M-Pre Party featuring Shokker, Babylon Shakes, Wildstreet, Station, White Trash Stars and Mad Margritt
Date: May 3, 2018
Venue: Sonoma’s Bar & Grill
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
If you’ve attended the M3 Rock Festival in the past (that has taken place in Columbia, Maryland, USA since 2009), odds are that you also know that the M-Pre Party hosted by D-Toxin Productions (run by Dave Dillman) takes place the night before the M3 Rock Festival starts at the nearby Sonoma’s Bar & Grill. Frankly, I look forward to attending the M-Pre Party more than the actual M3 Rock Festival because you can get up close (without paying $850 US) to the various bands performing live and often these days, I listen to the music of the artists playing the M-Pre Party more than I do to the music from the various M3 Rock Festival performers. Of course, you have to take into consideration that I grew up listening to most of the bands performing at the M3 Rock Festival so there is no need for me these days to listen to (for example) Skid Row‘s two first albums for the umpteenth time prior to going to see Sebastian Bach perform live. I can wait two years between seeing Bach play live without listening to those early Skid Row albums. It’s not that I don’t enjoy those two first Skid Row albums because I do love them but there’s so much great new music to discover these days and I’ve already spent a good ten years (probably from 1996 to 2006) listening to many of the same albums over and over again.
All this to say that I was excited to go to the M-Pre Party this year which I thought was a can’t miss proposition if I was going to attend the M3 Rock Festival. For some, they just attend the M-Pre Party and skip out on the M3 Rock Festival altogether but I’ll get back to that later in my review. With most of my “concert buddies” refusing to trek more than 10 kilometres away from their house to see a show (you guys know who you are) and having kind of lost touch with my one concert traveling companion (more on that shortly as well), I elected to make the trek by myself to the M-Pre Party, M3 Rock Festival and Sleazy Slimey Sunday 3. Although I was traveling by myself to get there, I knew that I would be seeing a lot of familiar faces once there and getting to meet in person many people that I have been corresponding with for some time. In any case, as usual, my departure (especially given that I was going by myself with no one to pressure me in respecting the departure time) got delayed and I ended up only leaving Toronto at around 10:30 am. I knew that Shokker were on first at the M-Pre Party and I absolutely did not want to miss out on any songs from their set. I also knew that the distance was roughly eight and a half hours to get there so I needed to shave some time along the way to make it on time for Shokker‘s set.
My late departure time also meant that I had to keep breaks to a strict minimum. Although my wife was semi-concerned that I might fall asleep driving such a long distance by myself (she forced a coffee on me in the morning and reminded me to take a caffeine pill before embarking on my trip), I knew that the ride would actually be an easy one because I would get to listen to “my” music — and not my kids’ music or worse yet a Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol episode coming from the small screen TV in the back of my van — and I was excited to get down for my four-day weekend of music extravaganza. I bet you never thought you’d read about Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol in a concert review. That’s the way I like to roll. You might be wondering what albums did I listen to on my drive down? Although I previously stated that I often listen to the bands playing at the M-Pre Party more than I do to the ones playing at the M3 Rock Festival these days, that comment applies more to some of the bands that played the M-Pre Party‘s sixth edition that I attended in 2015.
This year, I only had one album each from three of the six performers so I would be “discovering” and hearing a lot of new songs on this night. In addition, with the constant influx of new albums arriving at the Sleaze Roxx headquarters plus the many records that I buy myself, I never seem to have much time to get back to listening to albums that I review and often really enjoy. In any case, I ended up listening to the following albums in between various work related calls — The Lazys‘ Tropical Hazards (it was in my CD player and since it’s such a great album, I had to listen to it one more time!); Mad Margritt‘s Love Hate And Deception; Shokker‘s III; Station‘s self-titled album; Denman‘s The Life We Live EP (twice); Kix‘s Live In Baltimore; Junkyard‘s self-titled album; Babylon A.D.‘s Live@XXV; and, Kickin Valentina‘s self-titled EP (twice). The music on my way down was so good that I only did one gas and washroom break five and a half hours into the trip from Toronto [Ontario, Canada] to Columbia [Maryland, USA].
While I was making up time as anticipated on my drive down, unfortunately, traffic rush hour (or should I say “hours”) lured its ugly face and I was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for some time in the state of Pennsylvania. Luckily, things opened up somewhat but this meant that I would arrive about 15 minutes after Shokker‘s anticipated start time of 6:30 pm, which I was definitely not happy about. As I made my way to the Sonoma’s Bar & Grill, which is nestled in a strip like mall but kind of in the back of it among a very residential like neighbourhood, I was very pleased to see that Shokker were still setting up. I was however shocked to see Decibel Geek editor, new podcast CGCM co-host, fellow Canadian, friend and my “ex” concert traveling companion Rich “The Meister” Dillon right in front of me. Both of us had a “What the hell are you doing here?” look as we saw each other. In any case, it was nice seeing Rich again and we both were definitely guilty of not staying in touch with each other. Our surprise encounter was definitely to Rich‘s detriment given that he ended up flying from Toronto to Columbia (spending $350 or so) plus taking ground transportation from the airport when he could have had a much cheaper ride with me from Toronto to Columbia (I figure I spent about $80 Cdn in gas to get there). It really was funny to see Rich there because we had traveled to the M-Pre Party and M3 Rock Festival and stayed in the same hotel room together only three years prior. I guess we each figured the other was not going to attend this year since we had both skipped out in 2016 and 2017.
Alright, enough with the long preamble as it’s time to review the ninth edition of the M-Pre Party!
Shokker literally started their set five minutes after I arrived at Sonoma’s Bar & Grill. I knew that they would be delivering the “heaviest” set of the night and for whatever reason, that kind of scares away part of the M3 crowd. That and being the first band to open the night meant that Shokker lead vocalist Rachl “Raxx” Quinn had to “encourage” the crowd to come a little closer to the stage. Although I say that, there was a sizeable crowd already at Sonoma’s Bar & Grill even though it was only a little before 7:00 pm so that was quite impressive in itself. For those who are not familiar with Sonoma’s Bar & Grill, it is more of a restaurant / bar type establishment than concert venue and I would describe the venue as a rectangle shape with the concert stage in one part of the longest portion of the rectangle but facing the shortest part of it with the bar on the other side. The other portion of the longest part of the rectangle is filled with chairs and tables for people to sit with the respective bands’ merchandise sections on the other side. On the outside patio are more tables and chairs, and lots of smoke from people smoking!
Getting back to Shokker, this was their second consecutive time playing the M-Pre Party and they put on a hell of a performance. All four of them were quite active on stage with Quinn and lead guitarist Casey Tremont doing a lot of headbanging. Quinn demonstrated that her jaw dropping voice on the group’s debut album III was no fluke. The frontwoman can sure hold a note for a loooong time! Quinn‘s red hair made sure that she was very noticeable on stage as well. Her singing parts on some of the Shokker‘s songs are seemingly quite challenging so when it came time for her to sing the group’s cover of Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Bark At The Moon” (which is no easy feat), it really felt like she was taking a break on stage. In any case, I say with confidence that there are hardly any singers out there that could come toe to toe with Quinn on any given night. Quinn also pointed out to the crowd that she was a hometown (or should I say home state) Maryland girl. She first mentioned the town or city that she was from to a cricket’s response before advising that was Hagerstown [Maryland]. You could tell that she has a real affection for Maryland as one of her arms had the infamous Maryland concert venue “Hammerjacks” tattooed on it.
The whole band was really impressive including the rhythm section of bassist Jorey Guillermo and drummer Dan Dash along with hot shot guitarist Casey Tremont who has reigned his Yngwie J. Malmsteen like guitar virtuosity to serve the Shokker songs really well. It was fun to see Tremont shred away during his guitar solos. Shokker played a mixture of songs from their debut album III (which I knew well) and new songs that they are still working on along with the previously mentioned Ozzy cover song. The new tracks sounded really good on a first listen and I really hope that the group will be able to release a new album in the foreseeable future. I got the chance to introduce myself to Tremont after the show and he advised that there is currently (alas) no timetable on when Shokker would be recording their sophomore album. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance (yet) to meet the other band members. In any case, good things sometimes comes to those who wait and if you know Shokker‘s history a little bit, it can take some time for them to release an album! Overall, I really enjoyed Shokker‘s set and only wished that they could have played even longer.
04. Snake Eyes
05. Bark St The Moon (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
06. Digital Deception
09. Midnight Sun
Shokker playing live at the M-Pre Party at Sonoma’s Bar & Grill in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 3, 2018:
LIVE at the M-Pre Party!!!!
White Trash Stars:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA rockers White Trash Stars are the one band that I knew the least going into this year’s M-Pre Party. I couldn’t find that much on them online when I did a preview of the M-Pre Party‘s line-up (at the time as Station were subsequently added) on Sleaze Roxx back in December 2017. Accordingly, I was quite intrigued to see White Trash Stars play. The group’s presentation was what it must have felt like seeing Mötley Crüe in the early days. The group had two fake large fire flames that were nestled on each side of the drum kit on I believe some speakers. The band must have brought its own smoke machine, which was activated throughout the set. White Trash Stars bassist Mal Hyde looked really really similar to Nikki Sixx from his spiked up hair, small goatee (if I can call it that) and all his tattoos. Lead vocalist Caz F looked like a cross between Sixx and Poison‘s Bret Michaels. Guitarist Ray Ray D had a jacket blazer on, a few scarves and some black nail polish giving him a more subdued look just like Mick Mars always had compared to his other Crüe bandmates. Drummer E-Money looked like a little bit like a smaller version of Lee.
In any case, the Mötley Crüe influences seemed to be quite obvious and right down to the cover song that the group played which turned out to be “Home Sweet Home.” That song was dedicated by White Trash Stars singer Caz F to a woman by the name of Tiffany who tragically lost her husband earlier in the week. I had the chance to speak to Tiffany after the show about this and my thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family. I hope that Tiffany doesn’t mind me mentioning this but she advised what a great support network that she discovered having following her husband’s unfortunate death. In any case, although the dedication of the song “Home Sweet Home” to Tiffany was a very nice gesture from White Trash Stars, it was also my least favorite song from the band on this night as I didn’t really like their rendition of it. Luckily, the band’s originals were quite good on a first listen and I enjoyed all the animation that singer Caz F brought on stage. His mannerisms on stage reminded me a lot of Bret Michaels, which I equate as a good thing as Michaels — whether you love him or hate him — is a very energetic and entertaining frontman.
After White Trash Stars‘ set, my friend Rich and I had a fun conversation with the group’s friendly main merchandise lady (her name escapes me) who also advised being a fellow Canadian (who moved to the USA). The friendly Canadian even went out to get Caz F so that he could provide me with a setlist from White Trash Stars‘ set. Throughout the night, I got to meet Caz F along with guitarist Ray Ray D, and both were friendly and a pleasure to briefly chat with. I made sure to get White Trash Stars‘ CD after the show as they put on a good set and I am curious to hear more of their songs.
White Trash Stars’ setlist:
01. Are You Ready
02. Alive At Last
03. Come Clean
04. Come N Get It
05. Home Sweet Home (Mötley Crüe album cover)
06. Lil Love
07. Fire Me Up
08. White Trash Stars
09. Its OK
Station need absolutely no introduction to M-Pre Party attendees as the group has headlined the M-Pre Party five of the last six years with the only exception being last year when they played the M3 Rock Festival‘s ninth edition. Station were riding a high heading into the M-Pre Party as their sophomore album More Than The Moon charted on the Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart after its release last month. Considering that Station are an unsigned and self-managed band, that is a huge accomplishment! That also speaks volumes to their popularity and as guitarist Chris Lane explained to me in a recent interview with Sleaze Roxx that the group has tremendous support from Maryland fans.
Given that Station were also scheduled to play MelodicRock Fest USA in Chicago, Illinois, USA the next day, the always accommodating Dave Dillman slotted Station as the third band to play at the M-Pre Party even though they were technically the headliner. Station lead vocalist Patrick Kearney advised me after the show that it would be an 11 hour drive from Columbia, Maryland to Chicago, Illinois and the band was apparently slotted to play at 5 pm the next day. So no need to say that the Station band members and crew were not going to get much sleep between their M-Pre Party and MelodicRock Fest performances. Kearney also advised me that the air conditioning on the group’s bus was still not working but apparently bassist Emi Asta is such a handyman that he was going to rig some sort of temporary air conditioning unit for the bus.
Back to Station‘s set at the M-Pre Party, the group attracted the biggest crowd in front of the stage. So much that I decided to watch most of their set from afar and also so that I could finally get some food as I had not had any meal of any kind up to this point. I was also quite dehydrated as the best way to describe Sonoma’s Bar & Grill was that it was a “sweat box.” It was almost disgustingly hot and apparently, no air conditioning was activated in the venue. I am usually a person who can sweat pretty easily so the floodgates seemed to be open all night for me in that regard. In any case, I was not the only one as everyone I spoke to seemed to mention how hot it was in there. Fast forward to the next day and I now understand why it felt so warm at the M-Pre Party. The following day, the temperature was at 35 degrees Celsius at one point during the afternoon!
Getting back to Station‘s set, I prefer when the group plays faster rockers than sappy ballads (although I am slowly warming up those as well) so my two favorite tracks from Station on this night were “Dressed To Kill” and “Everything.” Station displayed a lot of energy on stage and were feeding from the enthusiastic crowd throughout their set. Will Station be headlining next year’s M-Pre Party (I am assuming there will be one) for the sixth time in seven years? I’ll put my money that they will be.
01. When I Came Undone
02. Dressed To Kill
04. Cost Of The Sand
05. All You Need Is A Heartbeat
06. More Than The Moon
07. I Won’t Break Your Heart
08. Bass Solo
09. Shot Of Life
10. Don’t Take Heaven
11. One And Only
12. Are You Sleeping
Babylon Shakes may be a “new band” but the group is made out of three experienced musicians including the frontman Chris Clark who is no stranger to the M-Pre Party as well as the Maryland crowd. Clark‘s former band Last Call Messiahs played the M-Pre Party on two prior occasions including that festival’s sixth edition in 2015 which I attended. Accordingly, the second biggest crowd of the night (after Station) near the stage area was generated by Babylon Shakes.
The group play very old styled influenced Hanoi Rocks and Faster Pussycat type songs, which went over really well with the crowd. You could tell that the three band members consisting of Clark (lead vocals and guitar), Gary Jordan (bass) and Jeff “Morty” Mortimer (drums) were having a lot of fun on stage. Jordan confided in me after their set that it was even hotter on stage due to all the lights but you really couldn’t tell that the threesome were suffering from the heat in any way. With Babylon Shakes having just released their new debut EP Exile To The Velveteen Lounge Vol 1 less than a month ago, I only knew a handful of songs from them since I only picked up their EP at the show itself. Nevertheless, it felt like I already knew a lot of the songs as they were easy to sing along to by the time the choruses got underway with Clark, Jordan and Mortimer all singing together really well. The songs seemed to have a bit of a similar formula or model to them, kind of like Autograph with their songs.
Babylon Shakes had the best stage clothes out of any band at the M-Pre Party with what I will call their retro ’70s look. They simply looked (and are) rock stars. One thing that also set the band apart from the rest of the groups that played at the M-Pre Party was that it was the drummer (Mortimer) addressing the crowd for most of the night. I enjoyed seeing how Mortimer was able to play drums and whenever he needed to sing background vocals, he was always able to find his mic, which was hanging over him somewhere, and flick it back in front of him without missing a beat. My favorite songs from the band on this night were the ones that I was slightly more familiar with consisting of “Velveteen Libertine” and “Motel Lights.” Overall, Babylon Shakes put on a great performance. After the group’s set, I also had the pleasure of doing an interview [soon to come on Sleaze Roxx] with all three band members in a parking lot. It doesn’t get more heavy metal than that.
Babylon Shakes’ setlist:
01. Making A Million
02. Silver Tongue Devil
03. Sunset Striptease
04. Hard Times In The Gutter
05. Velveteen Libertine
06. Sin Parade
07. Die Pretty
08. No Pictures Please
09. Motel Lights
One of the bands that I was most intrigued to see at the M-Pre Party was Mad Margritt. Unlike the rest of the bands on this year’s M-Pre Party roster, Mad Margritt have been around for some time having released already six albums since 1997. You can check out my interview with Mad Margritt‘s frontman Eddie Smith from back in late 2016 to get more information on the group’s impressive discography. Another thing that set Mad Margritt apart from the rest of the bands playing at the M-Pre Party was that Mad Margritt play tons and tons of shows in their Georgia state and surroundings. The group is seemingly literally playing one to three gigs per week. Accordingly, I was really looking forward to seeing what the veteran band would bring to the table.
Mad Margritt‘s frontman Eddie Smith had a very David Coverdale like feel to him on stage. He looked like the quintessential rock star and posed on stage like one. I am not sure why but Mad Margritt seemed to have the shortest set as they only played six songs plus a guitar solo. Four of the six songs played came from their latest and very good album Love, Hate And Deception, one from their 2007 album Animal and the last one being a cover of AC/DC‘s “TNT.” One funny part of the show was how the guitarist (which I assume was Mark Cook) was struggling a little bit with his guitar cord that came out of one of its sockets on not one, not two but three occasions including during the guitarist’s extended guitar solo. After the third time, the guitarist mouthed seemingly in disbelief to the crowd “Third time.” In any case, the guitarist handled the various mishaps well. It appeared that many people in the audience didn’t know Mad Margritt as the group drew a smaller crowd but the band members also likely didn’t bring as many friends with them to the show as some of the other bands.
There were a few surprising aspects to Mad Margritt‘s performance. First of all, they had what seemed like a super long intro before Smith finally hit the stage. It would have likely been better for the band to launch right into its set given the limited time that it had on stage. This prompted the guitarist, while waiting for the intro to finish, to tell the crowd in a joking way something to the like of “Only 20 more minutes!” Second of all, I was quite surprised to see an extended guitar solo in the set, which limited Mad Margritt to only playing six songs. Considering Mad Margritt‘s extensive song catalog, it would have been better to hear two more songs from the band rather than a very long intro and an extended guitar solo. One regret that I have is that I forgot to introduce myself to Smith at some point in the evening given that I had previously had the pleasure of interviewing back in 2016.
Mad Margritt’s setlist:
02. Loaded Gun
03. Take Your Best Shot
04. It’s Time I Told You Goodbye
05. Guitar Solo
06. The One You Love To Hate
07. TNT (AC/DC cover)
The surprise of the night was definitely Wildstreet. I wasn’t familiar with the group’s songs aside from the ones that I had posted in various Sleaze Roxx articles in the last few years including the new single “Raise Hell.” Wildstreet frontman Eric Jayk definitely looked like a rock star. He had a huge set of died blond and blue hair. He was quite thin but muscled and reminded me of a shorter Michael Monroe. Jayk even addressed the M-Pre Party crowd by stating something to the like, “Bet that you’ve never seen people like us before?” Joining Jayk on stage was a brand new cast from the ones that had appeared on the group’s debut self-titled album.
What set Wildstreet apart from the rest of the groups at the M-Pre Party was the amount of energy that they seemingly put out on stage. You had four very excited young band members that were really into it and then Jayk who commanded attention with his rock star look. It was simply very hard not to get into the group’s set with the great performance that all the band members were putting forth on stage. Both my friend Rich and I agreed that Wildstreet were very impressive. There wasn’t that much interaction between Jayk and the crowd but that really wasn’t necessary with such good songs and great stage presence. I also got the opportunity to meet the friendly Jayk who I had interviewed back in early 2017 and pick up the group’s two albums — the self-tiled full-length album (2009) and the EP Wildstreet II …Faster …Louder (2017). Overall, I thought that Wildstreet delivered the best performance of the evening.
01. Shake It
02. Tennessee Cocaine
03. Hot Lixx
04. Poison Kiss
05. Midnight Gypsy
06. Wanna Get It On
07. Born To Be
08. Cocked & Ready
09. Raise Hell
10. Easy Does It
One highlight of the M-Pre Party for me specifically was getting to finally meet Sleaze Roxx contributor Christopher Carroll in person. When we finally met, Chris opined that I was a lot bigger (he must have meant taller) than he had imagined. If you have been following Sleaze Roxx for the last couple of years, you will have likely noticed an upgrade in the photos that are sometimes posted on the website and a large part of that is due to Chris‘ amazing photos. Chris will actually have a booth to display and sell some of his photos at the upcoming Sleazy Slimey Sunday 3 in nearby Hanover, Maryland on May 7th. I want to thank Dave Dillman for putting on another fantastic M-Pre Party and more importantly giving a showcase for these bands that so many more people should know about. I truly look forward to the M-Pre Party for the opportunity to see bands play live that I would usually never have a chance to see. My friend Rich thinks the same thing as he flew in from Toronto for one night only and especially for the M-Pre Party with no plans of even attending the M3 Rock Festival. Now that is a true fan!