THE TAILGATE PARTY BEFORE THE BIG GAME
Date: July 1, 2021
Venue: Cancun Cantina
Location: Hanover, Maryland, USA
Event: M-Pre Party
Promoters: D-Toxin Productions and BLE
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato
Each year, concert promoters and venues local to Columbia, Maryland book live entertainment (such as MB4, Sleazy Slimey Sunday, etc.) adjacent to either the start or finale of the M3 Rock Festival. With the festival pulling in huge numbers of both local and travelling rock fans, it’s a way for smaller venues to tap into that niche market and capitalize on the sheer volume of eager ticket holders (such as myself) in town for the weekend. This year would be no exception to that rule, as D-Toxin Productions (along with Brad Lee Entertainment this year) reprised their M-Pre Party at the Cancun Cantina on Thursday, July 1st. Up and coming acts such as Pröwess, The Midnight Devils, Zenora and Whiskey Grin joined Streetlight Circus for the show this year. The line-up was originally scheduled to include Pink Velvet Krush, Sleazy Way Out and White Trash Stars but however, revised scheduling resulted in alterations to the roster of bands ultimately appearing.
Not being terribly familiar with three of the five bands appearing at the M-Pre Party, I had a slight bit of trepidation about attending. Both Pröwess and Streetlight Circus have been around for a few years, however Zenora, Whiskey Grin and The Midnight Devils were all new to me despite the fact that they’ve been around for a few years. Since I would already be travelling to Maryland for M3, I figured it would be cool to make an even longer weekend out of it and check out some new music that I hadn’t heard before. Fortunately, my roll of the dice paid off in spades. And after all, supporting smaller concert venues and artists-on-the-rise is a great way to help the industry recover after the near-deathblow that it’s had to recently overcome.
Hailing from the tri-state area, youngbloods Zenora started the show with a set of high-energy infused rock n’ roll. Zenora’s influences span several decades musically, which is reflected in their sound. They’ve released two EPs digitally, the self-titled Zenora and their latest effort Bring Back Rock n’ Roll. You have to appreciate both the title and sentiment behind the latest release, and it’s always reassuring to see younger bands flying the flag for rock n’ roll, and especially when that rock n’ roll is being played with the degree of excellence and unbridled enthusiasm that Zenora execute it with.
Their music runs the gamut from hard rock to a full-on metal attack, with guitarist Nick Shute rocking out on the Flying-V while his brother Daniel plays a Rickenbacker bass bringing Cliff Burton to mind. For being a newer band, these guys were so tight and had chops that will surely make them the envy of their contemporaries. I wasn’t surprised to find out that several members of the band are well schooled musicians. Just hearing their impromptu jam session during soundcheck was jaw dropping. Their setlist was weighted evenly with songs from both their self-titled and Bring Back Rock n’ Roll EPs. Zenora had another reason to celebrate on the night of the M-Pre Party as they were about to release a new single and closed out their show with their brand new song “Wasted.”
01. Bring Back Rock n Roll
02. Tear It Down
05. Eyes of Diamonds
09. Fist of Lightning
New Jersey power trio Whiskey Grin were fairly new to me, and therein lies the beauty of live music — hearing songs from a band or album in a moving and powerful setting that gives them a new zeal that we, as listeners, can’t help but be reeled in by. Whiskey Grin have zero in common with ’80s hard rock but were one of the brightest discoveries of the M-Pre Party with phenomenal musicianship and impeccable three-part harmonies that shined above a deluge of heavy, bluesy rock in the vein of The Four Horsemen. “Saturday’s Child”, “Old White Bogs” and “Battle Creek” all encapsulate those qualities that I’m referring to. Another standout is the rollicking “Midnight Driver”, which is about stealing cars. I’ve never stolen a car, but listening to this song behind the wheel of one will surely make you drive it like you stole it. Whiskey Grin have been at it for almost a decade (having formed in 2013). This is a group of musicians that really excel and thrive in a live setting, and I highly recommend seeing them if they come to your town. Their CD is great too, but to fully experience what this band has to offer, you have to catch them in concert. They’re out on the road now in support of their 2018 self-titled release.
Whiskey Grin’s setlist:
01. Saturday’s Child
02. Bleeding Me Dry
03. Old White’s Bogs
04. Black SUV
05. Battle Creek
06. Midnight Driver
07. Raise Your Hands
08. Bad Feelin’
No strangers to the M3 stage themselves, Streetlight Circus instead found themselves to be a top draw at the M-Pre Party this year. The band is an underground favorite and have their own devout, hardcore following. Of all the bands that played that night, I saw the most Streetlight Circus shirts in the crowd. That same crowd also grew substantially as the band were about to take the stage following Whiskey Grin. Seeing them live for the first time made it easy to understand why. Their music is very accessible, melodic and laced with infectious choruses that worm their way into your psyche after just one listen. “Ghettoblaster” is fan favorite and a perfect example of that statement. My personal favorite song in their set was the opening track “Downside”, which is on the heavier end of the spectrum that the band travels. By and large, I prefer that heavier side to their sound. It was really cool to hear the guys unveil three new songs in their performance, which are slated to be included on their forthcoming album. If these three songs are any indication, this is going to be a phenomenal record. “Take Me To The River”, “Zero At The Bone” and “Cherry Cola” were all very well received, and I think we’re in store for an amazing album when Streetlight Circus finish this one up.
Streetlight Circus’ setlist:
02. Sad Cafe
03. Silver Spoon
04. Streetlight Circus
05. Cherry Cola (new song)
06. Needle Down
07. Take Me To The River (new song)
08. Ain’t No Love Song
09. Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers (ZZ Top cover)
10. Zero At The Bone (new song)
11. The House Is On Fire (with “Burning Down the House” interlude)
The Midnight Devils
The Midnight Devils travelled upwards of 20 hours from Nebraska and Chicago (respectively) to appear at the show and even got pulled over by the cops on their way. What a visual that conjures up! The Midnight Devils hit the stage like they had been fired right out of a cannon. With teased up hair, war paint, black leather and fishnet, the band looked as though they’d been harvested from the depths of the gutter for one night only. And I mean that in a complimentary way. The glam-slam trio played hard and fast, keeping the party rolling through their set of high-energy, in-your-face rock n’ roll from their 2018 debut album Something Bigger. From the moment he hit the stage to “Generation Durt”, singer and bassist Sam Spade didn’t stop spinning, jumping and pounding the strings on his bass guitar throughout their performance. That is, until he ventured out into the crowd to perform their song “Memphis Mile” from high atop a table in the bar. Guitarist Sniper absolutely shredded as well, displaying a level of skill that make this band a cut above. When I heard his impeccable solo on their cover of Van Halen’s classic “Panama”, I was sold on The Midnight Devils. Veteran drummer Jimmy Mess (Prophets of Addiction, Pretty Boy Floyd) rounds out the line-up, also fitting into the band just perfectly. The band was joined by the members of Zenora onstage for their encore, a cover of Poison’s “Fallen Angel.” For me, The Midnight Devils stole the show and I look forward to seeing them play again. They’re also at work on their sophomore album with some assistance from none other than Chip Z’Nuff, and I can’t wait to hear what they have “rolled up” their sleeves.
The Midnight Devils’ setlist:
01. 2 Miles Down
02. Midnight Devils
03. Panama (Van Halen cover)
04. Baptized By The Radio
05. Memphis Mile
06. Pink Halo
07. Highway 69
08. Bleed Betty Bleed
09. Fallen Angel (Poison cover)
Appearing in support of their amazing 2020 album Blacktop Therapy, North Carolina’s Pröwess took the stage last at about 11:30 pm after the crowd had thinned out substantially. It was raining cats and dogs outside of the patio area of Cancun Cantina on Thursday night, which undoubtedly contributed to folks heading out for the night. That’s unfortunate for those that left. They missed out on an undeterred band that nonetheless delivered a spectacular performance that was inspired and flat-out jaw dropping. I was pretty amazed, and knew that I was witnessing something special from the first song. The backstory on Pröwess only underscores their relentless drive and perseverance in their quest for success. They’ve survived injuries, line-up changes and a stolen van in their relatively short career. The band has released two EPs (Headfirst and the aptly titled Roll’n With The Punches) prior to their full-length album, which also saw their evolving line-up reach a pinnacle to deliver what is now regarded as a “fan favorite.” Blacktop Therapy charted at #12 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020.
Like many other artists, Pröwess‘ inability to tour behind Blacktop Therapy during the pandemic resulted in their album falling short of reaching a wider audience. The band is now hoping that recent touring behind the release will give the album a needed shot in the arm. Mixing elements of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith and even Black Sabbath at times, I was floored by their show from the first song to the last. Their flamboyant frontman Dalton Bowes is the perfect counterpart to the focused demeanor of guitarists Scott Roby and Curly Staples, as the singer slithers and sidewinds his way around the stage like Mick Jagger’s illegitimate child. Pröwess threw in quite a few songs from their latest album, including the title track, “Eyes of The Hunter” and “Heart’s Desire.” Aside from their flawless covers of “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Saturday Night Special” and “My Kinda Lover”, the slower tempo “Let It Ride” was possibly the biggest crowd pleaser of their original material. Pröwess have staked their claim for next-level status. All it takes is a spark and this band is going to blow up.
Pröwess’ setlist (in no particular order):
01. Every Right
02. Eyes of The Hunter
03. Bring Your Love
04. Saturday Night Special (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover)
05. Same Old Song And Dance (Aerosmith cover)
06. Bad Boy Boogie (AC/DC cover)
07. My Kinda Lover (Billy Squier)
08. Welcome Home
09. Let It Ride
10. Heart’s Desire
11. Blacktop Therapy
12. Lookin’ For A Bullet
All in all, the M-Pre Party was a cool night showcasing a tremendous amount of new and established talent. Although stylistically removed from the ’80s rock fest that is M3, there was something here for almost any rock fan to enjoy nonetheless. Supporting live venues and purchasing merchandise from working bands is a grassroots approach to helping the business rebound to a sustainable level again. Just as football fans tailgate before the Superbowl, rock n’ rollers hungry for live music and looking to scratch their itch were able to do just that before the big circus came to town.