Archive for M3 Festival Review

M3 Festival 2015 – Day 2 – Killer Dwarfs, Tyketto, Vixen, Black’N Blue, LA Guns, Krokus, Warrant, Y&T, Queensryche, Europe – Live Review (5/2/15)

Posted in Just Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2015 by novametalreview

So, following on from a decent Day 1 kick-off, Day 2 of M3 rolled around with the early attraction all being on the Festival stage, at least for me. The Festival stage was moved to the very back of the Merriweather site last year, and hence is almost exactly facing the main Pavilion stage, but separated by quite a decent hill. On the Pavilion side this forms the ‘lawn’ area, while on the other, the slope provides an almost perfect view, no matter where you are, to see the action down on the stage, however we got there nice and early and were on the front rail. The only down-side to the Festival stage location is the surprisingly long walk to get over to the Pavilion, so be prepared for some hiking through the day if you plan on hopping from one to the other more than a couple of times.

As we walked in we could hear “Bad Seed Rising” who opened the day on the Pavilion stage. They are a young, mid-early teen band and did a decent enough job, considering no one was really interested, but their female singer could have cut back on the f-bombs which seemed to make up every other word between songs…

Killer Dwarfs
Now I have to confess, despite the fact we have at least one Killer Dwarfs LP at home, I hadn’t heard anything by them (at least consciously), but for some reason I had a good buzz waiting for their set to begin. This was totally on the money and from the moment Russ Graham bounced onto the stage to the last riff I was greatly entertained.

To me they came across as a sort of NWOBHM-infused AC/DC, very much in the vein of a heavier April Wine (to pick a Canadian comparison) – strong melodic riffs, with tight vocals, and perhaps the most energetic vocalist of the weekend. Russ spent nearly as much time flat out on the stage, as he did rolling around, as he did singing. I’m not sure quite why, but Russ also smashed a perfectly serviceable three-wheeled kiddy scooter into lots of little pieces… Overall this was a perfect start to the day and the six-song set delivered a solid slice of metal to earn them a score of 8/10.

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Rhino Bucket
Over on the main stage Rhino Bucket kicked of the ‘real bands’ on that stage, but I knew less about them than I did the Killer Dwarfs, so we remained firmly glued to our spot up front and watched the proceedings on the video screen. Fortunately the audio was also piped over the PA, so this was a decent comprise. I’m sure there are plenty of Rhino Bucket fans, but to me they seemed a touch too close to Kix in style – basic rock’n’roll – but with a rather strained scratchy vocal style. I did a quick video search using “Rhino Bucket M3”, and I think my memory was spot on – the vocals just don’t work for me. Admittedly this is a sort of phoned in score, but for me it’s a 4/10.

Tyketto
Now, in all fairness I have to confess a little bit of “insider trading” for this review, since my good friend Chris Green (also of Pride, Furyon and Rubicon Cross) is now the guitarist for the band, but my affection for Tyketto rolls all the way back to the debut release of “Don’t Come Easy” from 1991, with the opening track “Forever Young”, being a sort of anthem at the time. I still get a kick out of the opening guitar riff of that song, no matter where or when I hear it. However, friend or otherwise, I had high expectations for the band based on reports from the MOR cruise and performances from last year’s UK tour, and this would be my first chance to see them live. The fact they were appearing so early in the day was a concern, but come about 12.30 the Festival stage area was packed as far as the eye could see, so clearly I wasn’t the only one expecting good things. We were not disappointed!

Taking the stage with an air of confidence, vocalist Danny Vaughan and rest of the boys kicked off the set with “Lay Your Body Down”, and immediately the first thing that hit me was Danny doesn’t appear to have aged one damn minute. The second was his voice… absolutely on the money! Unlike rather too many of the vocalists from the 80s/90s, Danny has clearly done a fine job of holding onto his vocal chops, and I swear he sounds exactly the same as back in 1991, at least as far as the album recording goes. But that comment also applies across all members of the band, from Michael Clayton on drums, to Jimi Kennedy on bass, and the newer members of the line-up, Bobby Lynch on keys, and of course Chris on ripping guitar.

Given they only had a 30 minute set, it was always going to be a case of squeezing in as many crowd favorites, which basically meant tracks from “Don’t Come Easy”, which will see it’s 25th release anniversary next year, and we were not disappointed, with four of the six total coming from that recording. There was a slight lull in the energy from the crowd with “Dig In Deep”, the title track of the latest album and fourth track of the set, which I am sure skipped over the heads of most attending M3, but it is perhaps one of the more accessible rockers from the latest record. The set closed with a strong pairing of “Wings” and “Forever Young” from “Don’t Come Easy”. You can see my video of “Wings” here: https://youtu.be/bbi1NEgUM3g I dare anyone to try to claim Danny doesn’t sound EXACTLY like he does on the original recording…

And that was the set done. In the aftermath of the weekend there were lots of polls and “best of M3” lists, and it was rare to see any without Tyketto being listed in the top 3 or so bands of the weekend. I would totally agree with this and certainly hope to see them back at the next M3 on the main stage, later in the day and with a longer set. My score is an easily earned 10/10.

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Vixen
Next up on the main stage was Vixen, who I know bring out great gobs of affection from certain members of the metal community, but, at least to me, seems quite unwarranted. This was convincingly demonstrated when most of the members appeared back at the 2013 M3 as JSRG, which I scored a weak-to-pathetic 4/10 – least anyone of you reading this forgets – the 2013 set included a cover of a song by ADELE…WTF? Why anyone would include a cover song of a modern pop artist in a set at M3 still baffles me… Anyway it was clear there was no reason to walk over the Pavilion stage, so again we watched the video screens.

All I will say is the performance was painful. Just as Dokken the day before demonstrated, just because you are still willing to perform, doesn’t mean you SHOULD still perform. Now, I’m sure you die-hard fans are just about wanting to kill me or something, but, before you do, watch this video first: https://youtu.be/x2WF4HhW47c OK, assuming you are still alive, can you honestly tell me this was anything other than horrible? And this was their big “hit”? I’ve heard cats fighting that are more melodic. My score 3/10.

Black ‘N Blue
Next up on the Festival stage were Black ‘N Blue, and I have to say Jamie St. James was perhaps the friendliest ‘star’ of the weekend, seemingly appearing at all the hot spots over the weekend, including the bar and lobby of the Sheraton at all times of the day and night, and over at Clyde’s, the de-facto post-gig watering hole for all the event. He was always welcoming and happy to take pics and sign stuff – a good way to build fan rapport, so score one for B’N B.

So B’N B hit the stage and opened with “Get Wise To The Rise” from the 1988 release “In Heat” which is a great rocker and set the scene for a solid dose of 80’s hair metal. This was followed by “School Of Hard Knocks” from their 1984 debut release, and we were rockin’. The two newest members happen to be both guitarists (Shawn Sonnenschein and Brandon Cook), and they did a solid job, while original members Jamie, Patrick Young (bass) and Pete Holms (drums) rocked out and seemed to really having a great time up there. The seven song set closed with the crowd favorite “Hold On To 18”, which was perfect. My score 8.5/10.

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LA Guns
So, now we’re off to the main Pavilion stage, but by this point starving hungry, so a bit of an extended food stop delayed us a bit, so we missed perhaps the first three or four songs of their ten song set. However we could still hear them and, no surprise, they were sounding in great form. If you follow this blog you will know we’ve seen the ‘Guns’ a few times including a couple of times at our local venue, the Tally Ho, in Leesburg VA, so we are pretty familiar with the lads in the band, with the one exception being the recently returned bass player, Kenny Kweens (though we did end up meeting him briefly backstage to the very end of the night).

I’ve seen a few on-going comments complaining that Michael Grant (guitarist, since early 2013) doesn’t play the solos exactly like the originals… which to me is a bit like complaining that Ronnie James Dio didn’t sing Paranoid the same as Ozzy Osbourne did. Well, may be he doesn’t, but it’s time to get over that. Obviously Phil Lewis and Steve Riley are happy enough with the way they are being played, so let’s put that one to bed – the band consists of the members on the stage, and they play the songs the way you hear them now. Not the way some former member did. Deal with it!

Basically the band looked like they were having a great time up there, which always is an encouraging sign, and that for me that was echoed in what my ears were hearing. I did miss hearing anything from the latest release, “Hollywood Forever” which is a great album, but of course there was no way we could get away without “The Ballard of Jayne”, which to be honest I could go my entire life without hearing ever again… The set closed with a pretty riotous version of “Rip and Tear”. I think LA Guns have played M3 every year now, and I’m pretty sure they did enough to come back next year. I think they were a solid 8/10.

Krokus
These guys were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing, particularly since the 2013 release, “Dirty Dynamite” was a decent offering. Krokus have always carried an AC/DC-wanna-be label, and notwithstanding this, they seem to have turned out solid records, though it would be misleading of me if I did not make it clear I am far from their biggest fan, with not much more than a recollection of a few tunes from Headhunter (1983), aside from the aforementioned latest recording. This was the first time I’ve seen them live I believe.

When they took to the stage I must admit there seemed to be a lack of energy in the Pavilion generally. I’m guessing most people were not big Krokus fans, and were in a similar frame of mind to myself – interested in the novelty of having them there.

To cut to the chase, to me, they came across as sort of a cross between AC/DC and Accept, and were tight and functional, but the spark just seemed to be missing. I was a little confused by the cover “American Woman” (originally by “The Guess Who”, but later Lenny Kravitz), until someone more knowledgeable than me explained this was a hit for Krokus in 1982… I think we made it through another two songs before deciding to head back to the VIP area for the Queensryche meet’n’greet. All-in-all I scored them a middling 6/10.

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Warrant
We headed back to the Festival stage around 6PM in order to get a good spot for Y&T, which meant we missed Bang Tango and the Winery Dogs entirely, so I can’t comment on them from a performance perspective, but I did hear reports that the Winery Dogs delivered a ripping set, although I am rather confused why they were at M3 at all – since the Winery Dogs were not around in the 80’s/early 90’s…

Once established down the front of the Festival stage again, we turned our attention to the video screens, which were relaying Warrant’s set from the Pavilion stage. I had previously seen Warrant with Robert Mason back in 2013, and despite all the right moves, couldn’t help but feel there was a sense the band were going through the motions. Unfortunately this time around nothing appeared to have changed, and, if anything, things were a little worse. I don’t think this opinion was helped by seeing Robert Mason stumbling into the hotel late the night before, more than obviously the worse for wear, and it may be the case that there was a little too much partying in the hospitality before there set, but the vocals were definitely iffy all through the set. This was not helped by an obviously out of tune acoustic guitar during the intro to “Heaven” and a multitude of wonky guitar parts throughout the set. For those that don’t agree, take a look at any of the videos that have been posted on YouTube from the show – the end of “Heaven” is a veritable train wreck of epic proportions. My score 4/10.

Y&T
Now I am happy to confess I am a big fan of Y&T and have never seen them deliver anything other than a killer show, no matter when or where, so I must admit I had high expectations for Dave Meniketti and crew, and I am happy to report there was to be no disappointment. The nine song set they delivered was absolutely on point from the opening riff from “Don’t Stop Runnin”, through to the last notes of “Forever” from the classic Black Tiger album that closed the show.

Dave Meniketti is a sorely under-rated guitarist and there are few that can touch him when it comes to blues-based hard rock; he has an innate ability to deliver crushing riffs that you just can’t avoid rocking out to, but his solos are off-the-scale. Sure, there are players that are technically more proficient, but Dave has the ability to select and deliver a sequence of notes that are just ripping and, when it comes to some of the slower ballads he is one of the few players out there that can deliver such emotion through the strings of a guitar. Perhaps Gary Moore was on the same level, but let Dave loose with a Les Paul and a hot amp, and he’s deadly.

It would also be a travesty to overlook Dave’s vocal abilities, which are also excellent –if you haven’t seen Y&T live, check out their recent live album “Live At The Majestic” which is a excellent representation of what you will experience at any live show, and pay attention to Dave’s vocals. Awesome.

Of course the band is more than Mr. Meniketti, and the newest member, Brad Lang on bass, does an awesome job of locking down the groove that is so important to the overall Y&T sound. I remember seeing Brad at his first show with the band, at Jaxx (sadly now closed…), who basically learned the set on the flight over from the West Coast back in 2010, following Phil Kenmore’s diagnosis with cancer. Brad has an undeniable energy and passion for the band.

John Nymann on rhythm guitar is the perfect partner for Dave Meniketti and is no guitar slouch when he is let loose to solo, and let me not underplay Mike Vanderhule on the drums. He hits hard and was also quite a hoot at the bar later in the evening. It’s good to meet a band who are not only great players, but also know how to have fun.

All-in-all Y&T delivered a nigh-on perfect set and it would be difficult to score them anything other than a 10/10.

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Queensryche
Once Y&T were done it was time to make the rapid transit from the Festival stage back to the Pavilion, and despite hustling, Queensryche didn’t wait for us! However, we had already had a massive dose of the ‘Ryche earlier in the week after a quick, 250 mile, there and back trip to Pittsburg to see them headline the Altar Bar on the Wednesday. That was a killer show, but not the subject of this review, however we were pumped from seeing them so recently.

Last year Queensryche were perhaps the surprise of the show for many people, and turned most of the audience from indifferent to captivated, so this time around I think more people were clued into what to expect.

Now, it is true there will always be those with their head in the sand and refuse to accept Todd La Torre in place of Geoff Tate, but to be honest they cannot be fans of the band. I’m sure there are some of you reading this now and are already yelling obscenities at the screen, but face facts – Geoff was not interested in Queensryche the band, he was interested in Geoff Tate, and the last 10 years had seen the band in a sad and steady decline, in both recorded music and live. If any of you have the chance to talk to Michael Wilton or Scott Rockenfield or indeed Eddie Jackson, ask them about the band before and after Todd joined and you will see the fire is back in their eyes. I have seen QR perhaps five times now with Todd and the energy he brings to the stage, particularly when delivering the classic material from the first five albums is like stepping back in time to the late 80’s when QR were at their peak.

The set opened with “Nightrider” from the debut EP, which is an absolute killer track and was followed by “Breaking The Silence” from Operation Mindcrime, which is just about when we found our way to our seats. It’s very hard to really review Queensryche in their current form because they are simply so good. “En Force” followed from The Warning and I think it fair to say, any true Queensryche fan was simply locked in the groove at this point. There are so many great songs from the first five QR releases that you could almost pick a set at random and see an amazing show. However, I must admit I missed the inclusion of “Where Dreams Go To Die” from the latest album, which we had heard at the Altar Bar show. I guess that was a concession to the nature of M3, which focused the set on the older material, and probably was the material the vast majority of the audience wanted to hear.

One thing I also want to mention is the way the Parker Lundgren on second guitar is really coming to life in these more recent shows. I remember seeing Parker on his first tour with the band back in 2009, and there was an undeniable “outsider” feel to his inclusion on stage, and this was probably due to the way he was brought into the band (a story I need not repeat in detail here, but will only mention it involves Geoff Tate, his daughter and a marriage that is no more…). However, Parker has always stuck to the original guitar work on the older material and keeps all the solo work true to the originals, which is more than can be said for Mike Stone and Kelly Gray who preceded him. These last couple of shows really show Parker as a fully integrated and key member of the Queensryche line-up, and, I should also mention, if you happen to meet him he’s a nice chap to boot!

The twelve-song set closed with “Jet City Woman” and an absolutely crushing version of “Take Hold Of The Flame” and as far as I have seen, again Queensryche were widely reported as taking the title of “band of the day” – and no, don’t shoot the messenger, I am simply reporting what I have seen online since the show, however I totally agree…. My score is a maxed out 10/10.

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Tom Keifer
Some reading this may be a little outraged that I skipped Tom Keifer’s set on the Festival stage, but by this point we were some 8 hours or so in, tired, and I was pretty disappointed that it wasn’t Cinderella performing. Of course Tom cranked out a Cinderella-loaded set with 9 out of 14 songs being Cinderella “covers” (haha, what else can I call them…?), and did them justice by all accounts, but there just wasn’t any impetus to get me up out of my seat and over that damn hill. One thing that was a little odd was this was the only set of the day that overran and they had not finished by the time Europe hit the Pavilion stage to close out the day.

Europe
I think it would only be fair to say that most of the attendees at M3 probably know Europe for one album – The Final Countdown – and unfortunately this is quite a travesty, because once you set away from this record you will find a band with a great maturity and depth of material, and that is where the true fans will be found. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the great proportion of the audience at M3. In fact anyone reading this really should get themselves a copy of the latest Europe offering, “War of Kings” which is a phenomenal record. Very much in the vein of classic Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, but with crushing riffs and massive production – it truly is a masterpiece.

Europe currently consist of the “classic” Final Countdown line-up, with Joey Tempest on vocals, sounding better than ever, John Norum on guitar, who is an absolute guitar hero, John Levin on bass,  a groove master if ever there was, and Mic Micheli on keyboards, who really pulls some showman moves up there, leaving Ian Haugland as the final member on drums, who hammers his kit with great authority. Both on record and live these guys really deliver.

So, was it a mistake to open the set with the title track from the latest record, “War of Kings”? Well, for me it was the best opening, but it was clear from many around me in the audience it was going straight over their heads. Next up was “Hole in my Pocket” another War of Kings track and I felt there was a definite sense of frustration in the audience… Bring on the hits! Fortunately, the day was saved with “Rock The Night” from the Final Countdown, but at this point I would say perhaps 5-10% of the audience had decided they were done and it was tangible that there were fewer people watching than was true for Queensryche for example.

The audience thinning continued with the fourth track, which was a rather deep cut, coming in the form of the rather obscure title track from the 2009 release, “Last Look at Eden”. For me, and any real “Europe” fan, all this was a great set, but that is difference between a festival set-list, and a headline-of-our-own-show set-list. These are two different things. I’m not sure anyone had explained this to the band perhaps, or maybe they just didn’t care?

However, this is perhaps the problem with a festival like M3, where most of the audience is there because of the nature of the festival, not so much the specific bands, and perhaps more so the headliner. There isn’t one aspect of Europe’s performance you could point to that wasn’t absolutely on point, but the end result, which was reflected in comments on various forums after the show, wasn’t a slam-dunk for the band. You will definitely find people like myself that have most of the bands releases (but not all mind you) who thought they knocked it out of the park, but there will be those who don’t quite agree, I’m sure. Of course, The Final Countdown tracks got the biggest reaction all night, and this included “Carrie”, “Cherokee” and of course the final… track, “The Final Countdown” which was greeted with an absolute roof-rousing roar. In fact, this track probably had the highest audience participation of any played all day, and was a stomping good way to end the day. On reflection, I loved Europe’s set, but it wasn’t the best of the day by any means – for me they were a decent 9/10.

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The End
So, there we had it, another M3 was done. There’s always a post-M3 let-down, where you suddenly realize it’s over for another 363 days…. They pass fairly quickly, but I find myself wondering can they keep this up? Can the organizers keep finding enough bands that will keep the venue full? I think so, at least for the next 5 years or so, but these bands won’t keep playing forever, and, as noted, some really should quit while they are still more or less ahead… For me the top three bands of the weekend (in no particular order) were: Y&T, Tyketto and Queensryche. All three delivered killer performances. Of course, I’d be happy to see any of them back at M3 next year, but I’d be especially happy to see Tyketto over on the Pavilion stage and later in the day – they deserve the exposure and would get that place rockin’ hard. ‘Til next year then!

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

Posted in Just Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by novametalreview

Merriweather Post Pavilion – 5/4/13

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

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

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

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

Love/Hate

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

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

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

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

Steelheart

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

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

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

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

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

Trixter

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

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

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

JSRG

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

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

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

Great White featuring Jack Russell

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

Loudness

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

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

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

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

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

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

FireHouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

And We’re Done….

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

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

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

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

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Jizzy Pearl – Love/Hate

Steelheart

Steelheart

Loudness

Loudness

Loudness

Loudness

Akira - Guitar God

Akira – Guitar God

Michael Foster - FireHouse

Michael Foster – FireHouse

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CJ Snare – FireHouse

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Bill Leverty – FireHouse

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Allen McKenzie – FireHouse