Archive for M3 Festival

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!

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M3 Festival 2015 –Day 1 – Trixter, Dio Disciples, Quiet Riot, Dokken – Live Review (5/1/15)

Posted in Just Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on May 20, 2015 by novametalreview

This is the seventh year for M3, which is probably the best festival if 80’s “hair metal” is your thing. If you need to review the history of this festival then see my review from last year and indeed the review from the year before that! This time around I’m skipping the intro waffle and getting more or less straight into it. The only thing I will say is M3 is a 2-day event and this review covers the shorter Day1.

As a VIP ticket holder (meaning you pay a lot more for the chance to be somewhere near the front), there was a VIP-only acoustic performance by Jack Russell’s Great White at something like 3PM or so, but that in itself wasn’t enough of a draw to get us over there early, and in fact we finally made it over to the venue around 4.15, which meant we missed Korupt. I think I have them confused with the band who opened the second day, so no more comment either way…

Tixter

Last time Trixter played here in 2013 things did not go well, so I was hoping for a better experience, and indeed we got much more what I was expecting. We didn’t see the whole set (missed the first 3 songs of 7), but what we did see was tight, well delivered and without any pretention for a band early in the day. Nothing really to write home about, but job well done. (Score: 7/10)

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Dio Disciples
For me, this band was in the wrong position in the running order. DD are essentially the remains of Ronnie James Dio’s band “Dio” and do an admirable job of keeping Dio’s music alive. The band has very much an open door as far as members are concerned, but generally consists of players who were at one time or another in Dio with Ronnie. Vocals for this show were handled by Joe Retta (Heaven and Earth) and Oni Logan (perhaps best known with Lynch Mob). Personally I think I preferred Joe who cut a pretty convincing Dio, but Oni also did a great job – for me though he has a little more character to his voice, meaning he sounds more like Oni Logan and less Dio…

On guitar Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria, Rough Cutt) played a blinder, even though he isn’t really the most visually exciting player around. Simon Wright held down he drums, while keys were handled by the somewhat over-the-top Scott Warren (though maybe he was making up for Craig…). I’m not sure who the fella on bass was, but he did a fine job.

The set opened with Holy Diver, which basically opened the flood gates, filling my mind with thoughts of Dio concerts at Hammersmith Odeon in London through the 80’s. These songs really are metal classics and despite the tribute band feel, Dio Disciples are doing a worthy job of keeping this music alive. Stargazer, The Last In Line, Man On The Silver Mountain and Heaven and Hell were all highlights for me, but all eight tracks player were delivered with conviction and with a great crowd reaction all round. I would have been happy for them to keep playing for another hour… (Score: 9/10)

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Quiet Riot

Trying to summarize the history of this band in a few paragraphs isn’t going to work, so all I will say is there is no one from original line-up of the band at all (1975-1980), and only Frankie Banali remains from the 1982 “Metal Health” era line-up. When Kevin DuBrow died in 2007, it seemed the band was finished, but come 2010 auditions were held and Mark Huff, first of four subsequent vocalists were hired, only to be fired while waiting for brain surgery… Two more vocalists later, Jizzy Pearl (ex-Love/Hate/LA Guns) was hired in late 2013. This show was the first time I saw QR with Jizzy out front.

Overall it was just “all right”. There was nothing particularly memorable or exciting about the set, which finished with the strongest song pairing of “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)”, but despite this it felt flat, and certainly paled in comparison with Dio Disciples. (Score: 7/10)

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Dokken

Back in the 80’s Dokken was one of my favorite bands and “Under Lock and Key” would have been in my top ten albums back then for many years to come, so let me make it clear, there’s no lack of love for Dokken siting here. However, sadly I can’t say this performance did anything good for me at all unfortunately.

First let’s cover the good stuff – Mick Brown is still pounding the skins on the drums and he was most entertaining back there. Equally entertaining was Jon Levin on guitar, who has the not so enviable job of filling George Lynch’s shoes on those classic songs – he does a fine job and pretty much nailed what was needed every time. I don’t remember the bassist (Mark Boals) at all, and it seems he is relatively new to the ranks, having joined in late 2014, but he clearly did a fine job. So well done band members…

Now turning to Don Dokken, it is sometimes hard to accept that time hasn’t been kind, but in this case, when you are the frontman of a band, and a band that carries your name, I think you need to be very realistic about how things are going. In this case, Don’s voice just isn’t up to snuff on many of these songs. For example, “The Hunter” and Dream Warriors” in particular were both vocal train-wrecks. To be honest I kind of zoned Don out for the rest of the performance which perhaps was just a coping mechanism kicking in. For me, my lasting impression was one of disappointment with Don letting himself down like this. It was a bit like watching a Karaoke show, where the music was spot on, but the vocals ranged from just about OK, to dismal… (Score: 4/10)

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The End

And that was the end of day 1 for us… Wait you are screaming! WHAT ABOUT KIX? Didn’t Kix headline? This was the M3 Kix-off party after all, wasn’t it? Ah, yes, this is true, but the fact of the matter is if you’ve seen Kix once (let alone every M3 plus a few other shows out and about), then you’ve basically seen the show that is about to happen. Now I do like their recorded music, I do like the live music, but…not so much the in-between banter and jokes. Cringe. Also the fact that the M3 folks felt that Kix deserved 1 hour and 40 minutes for their set, longer than the main headliner the next day and anyone else at the whole festival seemed a bit excessive. Would this festival suffer if Kix did not appear at all? How about Tom Kiefer/Cinderella headline Friday night? I think that would have been killer… I would have stayed for that.

Next up – M3 Day2!

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/

 

 

Queensryche – M3 Festival 2014 – Live Review (Merriweather Post Pavillion 4/26/14)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by novametalreview

Normally I wouldn’t write a single artist review for a particular performance at any given festival, generally preferring to keep the flow of the day in context, but in this case I am driven to make a very worthy exception. The on-the-day performance from Queensryche at this years M3 Festival in Maryland at the Merriweather Post Pavillion was head-and-shoulders the hands-down performance of the day, so I am compelled to put my thoughts down in an individual review piece. And, you will notice quite unlike my normal crafty keep the ‘score’ for the review to the end – not today – this was a perfect 10/10 performance. Now let me justify that!

For those looking for a review of the whole M3 Festival end-to-end will have to wait a day or two while I get those written, but for now I am focusing on Queensryche. The last time Queensryche appeared at M3 was back in 2012, and that was the second-to-last performance before Geoff Tate was fired from the band and the lid was lifted off the freak-show that Tate seems to drag around with him these days. I don’t want to dwell too much on this rather painful part of the band’s history, but some points need making.

The first point that is entirely relevant to M3, was that previous 2012 performance was decidedly lackluster and flat, with Tate stalking the front of the stage more like a caged wildcat than a lead singer, at one point throwing a mic stand across the stage narrowly missing the front row of the audience, while the remainder of the band seemed nailed to a spot at the back of the stage. This was definitely the weakest performance out of the 5 or 6 times I’ve seen them, and at the time we remarked it was a strange and limp performance.

Geoff Tate was fired immediately following the show that followed M3, and Todd La Torre, formerly of Crimson Glory, was brought into the band, while Tate went off and formed his own version of Queensryche, which left many fans confused and split. To this day many refuse to accept a non-Tate fronted band can be Queensryche, however I take huge issue with this – Queensryche was NEVER Tate’s band, and those that know the original history will know that Tate only agreed to join the band as a member after the original ground-breaking EP was released independently to great success and the band were looking at a large multi-album contract. While Tate had written the lyrics to one of the tracks on the EP (actually in the studio while the recording progressed), the original quartet of Wilton, DeGarmo, Jackson and Rockenfield spent over a year working on getting the EP released while Tate continued other projects. At the time the EP was recorded Tate was not a member of the band, and essentially was brought in a session musician. I’m not going to say that Tate is a creature of opportunity, but it wasn’t his hard work that broke the band, and while integral in the signature sound that followed, those that claim he was a founding member have their facts wrong.

The legal “battle” that followed the firing of Tate and the tale of two Queensryche’s is now over (as of 4/27/14) with the original triplet, Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield, retaining ownership of the name (since Chris DeGarmo has long been out of the band). Therefore the 2014 M3 performance was the last of the dual-Queensryche era.

So, let’s get back to the matter of the moment, the 2014 M3 performance. Queensryche were scheduled exactly in the middle slot of the day on the main stage, due to start at 4.10PM, and as that time approached, it was clear the pavilion area was less than packed, and while some of that might be attributed to Jake E. Lee appearing on the Festival Stage at the other end of the venue, I suspect there were a significant number of people that were playing the “Todd La Torre isn’t Queensryche” game.

After a short intro roll, the band burst onto the stage headlong into “Nightrider”, from the debut EP, which is back in the set after a hiatus of 26 years. Todd La Torre has taken these early Queensryche songs, dusted them off with the band, and given them a new lease of life that, unfortunately, Tate would have no part of previously. The fact that these early songs have sat un-played in a live setting for so long is a travesty in my opinion. These were the songs that brought so many fans to the band, and the EP certainly remains one of my favorite Queensryche records. I was fortunate to see QR last year with Todd in Raleigh, NC (see my review here: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-2G), so I was fully prepared for a great performance from him, but it was immediately apparent the whole Queensryche machine was in top gear, with the sound mix being nigh on perfect from the very beginning (not something I can say for some bands at M3 by the way).

Next up we were treated to “Breaking The Silence” from Mindcrime, followed by “Walk In The Shadows” from Rage To Order. At this point it was clear the audience had woken up and there was special vibe in the venue. Seats were filling rapidly. “Warning” was up next and this classic had Todd with a vice-grip hold on the song and totally made it his own, no question. He totally nailed this and the crowd was in full voice singing along with every chorus. At this point the crowd was just electrified and there was a tangible buzz, with people looking at their neighbors with the sort of look you can only get from seeing something special taking place in front of you. It was the look that says “Wow! These guys are on fire!”

Least I come over as a total Todd-fan-boy, the entire band was on par with him, with Michael “Whip” Wilton and Parker Lundgren ripping some great harmony guitar, Eddie Jackson locking down the bottom end on bass, and of course the intense and awesomely good Scott Rockenfield on drums. I particularly liked the interplay between La Torre and Rockenfield in the instrumental sections of several songs with Todd taking charge of Scott’s left front china cymbal, and subsequently sent several drum sticks flying into the depths of the crowd.

The most recent Queensryche CD is a great record and next up we were treated to cracking version of “Where Dreams Go To Die” which was the first single released from the CD. Live it came across even better than it does on the record, with a heavy yet soulfully melodic vibe, and of course Todd La Torre is able to really sit back and let rip without the concern of comparison.

For me the next track was a transcendental moment, with a just perfect version of “Eyes Of A Stranger” from Mindcrime. Queensyche will always have a particularly special place in my musical heart because it was a joint love of the band that brought my wife and I together many years ago, in a place quite frankly I wasn’t expecting to find a hardcore Queensryche fan at all, let alone that special person to share my life with. That is a piece of history that will forever tie my life to the band. A very special moment passed between me and my wife this past Saturday during this song – sometimes music can be truly magical. Fortunately I videoed this particular song so you can experience this here > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvD9FBrezSY

The whole venue was literally electrified at this point and there was no holding back with a crushing version of “Empire” followed by a perfect “Queen Of The Reich” which has been a backbone of the set since Todd arrived and all the better for it. The set was closed out with “Jet City Woman” and a triumphant version of “Take Hold Of The Flame”. I managed to grab video of the last 3 minutes of the set here > http://youtu.be/lR2BLWsH1Jo

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that anyone who was in the audience who was on the fence regarding Todd being in the band would have to cry defeat following this performance; it was simply outstanding, a tour-de-force and a perfectly structured set to boot. The point has been made. Given the announcement the following day closing the dual-personality existence of the variants of the band, leaving the one-true-Queensryche to move forward, we are now in a new era. There have been many, many bands that have moved forward with new singers – Deep Purple, Sabbath, Rainbow, Van Halen, AC/DC – and now we have Queensryche.

We were fortunate to be able to speak to Eddie Jackson, Michael Wilton, Todd La Torre and briefly to Parker Lundgren, and all of them were clearly excited and empowered by the show. It is clear there is a new energy running in the Queensryche veins these days and that spark is exciting to see. Personally I would love to see a live album consisting of much of the older material currently being played in the live shows – I think it would close the chapter very nicely to have Todd place his stamp of authority on the older material, but whatever comes next, this show was pivotal in getting the new line-up in the faces of so many people in a great venue, with great sound. Again – no question – this was 10/10 performance.

– Neil Waterman

 

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

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2013 by novametalreview

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

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

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

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

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

Danger Danger

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

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

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

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

KIX

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

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

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

W.A.S.P.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danger Danger

Danger Danger

Ted Poley right next to me!

Ted Poley right next to me!

W.A.S.P.

W.A.S.P.

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