M3 Festival 2015 @ Merriweather Post Pavilion

I suspect that anyone reading this or listening to the Metal Heads Podcast would not get the notion that hair metal is a big priority for me. They would be correct in that assessment. My tastes these days run toward a harder, faster, more extreme style of metal. Yet, when I was a young lad in early 1980s, before the advent of thrash metal, and even into the early years of thrash, my introduction to metal came at the hands of many artists that are now called hair metal. While I have grown apart from these roots, I do still appreciate them from time to time. For the last few years I have considered going to the M3 Festival to see what it’s like and remember my formative years. I have been unable to convince Buke to go the last several years, and that is understandable since this music was really all before his time. So this year my wife volunteered to accompany me to the festival, as she knows a few of these songs from the radio. The following is my account of the first two days in May, 2015. It is mostly a true story, and none of the names have been changed to protect anyone.

Day 1

We decided that since neither of us cared about the first two bands of the first day (Korupt and Trixter) we didn’t have to show up when the gates opened at 3:30 on Friday afternoon. We took a little extra time for ourselves and strolled in during the changeover between Trixter and the first band I really wanted to see: Dio Disciples.

For the uninitiated, Dio Disciples is a band put together by some of the musicians that used to play in Ronnie James Dio’s band. The purpose, and a noble purpose it is, is to keep the spirit of Ronnie James Dio’s music alive. The opportunity to see Dio Disciples was definitely a deciding factor in picking up tickets for this show.

We made our way to our seats and a few minutes later Eddie Trunk came onstage to introduce the band. Perfect timing.

I have to admit that I never thought to hear Dio’s music performed live again, at least not in a venue of this capacity. To hear these tunes blaring from Merriweather Post Pavilion’s speakers made me choke up a little. Come to think of it, Merriweather was the last place I saw Dio perform. July 29th, 2003 with Iron Maiden and Motorhead; it was a great show.

Vocal duties were competently shared between Mark Boals (whom I worship for his vocals on the killer “Trilogy” album by Yngwie Malmsteen) and Oni Logan (Lynch Mob), with the lion’s share going to Mark. Both men did a great job of singing in Ronnie’s style and invoking his spirit.

Some of the highlights included “The Last in Line”, “Holy Diver”, Rainbow’s “Stargazer” and “Man on the Silver Mountain” and Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell.” I was a bit surprised that they did not include “Rainbow in the Dark.” I found myself wanting to sing along, but whenever I tried I started choking up again.

Next onstage was Quiet Riot. Quiet Riot was one of my first metal loves over 30 years ago, and I always regretted never seeing them perform. Unfortunately, original singer Kevin DuBrow passed away back in 2007, so this day we saw professional replacement singer Jizzy Pearl on vocals. Do you think there is a Professional Replacement Singer’s union out there somewhere landing these guys jobs?’

Anyway, despite my opinion that Jizzy Pearl looks rather like a hair metal version of Wayne Newton, he and the band pulled off a pretty decent set. Some of the songs seemed a bit off with Jizzy singing, but on others he managed to really channel the spirit of Kevin DuBrow. Apparently there was a lot of channeling of dead people going on that day.

Quiet Riot finished with “Cum on Feel the Noise” and “Metal Health.” The audience participation part of “Metal Health” had us all singing along “Bang your head!!” This was probably one of my all-time-favorite sing-a-longs.

After another quick changeover Dokken took the stage. There are a fair number of Dokken songs that I wore out on cassette when I was younger, so I was both eager and curious to hear what this was going to sound like. Singer Don Dokken and drummer Mick Brown are the only members still around from the old days. The current replacement guitar player seemed like he was trying really hard to look like George Lynch, which was a bit disturbing.

I knew most, if not all, of the songs that Dokken ended up playing. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in this set due to the sound quality. The music sounded fine I suppose, but Don’s vocals tended to be over-reverbed and buried. This was likely due to the fact that while Don’s heart seemed in the right place, his voice was somewhere else. He was visibly straining while singing and not so subtly avoided higher notes he used to be able to hit with ease. Before singing “Dream Warriors” from the soundtrack to the movie “Nightmare on Elm Street 3”, Don told us he didn’t play this song live much because it was a motherfucker to sing, but that he was able to sing it now. Turns out he could sing it because he transposed it down to a level his voice could reach, thereby sucking all the life and power from the song and making it sound like something from Fleetwood Mac.

I was all too happy to move on to the night’s headliners. Kix are local to Maryland and so they surely draw a few more fans here than they might in other places, but damn, I did not expect the crowd they were rocking this particular night. I have to admit that I’m not a huge Kix fan. I like all the usual suspects off “Blow My Fuse”, but I’ve never been dedicated to the band. I’ll tell you what, though; they definitely earned my respect that evening.

Granted, they were the headliner, but Kix sounded and looked better than anyone else on the bill that day. They seemed still relevant (they released a new album last year) and their singer, Steve Whiteman, was one of the few singers who could still hit all his high notes. For a guy whom Wikipedia lists as 58 years old, Steve still has some serious moves. I leaned over and told my wife that Steve Whiteman is the Mick Jagger of hair metal. Rounding Steve out, he also had a great sense of humor and stage presence. Steve Whiteman, whether I am a big fan of his music or not, is definitely a rare talent in front men.

Here’s the thing, though, I really did enjoy their music. The songs I knew and even the ones I didn’t. They performed a set that really made both my wife and I feel the evening was worthwhile. Kudos to Kix and many happy returns.

Day 2

My wife and I were on the fence about when to arrive for Day 2. We were still tired from the previous evening, and turning around to be back again at 11a.m. just was not going to happen. So the question was whether to skip the first band (Bad Seed Rising) and get there for Killer Dwarfs (of whom I am a big fan and really, really wanted to see) or wait another couple hours, get some rest, and show up for L.A. Guns at 2:30. The question came down to whether seeing Killer Dwarfs was worth sitting through the four bands that followed and would lead up to L.A. Guns. I was starting to concede that two and a half hours of down-time was not worth a half-hour set from Killer Dwarfs, but then at the last minute my wife decided we should just go.

We flew down I-70 like the wind, but ended up arriving halfway through Killer Dwarfs’ set, which was a real bummer, but I did get to hear them play “Stand Tall”, “Keep the Spirit Alive” and “Dirty Weapons.”

If I could take an aside for a moment and point out that this year is the first M3 to feature a second stage. Merriweather Post Pavilion is built on a hill, which makes sense as the main stage is a pavilion. To get to the second stage, however, you had to climb to the top of the hill, go across a parking lot and head into the woods. So unless you were in the first 20 feet or so in front of the stage, you were going to have some kind of tree in the way of your view of the stage and/or jumbo screen. This was a little weird, but it was also kind of fun. It just took a little maneuvering to find a spot where you could see what you wanted to see.

Another thing I should note is the changeovers for Day 2. Anyone that has attended a few shows knows the misery of half-hour or more changeovers between bands. The addition of a second stage often helps with this, and I commend whoever planned this event for their ability to keep the ball rolling almost non-stop. My only complaint was that since only five minutes were allotted between bands, and you and 17,000 other people had to hump-ass up a big hill, there really wasn’t anyway to watch one whole set and get to the next before it started. It was a day-long suicide-dash back and forth, up and down the hill. Perhaps this was their way of helping us work off the over-priced food and beer.

When we had arrived in the parking lot my wife insisted I run off ahead and catch as much of Killer Dwarfs as I could while she parked the car and gathered our things (she is awesome, is she not?) so after the set I went to meet back up with her and plan our next move. Rhino Bucket is an ok AC/DC clone, so I gave them one ear while walking and talking and they sounded pretty good. Neither of us had any interest in Tyketto, so we set about grabbing some lunch and walking around the grounds.

Shortly after 1p.m. Tyketto gave way to Vixen, a band I have never cared for and my wife did not know at all. It seemed pretty obvious that this would be a good time to start drinking. I set my wife up with the first of several sangrias, and then started throwing back the most crafty beer I could find: Goose Island IPA.

We drank and walked around as I tried to shield my wife from the reality that is Black N Blue. I saw them back in the 80s, opening for Lita Ford I think, and did not need to see them again.

We made our way back to our seats in the pavilion and at 2:30, with another drink in hand, took in L.A. Guns. Once again I have to admit I’m not a huge L.A. Guns fan, but I did like a few songs off their first album. I can’t say I was pleased to see the band carrying on without Tracii Guns, I know that whole thing that went down was really shitty (if I have to choose between the two I’m coming down on the side of Tracii), but since I do like Phil Lewis’ voice I gave them a listen. Phil’s vocals sounded pretty good and I enjoyed the few songs that I recognized. I started toying around with my camera during this set.

After L.A. Guns we skipped the trek back up the hill for Bang Tango. I was never a fan of them either. Kind of makes one wonder why I even bothered coming to the show. Well, from here on out things were going to pick up. Or so I thought.

Back at the main stage, shortly after 4p.m., Krokus took the stage. I only know a few Krokus songs, but really like those songs. My favorite is the song “Midnight Maniac” that I first heard on the compilation “Crazed, an all out metal assault” back in the 80s. The other is their cover of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.” Well, wouldn’t you know it, but they didn’t play either of these songs. What the fuck? You don’t play your hits? The only songs I recognized were their other hit “Screaming in the Night” and covers of “Pinball Wizard” and “American Woman.” I’m not sure what those covers were about, but this was the most pissed off I was all day when they mysteriously skipped playing their biggest songs. This called for more beer.

Another beer in hand, I bitched to my wife about Krokus while we watched The Winery Dogs play the second stage from the main stage jumbo screens. It was nice that if you didn’t want to climb the hill you could still see the action on the main stage screens, but they didn’t have the volume up very loud and when they started sound-checking for the next band you couldn’t hear them playing anymore.

The Winery Dogs looked and sounded pretty damn good, as should be expected given the trio of bad-asses that make up the band. It was a bit curious to see them playing a more modern sounding music amidst all the 80s hair metal.

Back on the main stage Warrant was due up. I have never been much of a Warrant fan, and I have often judged them harshly in my statements on the hair metal scene, but truth be told there are a couple songs that I secretly enjoy. It is nearly impossible not to sing along to “Heaven”, and “I Saw Red.” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” also kind of does it for me. They played all three. The big “but” here is of course the fact that the late Jani Lane was not there fronting the band. Some other guy was singing, and he did a fair job of aping Jani’s vocals.

Next we decided to head up the hill so I could check out Y&T. I have always had a soft spot for these guys and not surprisingly they sounded great. Towards the end of their set my wife had the brilliant idea that we could listen to Y&T while simultaneously standing in line to get an autograph and picture with festival host Eddie Trunk. This turned out to be the highlight of the day for me.

It only took about 20-30 minutes to get through the line, and I had a festival poster in hand for Eddie to sign. Thanks to all the beer I had the courage to dig out a Metal Heads Podcast business card and slip it to Eddie after our picture. I asked if he would check out the podcast and whether we could get him on for an interview. He said sure, just email him to set it up. So, we shall see if this actually comes to fruition. Let’s hope!

High on how well meeting Trunk went, we really should have just left then. At this point Queensryche was playing with that guy who is not Geoff Tate singing. I will give them credit that the dude sure sounds like Geoff, but come on, do I really want as-good-as-Geoff when I could have the real Geoff? Like so many other bands that have been divided lately, I would prefer if the guys just work their shit out and get back together. I mean no offense to the replacement singer (Union local #666) but unlike Dio Disciples or Warrant, there is nothing stopping this band from putting the pieces back together.

Closing out the second stage was Tom Keifer, also known for being the singer for Cinderella. We were getting real tired by this point and my wife was getting cranky because her delicate non-metal ears were worn out from all the loud (and increasingly louder) music. I told her we could catch the first song from Tom Keifer and split, but that if he played a Cinderella song, all bets were off.

I am a pretty huge fan of Cinderella. I bought “Night Songs” on vinyl when it came out in the 80s and fell hard for their second album, “Long Cold Winter.” Their third album, “Heartbreak Station” was pretty good too. Given that Tom has a solo record out to promote I expected he would play from that and maybe include one or two Cinderella songs to appease the crowd. Not so. Tom played the shit out of some Cinderella songs and I was well pleased (while my wife groaned about not leaving, but she thought he was really good too.)

Tom played a lot of songs off “Night Songs.” My favorites from his set included “Nobody’s Fool”, “Coming Home” and my all time favorite Cinderella song, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).” For this song he brought out his wife to sing with him and they played the first half of the song acoustically. Then after a bit he kicked into full electric mode with the rest of the band and they just nailed it. To quote the drunk-guy we heard on the way out of the venue, “Did you see Tom Keifer? He tore it up!”

My wife was really ready to go at this point, but for the sake of this review I convinced her to stay a little longer for the day’s headliner, Europe. I have never been, nor likely will ever be, a big fan of Europe. I was very surprised to see these guys as headliner, when I’m really only familiar with three of their songs. Granted one of those songs is the massive hit “The Final Countdown”, but I really would have expected Queensryche to headline over Europe.

I knew the likelihood of Europe opening with “The Final Countdown” was low, but I managed to stick around just in case they did. It would have been cool to see them play that song, but after a few songs I really had to get my wife out of there, so we left early (along with a very sizeable amount of the audience.) Europe sounded good from what we heard, but I think they were probably done a disservice by being placed in the headline slot.

There you have it. I satisfied my curiosity with a stroll down memory lane. I don’t know that I will feel the need to attend another M3 festival, just because there aren’t that many bands I really want to see in this vein, but I do have to take a moment to once again congratulate the people that put the festival on for doing such a good job making this a fun weekend for everyone. Cheers!