L.A. GUNS FEAT. STEVE RILEY AND KELLY NICKELS DELIVER UNDER PRESSURE
Date: May 4, 2019
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavillion
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
Event: M3 Rock Festival
Reviewers: Tyson Briden and Jeff Onorato
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (Autograph, Kingdom Come, Danger Danger and L.A. Guns feat. Riley and Nickels) and Jeff Onorato (Tora Tora)
This year, Sleaze Roxx had not one, not two, not three but four representatives attending the M3 Rock Festival. Sleaze Roxx IT guru Ed DeGagne, professional photographer Christopher Carroll, seasoned writer Tyson Briden, and new writer and cartoonist Jeff Onorato were all in attendance at M3, and both Tyson and Jeff reviewed the band’s performances.
Tyson Briden: Sometimes the morning after a really good night can be a little tough. Around 9:30 am, I awoke to the sound of… well it wasn’t pouring rain, but it was overcast. As I made my way out of bed, I grabbed two tooth picks and pried open my eyelids. “Man, does my head hurt!” As I tried to collect myself I thought, “Geez, is that why they’re called Danger Danger? Cause if you go out drinking with them till 3 a.m., the next morning will be Danger Danger!” Honestly though, I place the blame on nobody but myself. I was knee deep in beers before I ran into those guys. This just added to my future hangover.
Suddenly, I had an epiphony, “I’ll go down to the hotel gym and have a quick run!” So that’s what I did. It did the trick. I was back in business. I showered, got dressed and threw on some of my best cheap cologne. Then I tried to awake the sleeping bear — my wife. There should have been a sign on her that read, “Beware Tyson, this is not going to be easy!” The only reaction I received was, “You go. I’ll meet you there. What time is Danger Danger?” “3pm — I think!” I thought “What did Bruno say last night?” I quickly threw on my boots, turned to my wife and said, “Okay, see you in a bit! I’ll text you about Danger Danger. I am not missing Tora Tora. Can you text an Uber for me?” I then went to the fridge, grabbed a Busch, quickly quenched my thirst and made my way to the lobby to wait.
Within minutes, my Uber had arrived. Twenty minutes later, I was yet again at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. I could hear the sounds of a familiar song as I got out of the Uber. “That sounds like ‘Love’s A Bitch.’ Is Tora Tora already on?” I checked the time. “There’s no way. It must be soundcheck!” I quickly ate the sandwich I had grabbed from the fridge in the hotel and walked to the long line-up. I checked the time again. I had ten minutes till the doors opened. The ten minutes passed, then another five and another five. You could hear people starting to get pissed off. Suddenly a loud voice in the line-up shouted, “What the fuck! It’s 11:40 am! Ere you going to open the gates? This is bullshit.” Everyone laughed. I guess this gentleman became the hero of the day because the line-up suddenly began to move. Everyone began applauding this man’s good deed. I didn’t catch his name, but if he’s reading, “Thanks man!”
I made my way through the gates and up to the $5 dollar beers. I grabbed two because, well, it was a bit of a hike up that hill. There was no one but me up there. I conversed with the server for a minute and made my way to my seat. I had ten minutes to kill before Tora Tora… So I waited.
Tyson Briden: Tora Tora hit the stage exactly at noon. It was like a whirlwind. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck begin to stand up. Literally a feeling of fulfillment and happiness flowed through my blood. After all these years, Tora Tora were finally before me playing live music. The band broke in with “28 Days” and it sounded exactly as it had in 1989 when I first heard it. I was mesmerized as the band tore through their quick but great set. As I watched intently, it was if time was standing still. Have you ever been that into the music that nothing else around you seems to matter? There could have been bombs going off all around and I would have not noticed. Even though it was so early in the day, I didn’t care. What an amazing start to this day. The setlist was perfect. The band really mixed it up. Three songs from Surprise Attack, one from Wild America, one from Revolution Day and of course one from the band’s fantastic new album Bastards of Beale. Just like that it was over. Just before the band left the stage, singer Anthony Corder announced that the band would be hanging out at the merch booth right after the show. That caught my quick attention as I had recently interviewed Corder back in January (see parts 1 and 2), so I had to go say hello.
Jeff Onorato: Day #2 of M3 started off on a high note, and things would stay that way for the most part throughout the day. Memphis, Tennessee’s Tora Tora kicked off the day. They faced the daunting task of opening at 12:00 in the afternoon. What the crowd lacked in volume, it more than made up for in enthusiasm for Tora Tora’s music. They kicked things off with “28 Days” from their classic debut, Surprise Attack. Within the confines of a short set, they still managed to play a few songs from each of their albums. I always felt like Tora Tora never got the recognition that they deserved, having followed up their debut album with the fantastic Wild America release. They certainly were not victims of the “sophomore slump”. Their second song, “Amnesia”, would only drive this point home as many in the audience could be seen singing along. Frontman Anthony Corder seemed so happy to be performing, and worked the entire stage throughout their set. From there, it was back to Surprise Attack with two of Tora Tora’s biggest hits, “Guilty” and “Walkin’ Shoes.” Representing the band’s third album, the title track from Revolution Day was up next. They wrapped things up with “Son of A Prodigal Son” from their great, new Bastards of Beale album which was just released in February. Tora Tora had the unique distinction of being the only band to play M3 with an entirely original line-up. It was a short but sweet set and I’m glad the guys are back.
Tora Tora’s setlist:
01. 28 Days
04. Walkin’ Shoes
05. Revolution Day
06. Son Of A Prodigal Son
Tora Tora performing “Guilty” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Colombia, Maryland, USA on May 4, 2019:
Tora Tora performs during Day 2 of the M3 Rock Festival. Shot from Section 202, Row B, Seat 14 with a Panasonic Lumix ZS100.
Tyson Briden: I decided to make my way over to the merch booth and patiently wait for the boys in Tora Tora. To be honest, their arrival took longer than I had anticipated, but I totally get the fact of just coming off stage. You’re sweaty. Adrenaline is flowing through your veins. You want to take a breather for a few moments. Trust me, I’ve been there. So not to miss the Tora Tora gents, I waited on the railing at the top of the venue, which was only seconds from the merch booth. Autograph came on only moments after Tora Tora. Honestly, it was only about ten minutes. So what can I say about the band’s performance? Strange in a way. What struck me right off the bat was that singer Simon Daniels or Danny Simon as he was known in his days with the band Jailhouse — his vocal tone was very different from that of original vocalist Steve Plunkett. It can be said that Plunkett had a very smooth, high pitch, almost ear piercing vocal approach. Daniels‘ approach is a little more baritone. A sort of almost ’90s vocal characteristic to it. That kind of threw a curve ball at me. It may also be true that Plunkett had a slightly more charismatic personality than that of Daniels, but I had never seen Plunkett live, but what I remember from the videos, he always liked to show his face front and center.
I also found the setlist to be slightly confusing. It’s a double edged sword with these types of events. How much old material do you play and how much material from your latest album? My personal feeling is that most want to hear the old material. For the band though, who is indeed promoting the latest work to sell albums, they want to mix it up. Sometimes that can be hard. If the new material, with a different singer and a slightly newer sounding approach is mixed with the older ’80s sounding material, it can make for a mismatch of emotions musically. I myself found it hard to really pay attention. I also found that the snare drum sound was too much in the mix. It was very snappy. In some ways it effected the band’s overall presentation. Besides the snare, musically the band was brilliant. Original guitarist Steve Lynch still possesses the ability to ‘wow’ a crowd. It’s funny with Lynch, he was really just as accomplished back in the ’80s, but never seemed to receive the accolades that players like George Lynch or Jake E. Lee did. Possibly it was the more pop metal orientated style of music he played. I can also attribute that statement to a player such as Andy Timmons. His playing didn’t seem to get recognized until Danger Danger’s heavier, more guitar orientated album Screw It came out. Truth be known also that Timmons didn’t play a majority of the material on the first Danger Danger album, so possibly my comparison falls flat, but I think you catch my drift.
Overall, I was slightly disappointed by Autograph. Possibly seeing the band in a full set capacity, I could make a better judgment. Also I must note that the band performed nothing from 1985’s That’s The Stuff album. Personally, I thought it would be a given to play “Blondes in Black Cars.” I much prefer that song to the overplayed “Turn Up The Radio”, but seriously, they have to play that one. I was impressed to hear “Loud And Clear” from the album of the same name. That may have been the highlight of the set for me.
Jeff Onorato: Autograph were up next. The Pasadena, California quartet kicked off their show with “Deep End” from their 1984 debut Sign In Please. Current frontman Simon Daniels (a.k.a. Danny Simon — formerly of Jailhouse) did a commendable job of replacing original singer/guitarist Steve Plunkett on the band’s older material. Drummer Marc Wieland was most impressive behind the drums, playing hard and fast throughout Autograph’s eight-song performance in perfect time with original bassist Randy Rand. Their third album, Loud And Clear, was next to surface by way of the title track. The remainder of Autograph’s set consisted of material from 2017’s Get Off Your Ass and Sign In Please. “You Are Us, We Are You” was followed by “All I’m Gonna Take” and “Send Her to Me.” Founding member Steve Lynch then performed a brilliant guitar solo, demonstrating his impressive chops. “Every Generation” and “Get Off Your Ass” followed. Autograph’s hit “Turn Up the Radio” finished out their performance, to the approval of the audience that had arrived early to see them.
01. Deep End
02. Loud And Clear
03. You Are Us, We Are You
04. All I’m Gonna Take
05. Send Her To Me
06. Guitar Solo (Steve Lynch)
07. Every Generation
08. Get Off Your Ass
09. Turn Up The Radio
Autograph performing “Turn Up The Radio” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Colombia, Maryland, USA on May 4, 2019:
M3 2019 AUTOGRAPH BAND
Tyson Briden: My feelings about Kingdom Come have always been mixed. I am really not sure why. Possibly because back in the day, they were a “Take it or leave it” type band for me. If it comes on the radio, I’ll listen, but they’re not on the top of my list of great bands of the ’80s. Sure, I own both releases from the original band, but hell, I own just about everything from the era. I will admit in the weeks leading up to the M3, I had listened to both vinyl copies of the first two albums. It was generally the same feeling for me when I listened. Somehow the music doesn’t resonate as well as say Whitesnake or Cinderella. I thought possibly in a live setting, the music would come across better. Now you may ask yourself, “Tyson, what’s the verdict?” Initially, it was good.
When the band hit the stage, I felt a certain amount of excitement. I was very impressed with the delivery of new vocalist Keith St. John. It may also be that I love his latest album with Burning Rain. What I found very confusing was the approach by the original band members. Guitarist Danny Stag, looking very much like Uli Jon Roth these days, still had the chops. Rick Stier was the same, but they seemed almost uncomfortable on stage. In some sections, the guitars didn’t seem to cut very well, but we can possibly attribute that to the sound man. Besides St. John, bassist Johnny B. Frank was the one that impressed me the most. He still looks like he did in 1988. Very slim, dressed in rock attire and sporting the same blonde locks.
As for drummer James Kottak, at one point he got behind the microphone and made a speech to the audience that made me cringe. It seemed very out of place and almost self-indulgent. Possibly the reason he did this was to make note of the fact that he is still a rock star. He played in the Scorpions don’t you know? Although you were once married to his sister, you’re not Tommy Lee dude! It seemed as though Kottak was almost slurring his words at times. What made it more uncomfortable was when he turned to the audience, pulling off his t-shirt to exposure a back tattoo that emulated the t-shirt he just pulled off. Lord, save me!
Overall, the band was tight, but something was amiss. It could be said that possibly with St. John fronting this band, I was expecting more. With Burning Rain, he is so freakin’ good, but Kingdom Come is a totally different animal. Anyways, possibly the next time I see the band, I will feel different, but I am not sure there will be a next time. Only time will tell! Just remember also — you never get a second chance to make a first impression! Hopefully, my feelings towards the band have not been jaded. I am a forgiving person though!
Jeff Onorato: Kingdom Come have been out on tour this year commemorating the 30th anniversary of their self-titled debut album. Founding members James Kottak, Danny Stag, Rick Steier and Johnny B. Frank have regrouped without original vocalist Lenny Wolf who opted not to take part in the reunion. While the band’s new singer Keith St. John certainly did a respectable job on vocals and is a seasoned frontman, something was missing for me without original singer Lenny Wolf. I find Wolf’s tone to be a key component in the band’s Zeppelin-esque material. Kingdom Come kicked off their short set with “Living Out of Touch” from their eponymous debut. The crowd pleasing track “Do You Like It” (from In Your Face) was up next. Guitarist Danny Stag delivered a short solo of incendiary blues riffs that showcased what a skilled guitarist he is. From there, they continued with another track from their second album — “Highway 6” — before slowing things down with the moody ballad “What Love Can Be.” The song went over well, and was the only break in their otherwise rocking set. Before finishing out their performance, drummer James Kottak spoke with the crowd briefly. He shared his memories of playing Merriweather with former band Scorpions and the late Jani Lane. It was nice to hear him reminisce on his former bandmates and show appreciation to the crowd for their support before delivering Kingdom Come’s biggest hit, “Get It On.”
Kingdom Come’s setlist:
01. Shout It Out
02. Pushing Hard
03. Living Out Of Touch
04. Do You Like It
05. Highway 6
06. What Love Should Be
07. Perfect ‘O’
08. Get It On
Kingdom Come performing “Get It On” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Colombia, Maryland, USA on May 4, 2019:
M3 2019 KINGDOM COME
Tyson Briden: Danger Danger are one of my favorite bands on the planet. One of the main reasons I was at this event was because of a conversation I had with bassist Bruno Ravel a few months back. More or less, Bruno advised me that you just never know when things can change, so this may be a perfect opportunity to come see the band again. Don’t read too much into that statement, there is nothing on the horizon that will see Danger Danger calling it quits. I think as we get older and wiser, we begin to see the relevance in capturing every moment because it may not be there tomorrow, so seeing Danger Danger at M3 was important to me.
I voted Danger Danger number three on my list of rankings. Possibly had Danger Danger played a headlining set, they would have been number one. To me, that statement says a lot. For a band to make the top of the list with just them, a set of drums, a few amps and a backdrop speaks volume to how great of a band they are live. On this day, Trixter guitarist Steve Brown would be yielding the axe for the band’s set. Perfect choice really. Brown is a superb guitarist, showman and back ground vocalist. In some ways, I have to admit that I really missed former guitarist Rob Marcello though. The honest truth is that Marcello is the only guitarist I have ever seem preform with Danger Danger, but Brown did a superb job regardless. With Marcello — for myself and my wife — is the fact that we have had the chance to hang with Rob and he is just such a great guy. A super, genuine music loving soul! He fits within the confides of Danger Danger so well.
As for the show itself, well the first couple songs were interesting as a loud ‘fuzz’ kept interrupting the set. This fuzz kept coming through the front PA. It would be lost and then return. I recall two gentlemen sitting right behind me. I’d turn to them and we’d just smirk at each other. Overall, it really didn’t ruin Danger Danger’s set. If anything it was quite humorous. There were also times during the show where you could see Bruno Ravel pointing to his monitor for the stage soundman to fix his stage mix. It wasn’t a perfect Danger Danger set I am sure, with Bruno and Steve West, they are the consummate professionals who expect the very best in terms of sound, production and overall perception on stage. Having small details derail your show can be very frustrating. As I mention that, I was told this is the reason why a band such as Kix bring their own soundman. Logistically, for a band like Danger Danger who are not top on the bill, that option doesn’t seem to make sense. Regardless, whatever issues may have transpired, they were overcome and Danger Danger, as always were fantastic. Stellar job gentlemen.
Jeff Onorato: Danger Danger brought the party to M3! With Trixter’s Steve Brown on guitar, original members Ted Poley, Bruno Ravel and Steve West ripped through a rollicking set of eight songs focused almost entirely on their debut album. For the bands playing a shorter set, I can understand the logic in this. With a limited amount of stage time, there are only so many songs that they can get to. It only makes sense to play the songs that the audience would be most familiar with. Opening with “Rock America”, Ted Poley was in his usual enthusiastic / fun-loving spirits. “Beat The Bullet” and “Under The Gun” followed, and I was really impressed by the level of musicianship on display. Bruno Ravel’s backing vocals were nearly perfect. Ted Poley is such a great entertainer, too. He continued to work the crowd as he left the stage and ventured out into the audience as far as he could without losing the signal to his wireless microphone. He never missed a beat while high-fiving and snapping selfies with eager fans. Unfortunately, Ted lost a bracelet in the crowd while all of this was going on. Hopefully, he got it back! One of my personal favorites, “Monkey Business” followed up. It turned out to be the only song played from the Screw It! album. The ballad “Don’t Walk Away” then slowed things down for just a bit, before the festivities resumed with “Don’t Blame It On Love.” They rounded out their set with their two most well-known songs — “Naughty Naughty” and “Bang Bang.”
Danger Danger’s setlist:
01. Rock America
02. Beat The Bullet
03. Under The Gun
04. Monkey Business
05. Don’t Walk Away
06. Don’t Blame It On Love
07. Naughty Naughty
08. Bang Bang
Danger Danger performing “Naughty Naughty” and “Bang Bang” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Colombia, Maryland, USA on May 4, 2019:
Naughty Naughty & Bang Bang, Danger Danger (Steve Brown of Trixter on Guitar), M3 Festival, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland; May 4th, 2019; Day 2 of the Festival
L.A. Guns (feat. Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels):
Tyson Briden: So here it is – the $50 million question — could Kelly Nickels and Steve Riley pull it off? With this being the second version of L.A. Guns currently out playing live, many were skeptical. I myself could not wait. I knew that these two members of the band’s classic line-up would be ready. These are professional musicians remember. “C’mon Tyson? Really? We’ve seen the live footage. Singer Kurt Frohlich isn’t original vocalist Phil Lewis!” “Okay, fair enough, but this isn’t L.A. Guns with Phil Lewis. This is L.A. Guns with Kurt Frohlich on vocals! He’s amazing in his own right and makes it very believable!” “But Tyson, the other version is better!” “Are they though?” From what I saw on that stage, there was a certain energy that really brought out the best in this version of L.A. Guns. That energy and attitude was what made me love L.A. Guns back in the day. My personal feeling is that bassist Kelly Nickels is one of the original members of the band that brings a lot that energy and attitude to the stage.
As for guitarist Scott Griffin — who would have thought the former bass player of L.A Guns could shred on guitar like he does. I spoke with Griffin later on at the hotel and complimented him on a job well done. He mentioned that he played bass to get the gigs, but has always played guitar.
What I thought was great about this line-up was the song choices. I hate to say it and I’m glad because I did not have to hear any material from the latest L.A. Guns albums. I felt those albums were not my cup of tea. Please don’t take that as an insult towards Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis because it is not. I am just not a fan of that work. I have no issue with that line-up of L.A. Guns. I think although it may be confusing to some, I think there is room for two versions. It all boils down to a matter of preference. Do you want to hear the version that plays all the classics or the version that does the classics and new material. Equally, I believe they are both good. With that said, the material that was done at this show was a compliment to the band’s early work. It featured material from the self-titled debut album, Cocked And Loaded, Hollywood Vampires and one track from Vicious Circle, which featured Kelly Nickels on vocals.
What was also interesting about this L.A. Guns show, was that the band brought along their very own photographer, Mr. Mike Pont. Now for those that don’t know, Pont was once a singer in a great band called Hotshot. Hotshot was a New York based band that featured Pont, TSO guitarist Al Pitrelli and former Great White bassist Teddy Cook. In Metal Edge back in the day, Hotshot were seen gracing the pages. Who remembers the Rock On The Rise section? Pont actually released a CD of the band’s demos back in the mid 2000s. That CD was very well received. Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx was a big supporter of the band and can be heard on the intro of the album. Now it may seem funny that I make mention of the photographer so in depth, but I thought the acknowledgement was key to the show as Pont was seen at various points in the show on the stage or taking photos after the show with the fans. Pont was someone that I myself had not seen in years and it was great to catch up with an old friend. Pont is also very close to bassist Kelly Nickels, so it was only natural that Pont be involved in such a pinnacle moment for Nickels.
So, moving forward, who knows what will become of this version of L.A. Guns. For me, it was great to see Kelly Nickels out playing again. I was lucky enough to meet Nickels and he was outstanding. A very quiet, genuine man who was happy to be there. I have heard talk that this line-up could potentially be looking at more shows or even possibly there could be material recorded. Nothing has apparently been written as of yet, but let’s see what the future may hold for this version of L.A. Guns. A great, entertaining set gentlemen. Cheers.
Jeff Onorato: Of all the bands performing at M3 this year, L.A, Guns might have been my most anticipated. As a die-hard fan of this band, the reunion of drummer Steve Riley and bassist Kelly Nickels had me really curious. I knew the backstory about their involvement in the festival prior to the show. I made an effort to watch their set with an open mind. I’m happy to say that I was blown away at how great they sounded. With new frontman Kurt Frohlich handling rhythm guitar, I was absolutely floored at how meticulously he sang and presented the L.A. Guns classics. The band opened with “Over The Edge” from 1991’s Hollywood Vampires. The song started off with the slow build that it is known for before erupting into a full-on groove.
From the moment that things took off, I knew we were in for a great set. “Never Enough” was next, followed by another L.A. Guns concert staple “Electric Gypsy.” For this special show, the band dusted off a few deep cuts from their Cocked And Loaded and Vicious Circle albums. The first of those was “Slap In The Face.” It was great to hear these L.A. Guns tracks played live. “Sex Action” was next, to the delight of the crowd. “Wild Obsession” was another rarity and was a pleasant surprise. “Kiss My Love Goodbye” and “The Ballad of Jayne” followed. The next song was the highlight of the set for me. Bassist Kelly Nickels took over on lead vocals for a performance of “Nothing Better to Do” from 1994’s Vicious Circle album. From a fan perspective, it was cool to hear the punk-rock infused track performed live. Former bassist turned lead guitarist Scotty Griffin did an incredible job and executed the solos perfectly. They wrapped up their set with “No Mercy.” As a long-time L.A. Guns fan, it was awesome just to see Kelly Nickels and Steve Riley share the stage again.
L.A. Guns’ setlist:
01. Over The Edge
02. Never Enough
03. Electric Gypsy
04. Slap In The Face
05. Sex Action
06. Wild Obsession
07. Kiss My Love Goodbye
08. The Ballad of Jayne
09. Nothing Better To Do (w/ Kelly Nickels on lead vocals)
10. No Mercy
L.A. Guns (feat. Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels) performing “Wild Obsession”, “Kiss My Love Goodbye”, “The Ballad of Jayne” and “Nothing Better To Do” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Colombia, Maryland, USA on May 4, 2019:
Wild Obsession & Kiss My Love Goodbye & The Ballad of Jayne & Kelly Nickels Lead Vocals Last Song on Nothing Better to Do, LA Guns (Steve Riley Version with Kelly Nickels -Bass, Kurt Frohlich – Vocals, Scott Griffin – Guitar), M3 Festival, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland; May 4th, 2019; Debut Performance by this Lineup/Version