I’ve now seen three different faces behind the bass, with the most recent departure being Sal Italiano, who I assume left shortly prior to this most recent tour. In fact, I wasn’t aware of this at all, for this most recent gig, so I was caught by surprise, when he didn’t take to the stage… In his place is “new guy” Chris Robertson, who I believe has been the man behind some of the more recent studio efforts by the band, though I may have that a little mixed up. However that came about, I will say that Chris did a great job and the band sounded excellent, and definitely are firing on all cylinders.

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Turning to the show, this was taking place not far from the NoVAMetal home base, up in Fredrick, MD, some 30 miles to the North of base-camp, which was a nice change from some of the longer treks we’ve been on recently. However, there seemed to be about seven bands on the bill for the night, so we targeted the 10:30PM set time (I think it was) listed for Anvil, and headed up there arriving around 9PM or so. According to the website, there was an hint that food at the venue (which is listed as a Café) should be OK, but in actuality, the menu, at least in the bar, seemed pretty wanting, so we headed out and went over the road to another bar to eat. Once that was taken care of, we headed back and caught the last half-set by Lord Dying, which I have to say sounded a way lot better then they looked – not a band to draw you in visually at all, but they had some nice heavy metal going on. Once their set was done we bought their two CDs and both are a good listen. Check ‘em out if you get the chance. They hail from Portland, Oregon, and you can find more about them here: http://lorddying.bandcamp.com/

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So, the stage was cleared, Robb Reiner’s twin-kick drum kit was installed, and after a brief sound check, Lips ambled on stage and yelled into his very sharp-looking Oktober Guitars (http://www.oktoberguitars.com/) “Lips-O-Matic” Flying V (which is a hollow-body guitar) asking if we were ready to rock! We were of course, but as I looked around, despite obvious enthusiasm, the reality that there was only may be 40 people total in the audience was obvious. Now, this never phases Anvil and I’ve seen them play to less, but WHY? They are a great band live, and certainly deserve better support. I guess I just don’t get it? Where are all you metal fans? This was a Friday night, so you can’t pull that “Monday night and I’ve got work tomorrow…” line on me here. May be nostalgia is coloring my vision here, but when Anvil have a full venue to play to, there is heavy metal magic in the air. I know they sell out venues in New York and up North, so it’s a pity more folks don’t make an effort. I guess I should call it “your loss”…

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I didn’t keep a set list, but I think they opened with “666” from Metal On Metal, and then pulled one of my favorites from Hard ‘n’ Heavy out of the catalog with “School Love”. The band were sounding very sharp and the “new guy” on bass was holding the bottom-end together very nicely, also throwing in some on-point backing vocals. I did mange to get some video from later in the set, the first of which was “On Fire” which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q75HVXRi00 from Juggernaut Of Justice. This is a nice show case for Robb and Chris, with some tight work on this double-kick drum driven track.

This was followed by Thumb Hang (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69dxghFInA8) and then, what for me is a highlight of the evening, Swing Thing which includes one of the most entertaining drum solos you will hear in rock, from the mighty Robb Reiner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BuOfJurL0s). At some point, I think before the start of Thumb Hang, Lips switched to a brand new, just delivered by the Oktober Guitars crew, beautiful red Lips-O-Matic Flying V – this was the most stunning looking guitar I have seen in a long time. Outstanding work there! Unfortunately, due to the poor light in the venue I don’t have a picture that does the guitar justice, but it is a great looking instrument.

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The set continued with a “Hope In Hell”, “Eat Your Words” (I think) and closed with “Metal On Metal”, which was an obvious crowd pleaser. There was a half-baked call for an encore, but it was fairly clear that the thinned out crowd would have to make a truck-load more noise to entice the fellas back out and the evening’s entertainment was done. After the show, the band did a paid meet’n’greet which I think was a $30 experience (or was it $40?), which seems a bit steep, but then again I understand the band is trying to make money, however, the very people that have already driven to see you, paid their entry money, bought food and drink and may be some merch, then gets screwed again… I think three people paid for this honor. However, we hung out and as I pretty much expected, Robb wandered out of the band area and we had a great chat with him, then spoke with Chris for a bit and finally talked guitars for few minutes with Lips. To be fair we’ve met Lips and Robb several times before so they know us, which helps, but bands might want to re-think this paid-for-meet-n-greet, because it’s not really a fan winner. I think I’d be much more inclined to spend more on merch if I knew the band would be out after the show to chat and sign stuff, without the $30 cost. When all’s said and done, I had a good time. I do think that Anvil would benefit from going out with an ‘equal’ on the bill, to draw a bigger combined crowd, which is no ‘disrespect’ to Lord Dying in this instance, but something like Anvil and Raven, or Anvil and The Rods for example, where the combined draw would double up and more in terms of audience. For now though, if you get the chance go see the mighty Anvil, they won’t disappoint. My score is a steady 8/10.

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Blue Oyster Cult – Live Review – Tally Ho, Leesburg (1/31/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2015 by novametalreview

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There are very few metal/hard rock bands that somehow have managed to successfully miss my attention over the years and Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) is one of those in this elite. To be honest, aside from “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, I think I would be hard pushed to name any of their songs, let alone albums… Yep, I’m sure most of you just crossed me off your Christmas list and quit reading this about a sentence back. I know, I know, shame on me!

Well, fortunately I have been able to rectify this, with the recent BOC show at our fast-becoming-favorite-venue, the Tally Ho in Leesburg, VA. First a plug for the venue – if you haven’t been to a show at the Tally Ho yet, don’t be shy – this is a GREAT venue to see a band. The stage is nice and high, the sound system is loud and clear, and the main floor area slopes nicely from front to back, allowing pretty much anyone to get a decent view of the stage and parking is right next door. And, if you want to spend a little more, you can splurge on VIP tickets and enjoy a table and seats on the balcony, which I think gets you drinks service to boot.

BOC are one of those near ‘fixtures’ of the hardrock/metal world, having been around since 1967 (originally as Soft White Underbelly… catchy, eh?) and then BOC from 1969 on. Now it’s not surprising, given that period spans 48 years, that the band isn’t made up of all original members – that would be an almost miracle – but the band in fact does retain two originals who I regard as the core and roots – namely Eric Bloom (lead vocals and guitar) and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roser (lead guitar). One aspect that bothers me is it does seem disappointing that BOC have essentially been dormant on the recording side for a very long time now, with their last album release being back in 2001.

Anyway, pretty much as soon as the show was announced I snapped up a pair of tickets – a piece of advice – the Tally Ho seem to have a habit of notching up the price of tickets, the closer to the show date you purchase them, so if you can, be sure to get them at the “advance purchase” price, which seems to typically save you something like $5-$10 off the regular price and even more of the “day-of-show” door price.

Of course, I also had some listening to do, to catch-up on my lack of BOC album collection… thank you YouTube ‘complete album’ videos that seem to exist for nearly every band in the world now.

The opening band for this show… I think I better stop. As a young lad I was told, if you can’t say something nice, better to say nothing at all. Let’s just leave that I was glad when they stopped…

The moment BOC stepped on stage, there was magic to seen and heard. The sound was sharp from the opening number, backing vocals and harmonies were spot-on and most importantly, at least for me, the band genuinely looked like they were having a fun time. The crowd was immediately with the band and the venue was sold out and perhaps a little more, so it was full, but not unpleasantly so. I did notice toward the end it did thin out just a little, but then again this is suburban Leesburg (bites tongue!)!

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They opened with “OD’d on Life Itself”, which got it’s first live play back in 1973, which when you stop to think is quite amazing – this song has been making the rounds for over 40 years, which was then followed by “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” which reaches back one year earlier to 1972. Even I was a young kid when these songs were first played, which I think makes me feel somewhat old now. Uggh!, I need to shake that off sharpish. But, the great thing was none of these older tracks seemed to be carrying the years and sounded bright and cranking’ in a very rock’n’roll way. I think it was from the second song on that Buck switched to his “Cheeseberger” Steinberger guitar, which is cool looking.

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Initially my attention was focused on Buck and Eric, who both sounded great incidentally as they swapped lead vocal roles, but it wasn’t long before I started paying attention to Richie Castellano who I had initially pegged as the keyboard player (being a BOC newbie…), but was blown away by his lead guitar playing. Wow, can he shred! Obviously Buck takes the majority of the lead work, but Richie is a monster in his own right. Having figured that out, I then noticed the bass work was pretty damned awesome too – Kasim Sulton is the fella behind the four string (or was it five?) and here’s a chap with a musical history that would fill a fairly large book, and not a page would be anything other than mesmerizing – Meatloaf, Joan Jett, Patty Smyth, Todd Rundgren, Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys, Indigo Girls, and many more, fill his resume to the brim. Of course all this is tied together by the drummer and here Jules Radino does an excellent job. The following video from the show includes both Kasim and Jules being featured during their solo spots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2UrEdXRTzo

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As you can see and hear from the video the band is sound amazing these days and there’s really not much to say other than if you ever get a chance to see them – DO IT. You can find the full set list here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/blue-oyster-cult/2015/tally-ho-leesburg-va-3cad9ef.html

Here’s a couple more videos – ME262 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH3o7veAUr8) and the majority of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper which closed the set (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ier-czm7QKk&feature=youtu.be). I think anyone would be hard pushed to say they weren’t anything other than sounding amazing.

After a short break and a lot of yelling and stamping of feet from the crowd, the band were back on stage for another 3 tracks, which started with “In Thee” which I think was a crowd request and pretty much unplanned, given the band seemed to have to figure a few things out before getting started – it sounded killer. Overall I think they played for over 1.5 hours and I didn’t see a single person after the show with anything to say other then gushing greatness. Scoring such an iconic band is a little meaningless, but since that’s what I do, it’s simple – 10/10

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Extreme – Live Review – Baltimore Soundstage (1/25/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2015 by novametalreview

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The last time I saw Extreme was at the M3 Festival in Columbia MD, last year (see here for a reminder: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-6A), where they just about blew the place apart with a killer set and left the tattered remains for Kix to close the evening, which, in my humble opinion was a task far beyond their abilities. Why anyone would choose to follow Extreme still leaves me scratching my head to this day. I guess ego is a hard thing to swallow? Either way, Extreme were amazing last year and, as soon as I saw this show announced, I was ready for more. An extra enticement was the fact that this was the 25th anniversary of the epically good Pornograffitti record and the plan was to play the entire album end-to-end. So, off we set for Baltimore, despite dire warnings of grim weather and more. The good news was no support band, so the show time of 9PM meant we could have dinner before the show with no need to hang around waiting for some unknown support act to wrap up their set – with the added bonus of an anticipated reasonable finish time for whole evening. Despite the hour plus drive home a decent nights sleep seemed on the cards.

I wasn’t really sure what the turn out on a Sunday night might be, and previous shows at Baltimore Soundstage had what I will call a rather “soft” attendance, but as we turned into the very conveniently located parking lot (which is actually above the venue itself), there was a line that stretched from the entrance around the corner, so, despite the fact tickets were still for sale on the door, it was clear this was going to be a packed audience. After eating, despite the doors opening, the line was still around the corner, so interest in the show was high. As we entered, it was clear that the audience was almost exclusively of the older generation, presumably original fans from the 90’s. Apart from a few kids dragged along by their parents, I don’t think there was anyone in the audience under 30!

Once we made it inside, it was clear this was the biggest audience I’ve ever seen at Soundstage, so we shuffled our way all the way over to the far side and found a fairly decent spot wedged against the bar, maybe the equivalent of 6 or 7 rows from the front, which gave us a decent, if not optimum view. The only disadvantage of this was the fact that Nuno Bettencourt plays on stage left….the opposite side, but at least that would encourage me to tear my eyes off his fretboard and pay attention to the show.

A few minutes after the advertised start time of 9PM, the house lights dimmed and shortly followed by the background music from the PA, and before you could really draw a breath Gary, Nuno, Pat and Kevin were pedal to the metal into “Decadence Dance”. The advantage of not having to deal with a support-band messing up the sound was obvious from the get-go, with an almost perfect mix from the very first note. I say almost, because I did notice that Nuno’s guitar was a little buried in the mix for part of that first track, but that was quickly sorted, and I’m sure the difference between an empty venue and a near sold out one. From that point on the mix was as good as you could get.

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Obviously the track listing for this part of the show was no surprise, but the energy flowing off the stage was great to see and the band was simply on fire. It is easy to be distracted by Nuno Bettencourt’s blazing guitar playing, and rightly so, but from our stage-right vantage point I as able to soak in the equally virtuoso bass playing from Pat Badger and the quite exceptional drumming of Kevin Figueiredo. I’m not sure how Extreme manage this, but the drum sound is always exceptional, both live and on record, and tonight was no different. Equally impressive was the way all the instruments in the band had their own “space” to work within, which is less easy to achieve, but a good lesson for any band to think about. I was able to focus at will on the bass, guitar or drums, without at any time feeling they were stepping on each other, while still presenting a totally cohesive “sound”.

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Another most notable feature were the pin-sharp harmony backing vocals from Pat and Nuno, which is another art form that is getting harder to find these day. Of course, without the lead vocals from Gary Cherone the band wouldn’t be “Extreme” and Gary is in fine voice these days, but furthermore he is in fine frontman form and leads the inevitable crowd sign-a-long when they get to “More Than Words”. You can see my video of the track here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHxTYLBZAoU&feature=youtu.be

Just to be sure you get a dose of the heavier side of Extreme, of which there was plenty on offer throughout the night, here’s a video of “Money (In God we trust)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Qrd1cp494&feature=youtu.be As you can see and hear the band is sounding amazing and even from our offset position, which of course is less than optimum relative to the sound desk, the clarity and overall great mix made this a great night for all in attendance.

Nuno Bettencourt delivered a ripping version of “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” which of course is the intro to “He-Man Woman Hater”, and despite having seen this last year at M3, it never get’s old. He is such a natural player and never seems to struggle in the least. However, for me, it was Nuno’s masterful display on the acoustic guitar later in the set with a blinding version of “Midnight Express” from the Waiting for the Punchline album that had me spellbound. With some guitar players taking the spotlight for a solo is a bit like watching a high dive at the Olympics, with an intense sense of anticipation, a moment where you seem to hold your breath and then a short burst of concentrated energy, but with Nuno, the whole experience flows in a very organic, natural way – there’s much less drama, and way more involvement somehow. Ultimately he makes everything he does on a guitar look ridiculously easy, which, of course, it totally isn’t. I don’t really go for “best” lists, but I will say that Nuno is certainly in my top five when it comes to guitar players.

Once the Pornograffitti set was complete, the night was finished off with an “encore” of six additional tracks (including the afore mentioned “Midnight Express”), which opened with “Play With Me” and closed with personal favorite “Cupid’s Dead”. When all was said and done we had roughly 2 hours of excellent entertainment, from a band that clearly were enjoying themselves. So, to close this was a great evening, and I can only encourage anyone who has the chance to go and see Extreme to make the effort – you won’t be disappointed. If there is one negative I can think of bringing up, it would be the desire for new material. There was talk of a new album, originally slated for 2011, that was then delayed to 2012… I guess that is still a work-in-progress of sorts. Anyway, a great night and my score is close-to-perfect 9.5/10.

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Judas Priest – Live Review – Baltimore Pier Six Pavilion 10/24/14

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , on October 31, 2014 by novametalreview

Just writing the title to this article feels a little intimidating – Judas Priest are as close to heavy metal royalty as any band that are able to claim a legacy reaching back 40 years. There may be pretenders to that throne, but Priest have a legitimate claim. Trying to review a band like this feels a bit like writing an automobile review of a Ferrari – sure the same principles apply as writing something for a Honda, but the bar is raised to a completely different level here. However, there is plenty to talk about, so let’s set the scene here.

The future of Judas Priest at one point, not so long ago, looked to be in question. KK Downing, founding member and guitar maestro, had decided that his time was up and walked off into retirement, seemingly happy to run a golf course and most recently putting his name to a line of heavy metal perfumes… The latter has still got me scratching my head. For a while the very existence of the band seemed in question, but a replacement was announced in the shape of relatively unknown (at the time) Richie Faulkner. Any time someone new walks into the shoes of a rock icon there’s going to be some resistance, and even to this day, now a World tour and half into his membership of Priest, I still see people questioning “the new guy”.

Well, let me get this over with: Richie Faulkner has without doubt stepped up and brought new fuel to the fire that was beginning to splutter. Priest are ‘back’ and have a new energy that flows from the stage with every beat, every note, every scream. To put this in context, I last saw Priest back in 2005 on the Retribution tour and despite memories of a great show; there was a certain mechanical quality to the whole thing. Of course every song delivered; you can’t fail with material as strong as Priest’s, but I think the seeds of KK’s departure were already sown. Prior to this I’d seen JP perhaps two or three times before back in the 80’s and, without doubt, those are classic memories of the band at their peak. So I’ve seen the band over a good span of time and feel qualified to offer an opinion.

The first thing to think through is that Judas Priest are somewhat obviously not going to just hire “anyone”, so it is fairly safe to assume Richie has a resume that qualifies him. For those that don’t know, prior to Priest, Richie most recently was playing guitar for Lauren Harris’ band – yes, Steve Harris’ daughter. Yep, “the” Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. Lauren Harris had toured most of the World with Maiden and naturally all the members of the band got to know the members of Maiden really well.

When Priest started looking for a KK’s successor, it would be natural to look for recommendations from bands of similar statue. Now I don’t pretend to know all the in’s and out’s of the hiring process that brought Richie into the band, but it is clear that Rob Halford and crew are more than happy with the chap they brought into the ranks. In fact one of the things you can see on stage is an appreciation for Richie’s playing and overall stage presence. This is further reinforced by the fact that Richie gets to deliver the only solo spot of the night, but now I am getting well ahead of myself. The bottom line is this; open your ears and eyes, and judge on performance.

The “Redeemer of Souls” album was released back in early July and my review for this album scored a solid, if not outrageous 8/10 – you can read it here if you feel inclined: Redeemer Of Souls. My main beef, albeit relatively minor, after living with the album for a few more months now, is the production, which speaks to me of a Protools by numbers effort, recorded over a period of many months – in plain words, the record feels ‘bitty’, with some tracks working like monsters and others a little less so. It’s just not a cohesive smash-you-in-the-face experience. Good, but could do better sort of report card. However, I still stand by my good words relating to the initiation of Richie Faulker to the JP discography.

When the tour was announced I was pleased to see the Baltimore date on the list, since the previous time I had seen them was in my least favorite venue in the local area; the soulless “Jiffy Lube Live” (or as it was in 2005, Nissan Pavilion), which may be in distance closer, but sucks for many reasons, not least being outrageous beer prices and horrific parking. The Baltimore venue was listed as “The Pier 6 Pavilion” which I had never been to before, but saw good things written about it. We ended up with seats in the 4th row, which was excellent, even though we paid a good deal over face-value through a reseller. This was one of the few time when I believe this was worth spending the extra – Priest aren’t exactly touring on a regular basis so there are times when you have to grab opportunities as they come by.

Pier 6 Pavilion is actually more or less an outdoor venue, with an open view from the stage looking out over the Baltimore harbor, which makes this a pretty unique venue. I would estimate the capacity at about 10,000 and of course the venue was full for Priest, but from looking back at the crowd from the 4th row I would imagine this is a great venue to see a band, no matter where you are seated. One minor complaint; security isn’t exactly well enforced and at the start of Priest’s set a lot of ‘extra’ people had pushed to the front that clearly didn’t have seats which was kind of annoying. Eventually this was sorted out. I don’t know why they don’t have a barrier around the seated area and a couple of staff at the entrances to keep things a little more under control.

Support for the show was somewhat disjointedly listed as “Steel Panther” and while they can be amusing, I wasn’t really interested in them in the context of a Judas Priest show. We actually arrived about two-thirds of the way through their set, and I wasn’t at all bothered at missing what we did. In another setting I would probably write good things about them and I realize they are only having fun, but their irreverence seemed forced and hard work, at least compared to the times I seen them before. Fortunately we only had to sit through three songs or so and they were done.

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A large Judas Priest drape hid the preparations taking place on the stage and this only added to the sense of anticipation that was clearly building throughout the venue. After about 20 minutes, it was show time and before we could blink, the drape fell to the opening riff of “Dragonaut” and the twin guitar attack led by Glen Tipton and Richie Faulkner was sharp and sliced through the night air. Immediately I was impressed by the excellent sound mix – loud and powerful – and there he was, Rob Halford in impeccable voice. The opening line of Dragonaut was a perfect entrance, “Welcome to my world of steel, master of my domain…”. He couldn’t really have put it any better. Now, Rob Halford has not been shy about talking about various medical issues that are affecting him (his back problems perhaps being the most notable, but not the only thing), but blow me down, he sounded better than I remember from any time I’ve seen him previously. You can make up your own mind with the videos I took, which are linked below.

The second track up was the classic “Metal Gods” from British Steel and this gave me a chance to look at the “new guy” in the context of the stage show. Basically I can keep this pretty short – Richie Faulkner is critical part of the Priest lineup and was always up front and center, constantly interacting with the audience, launching guitar picks into the crowd and firing everyone up. Not only this, but it is clear Rob and the rest of the crew are entirely at ease with the role he has taken. This comment totally overlooks his musical contribution, which is massive. Richie is a guitar hero right up with the best and if anyone questions why he is up on stage with the rest of JP, all they need do is go see the band – the answer is more than obvious from the notes flowing from the fretboard from whichever one of his many Gibson’s he happens to have in his hand.

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Turning to the remaining members, Glen Tipton basically is up there doing what he has always done, solid and tight. He may have stepped down the showmanship a little and, to be honest, I have always thought he was team-player rather than the guitar virtuoso, but I also have to remind myself that like Rob and Ian, he is on the wrong side of 60 years old now, so charging round the stage like a scalded cat probably isn’t on the books any more.

Ian Hill has the right rear corner of the stage locked down, exactly as he has done for the past 40 years pretty much. I think Ian definitely deserves more credit than perhaps is sent his way. While not an “in your face” player, without the drive he gives the band, the power that is evident flowing off stage, would certainly be missing. I have to add, he is also a super-nice bloke – we met him after the show and spent quite some time chatting. Rounding out things we have Scott Travis on drums and he was sounding in brutal but sharp form throughout the show. We were fortunate to meet him after the show and I was completely unprepared for that fact that Scott is easily 6’6” tall. He was very humble when told just how much a fan Michelle is of Racer X, which is another of Scott’s projects.

The set continued with “Devil’s Child”, which you can see on video here: http://youtu.be/zqjw3CmT32A. As you can see and hear, the band was killing it live. There is no doubt in my mind that Judas Priest will continue to tour for a good many years based on this performance and the Redeemer Of Souls album – there is a lot of music still in these guys – no matter what might have been said back around the time Epitaph was released on video. Too many bands go through this farewell performance/tour/album thing. I remember attending the Status Quo farewell show in London in the mid 80’s… they are still touring, albeit limited to dates in Europe, some 30 years later.

The band is playing the same set list at each gig, but you can see the list here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/judas-priest/2014/pier-six-concert-pavilion-baltimore-md-4bcccb6a.html

I am hard pushed to pick a favorite track of the night, since every song, be it new or old was delivered with such power and passion, but it might just have been to classic “Breaking The Law” simply from the energy you could fell both from the stage and audience together. I managed to snag part of it on video here: http://youtu.be/cN9fmR8w5K4. Another monster was the new track “Halls Of Valhalla” which is a favorite of mine from Redeemer Of Souls. It would be hard to ignore “Hell Bent For Leather” which of course opened with the arrival of Rob Halford sat astride a Harley. You can see this here: http://youtu.be/04B2RmQnLrg

Towards the end of the set, and I honestly can’t remember exactly where this fits exactly, Richie gets to take the spotlight with a brilliantly executed guitar solo, which is another commendation and affirmation of his position within the Priest ranks. This not only gives him a chance to shine musically, but also showmanship wise. We came to be entertained, not sit and politely clap, and Richie does not disappoint. I absolutely lost count of how many guitar picks he launched into the crowd with a flick of the wrist and a big smile every time. He is clearly having fun and wants to make sure everyone in he audience does too.

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The set closed with “Defenders Of The Faith” from the album of the same name and I know I could have sat through another hour or more without a tiny bit of a complaint, but the hour and half we were given was a definitive demonstration of why Judas Priest are in the top five metal bands of all time in my book. Some might argue that this or that track was missing from the set, but this is one of those cases where no matter what they picked, someone would find their particular favorite missing. When you have such a deep catalog of material, picking 16 songs from a 100+ possibles is always going to be a tough job. To close, this will go down in my book as one of my all time favorite shows. The band really gave off a great vibe – they were psyched to be up on stage, just as much as the audience was to be out in front of them. No doubt – 10/10.

– Neil Waterman

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King Diamond – Live Review – The Fillmore Silver Spring 10/13/14

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , on October 15, 2014 by novametalreview

King Diamond is one of the most iconically enigmatic characters of the metal scene and, until last night, was an experience that I had never had the opportunity to sample. In fact thinking about it, while always being keenly aware of both Mercyful Fate and King Diamond back in the mid 80’s, I just don’t recall ever seeing them pass my path. In fact it was the recent LP re-release of “Abigail” and “Them” on 180gram colored vinyl that inspired me to go out and buy the entire King Diamond back-catalog (or nearly so, I think I’m missing three out of the twelve studio releases), so this tour was perfectly timed.

As soon as the Silver Spring date was announced, I snapped up tickets since there was a definite buzz for the tour. Some of the shows sold out within a few hours (I think NY sold out in three), but by the time the Silver Spring doors opened all tickets for the show were gone, so this was definitely packed to the rafters and that was easy to see from just looking around the venue. The only other time I have seen The Fillmore this full was for Guns’N’Roses a year or two back, but this show may have topped that by a couple of hundred – I strongly suspect it was in fact over-sold. There were also some odd balcony seats sold on Ticketmaster that were not honored at the venue which added to the confusion, at least upstairs. Through a combination of circumstances we ended up watching the show from the balcony, which considering the crush on the main floor seemed like a good idea and certainly helped with the video I was able to take (see later).

Before we get to the King, first a quick word on the support band. Until some time after the gig I had no idea who the heck the band that took the stage first was, which probably isn’t too clever a move by the band themselves. I think the point of supporting a name act is to get exposure, which is a tough thing to claim you have achieved if no one knows the name of your band after you have finished your set. Anyway, after poking around the internet I figured it was a Finnish outfit by the name of “Jess and the Ancient Ones”, fronted by a female who was none other than someone called “Jess” (ah, clever these Finnish…). In total I counted three guitarists, a bass player, a keyboard player, drummer and of course “Jess”… quite a stage full.

They ambled onto the stage around 8PM or so and then some technical issue seemed to hold things up for what seemed like a long 5 minutes, following which we were treated to some rather unremarkable intro recording. I suppose that was the cause of the delay? I could have survived without it. Once things got going they sounded to me like an early 70’s cross between The Doors, some Deep Purple-influenced not quite hippy version of something that might have touched the edge of Lynyrd Skynyrd at times. Generally quite good, but certainly not remarkable and eventually I wished it was their last song, which arrived about one song too late. Perhaps the anticipation of seeing King Diamond had me a little edgy and I might be being a little unkind. Opening for King Diamond is probably not an easy thing to do no matter, so I’ll give them credit for pulling that off at least adequately.

So, Jess and crew cleared the stage and then constructions began on-stage, which were quickly hidden behind a full front-of-stage curtain… intriguingly! As time passed the tension in the air continued to build, as did the audience on the main floor space, which was packed. In fact every viewing spot was occupied upstairs and down. I found myself passing the time by scoring Kind Diamond make-up attempts out of 10; most were rather grim efforts that struggled to get past a 3, but there were a couple that were worthy of a 7 or 8 perhaps.

As the clock ticked past 9.30, the background music, which was largely 70’s Deep Purple and the like, faded and a momentary hush hit the crowd before the curtain obscuring the stage dropped to reveal a pretty adventurous stage set-up, with a full walkway all the way around the back of the drummer and most imposingly an 8-foot railing ‘fence’ all the way across the front of the stage, as if it were necessary to separate the band from the audience.

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The “King” had arrived! The opening keyboard intro of “The Candle” rang out, and then that voice… there’s no chance anyone can mistake King Diamond, and my immediate impression was he was nailing it. Now, as I confessed earlier, this was my first KD show, so I really don’t have anything to compare this to, other than the albums, but my first vibe was he was spot on. I’ve since read some reviews of previous shows from past tours where things perhaps weren’t always so good, but from start to finish he was basically as close to note perfect as makes no difference. Excellent.

The band, comprising original member Andy LaRocque on guitar, Mike Wead guitar (who we met after the show, nice guy), Pontus Egberg on bass (who wins some kind of prize for the name most likely to have been almost a Roman Emperor) and Matt Thompson on drums, were exceptional – tight, heavy and entertaining in their own right. In a way it must be hard to play in what must seem at times the dark shadows when you are in the presence of someone like King Diamond, who is clearly the center of all attention on stage, but these guys have it figured out and never seemed out of place or lost in the background. To be honest I was pleasantly surprised with how heavy they came across.

We were treated to a set comprising sixteen songs which spanned the breadth of the KD catalog and included two Mercyful Fate tracks, namely “Evil” and “Come To The Sabbath” both of which are more or less fixtures of the KD set and welcome additions. You can see the set list here: http://tinyurl.com/n56nufk. My personal favorite KD album is “The Puppet Master” and I took the following video of the title track: http://youtu.be/O7hHii1QPd8

I think everyone at the gig would say they would have happily had another hour or so added to the set, but the one and hour 40 minutes we got was all Grade A and the entertainment factor of the whole experience was exceptional. It made me remember that going to a concert is supposed to be a “show” in the biggest meaning of the word, and that is definitely something that King Diamond understands and delivers. Of course not all bands need or would make sense of the sort of elaborate stagecraft and additional actors used by KD, but there is a lesson for all bands here.

Since the show I’ve seen a number of somewhat disparaging comments from a few folks bemoaning the fact that a small proportion of the audience were “hipsters”, allegedly only there to have a “cool” story to tell their less-cool buddies about that “metal show” they went to during the week, but to be honest, I’d rather have a full venue, than the pathetic turn out I’ve seen at some shows recently. We need to encourage venues to get the bands through the load-in doors and as many people as possible through the entrance doors.

For me, this was one of the best ‘shows’ I’ve been to, especially in terms of the overall epic-ness of it all. In fact in the context of the material, the ‘fit’ was better than many other metal bands that drag around a big stage set – I think Alice Cooper is perhaps the only other I’ve seen that works truly in concert with the themes running through the music. Anyway, there really isn’t anything I can say negative about the show. Sure you can bemoan leaving out or including this or that song, and argue for a longer set, but the bottom line is King Diamond delivered 100% on the day and I can only score this a straight 10/10.

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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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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/