ACCEPT LIVE UP TO THE HYPE
Date: Saturday, July 3, 2021
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
Event: M3 Rock Festival
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato (Enuff Z’Nuff), Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (all other photos)
YouTube videos: Tito Santana (Steven Adler and Queensrÿche), lordofthe80s (Enuff Z’Nuff), Jim Powers (all other videos)
With a full day of great music ahead, I staggered into coherence bright and early to head back over to Merriweather for a jam-packed line-up following Friday night’s showing. But first, coffee. And lots of it. Having just come off of two very late nights, I was feeling the effects of sleep deprivation but my excitement (and an unhealthy dose of caffeine) fueled me along and it was back to “the shed” for another day of sheer rock n’ roll bliss. Fans lined up bright and early each day, which was surprising given that the festival does not have a general admission area to vie for excluding the expansive lawn area. My only interest in rope dropping is to have the pick of the litter in whatever new band merchandise might catch my eye. I confess that the selection this year left a little to be desired. Several bands didn’t sell t-shirts at all while others had very limited quantities that sold out right away. I’m told that this was partly due to manufacturing logistics centered around the uncertainty that the entertainment industry has faced but talk about a missed opportunity! It should be noted that M3 is a “fly date” for many of the artists performing and consequently, transporting crates of merch to and from Maryland isn’t practical. But some of the acts that arrived by bus had nary a t-shirt or beer koozie to be had. Anyway, back to the music…..
Flashback to July of 2020, and Enuff Z’Nuff have just released their solid Brainwashed Generation disc. With live music not happening for the most part, the band is unable to give the album the support that it deserves, and those blips on the radar become fainter and fainter for the life cycle of the record. Simply unacceptable in my mind, given the quality of tracks such as “Fatal Distraction”, “I Got My Money Where My Mouth Is”, “Drugland Weekend” and “Strangers in My Head” (which even saw Z’Nuff reunite with original vocalist Donnie Vie). Fast forward to present day, and 2021 finds the band not only booked for a summer tour with Faster Pussycat but also returning to the Merriweather Post Pavilion stage to pop the cherry on Saturday’s gala. What a difference a year can make.
Opening the show with their cover of “Magical Mystery Tour”, the band sounded like a precision engine thanks to a resumed touring regime or perhaps the months they’ve had to further hone their craft. I’m going out on a limb in the presumption that the song is going to be included on their much-rumored Beatles Rock Show album, which I personally can’t wait to get my mitts on. If any band can pull of a Beatles covers record, it’s this band! Not only are they all talented musicians, but the songwriting merits of former frontman Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff are highly regarded in many circles. The fruits of their labors are scattered throughout their career but nestled abundantly on their second album Strength. Not only is it my favorite Enuff Z’Nuff album, but also one of my favorite albums of all time. Naturally, when I heard those mesmerizing group harmonies leading into “The World Is A Gutter”, I was grinning ear to ear and couldn’t help but sing along. For a song that’s roughly 30 years old, the lyrics are certainly befitting of the times that we live in.
Guitarist Alex Kane was noticeably absent from the stage, having been replaced by returning Diamond Boy era guitarist Tony Fennell. Kane is an absolute madman on stage, with an energy level on par with the Tasmanian Devil. In contrast, Fennell is generally more stationary onstage but nonetheless propels the band’s sound with a brick layer of rhythm guitar supplementation and impeccable background vocals that fill out the choruses just perfectly. It should come as no surprise that Fennell is an experienced vocalist, hailing previously fronted UK act Ultravox. He’s a true asset to Enuff Z’Nuff. Those superb melodies were also on display throughout “Baby Loves You” before the band moved into the ever popular “In the Groove” from their debut album. The pulsating rhythm of the song had the early afternoon crowd percolated as they swayed along to Chip Z’Nuff’s punchy bass line in this classic. The guys finished out their set with the expected but required “Fly High Michelle” and “New Thing.” Yes, they play those songs at every show. But how can they not? I consider both tracks to be masterstrokes and Enuff Z’Nuff at their absolute finest.
Enuff Z’Nuff’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Magical Mystery Tour
02. The World Is A Gutter
03. Kiss The Clown
04. Baby Loves You
05. In The Groove
06. Fly High Michelle
07. New Thing
Enuff Z’Nuff performing “Fly High Michelle” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
Hurricane were one of the bands appearing at M3 that I’ve sort of fallen out of touch with in recent years. They’ve had multiple line-up changes and I had lost track of where things stood as far as who is in the band and who isn’t. If memory served me correctly, I recalled that only two of the band members are original ones (guitarist Robert Sarzo and bassist Tony Cavazo) as they took the stage. One certainly can’t fault them for that, as the same can be said of many (if not most) of the bands that played M3. The primary difference being that singer Kelly Hansen was the identifiable element of the band for me and, as most are aware, is no longer in the band. I do try to keep an open mind and also remember that when it comes to music, maintaining a consistent line-up can be one of the biggest challenges that established bands face. There are many moving parts, personalities and business factors that have to line up just right or it’s a rubix cube. Where I’m going with all this is that it’s OK to just celebrate the fact that a band’s music lives on even if it’s played by new people. Remind me of that little epiphany of mine on Sunday night.
Latest vocalist Dan Schumann joins Sarzo, Cavazo and longtime drummer Mike Hansen in the 2021 version of Hurricane and…. wow! He has a stellar pitch, stoic presence and a real confidence fronting Hurricane. While the frontman made minimal effort to schmooze with the blooming early-afternoon crowd, I chalked that up to them having limited time onstage. When you only have roughly 45 minutes to play, it’s best to cut right to the chase. Hurricane did just that and sounded brilliant in what was a barebones but enjoyable run. Besides, I’m in agreement that it’s a waste of time to high-five everyone in the front row if it keeps the band from squeezing another song into the set. Schumann has a great voice in his own right and did an amiable job belting out those ever-popular tunes like “Take What You Want”, “I’m On To You” and “Insane.” Robert Sarzo played a short solo toward the end of their set that was inspired and a reminder of his tremendous skills as a musician. I consider him more of a laid-back guitarist that doesn’t overplay and is tasteful with his shredding. Hurricane did get to one new song, the ballad “Behind Your Shadow.” It sounded really good and is line with their past works. They aren’t trying to reinvent themselves this song and it has me eager to hear their new music when it’s released. Hurricane are hoping to drop their new album before the end of the year.
Hurricane’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Don’t Change Your Love
02. Hot And Heavy
03. Over The Edge
04. The Girls Are Out Tonight
05. Behind Your Shadow
06. Take What You Want
07. I’m Eighteen (Alice Cooper cover)
09. Hurricane (with snippet of Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”)
10. I’m On To You
Hurricane performing “I’m On To You” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
Every dark cloud has a silver lining, or so they say. While we lost a few acts along the way to the revised festival line-up, two of my all-time favorite bands were added to the roster. The first of those being the BulletBoys, performing with their all original line-up. I’ve seen them perform in various incarnations over the years, but never with the classic configuration of members that played on their first three Warner Brothers albums. As you may have guessed, the BulletBoys were high on my list of must-see performances to catch at M3. When it was time for the band to take the stage, drummer Jimmy D’Anda was the first to emerge. Strutting his way across the stage to take his place behind the drums, D’Anda jokingly taunted the ladies in the crowd in slinky white shorts and a pink satin vest. Style baby! Only Jimmy could pull off that look with his herculean frame. However, he was about to demonstrate that there is great substance beneath that style as he absolutely destroyed it behind the kit. We’d expect nothing less from him. Mick Sweda and Lonnie Vencent were quick to join D’Anda as they dived right into the classic “Hard As A Rock”. Main man Marq Torien then made his grand entrance wearing graffiti tagged white pants and tail-clip that were straight out of ’89.
BulletBoys performing “Hard As A Rock” at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
“Hell On My Heels” followed, and the band seemed so thrilled to be back and playing these songs from their monstrous debut. If they weren’t, they sure fooled me. The BulletBoys could have picked just about any song from their first album and the audience would have eaten it right up. “Shoot The Preacher Down” and “F#9” exemplified that later on in the show, with the latter being the final track on their debut and nonetheless winning them resounding applause despite being more of a deep track. Fully focused on his fretboard, guitarist Mick Sweda didn’t stray too far from his side of the stage except to trade posts with bassist Lonnie Vencent who was stomping, spinning and moving almost non-stop while swinging his bass through the air like a victory flag.
With their setlist concentrated mostly on their self-titled album and Freakshow, I had serious doubt that Za-Za would get any love but I was wrong! At first, I barely remembered “The Show” from that record, but it got my adrenaline pumping and went over like a mack truck. The highlight of their performance was when the bongos were wheeled out to the center of the stage for the band’s cover of “Hang On St. Christopher” by Tom Waits. We just never get to hear that one live and it was such a treat hearing Torien sing and tackle percussion duties in synchronicity with Jimmy D’Anda’s drumming. As is par for the course, they saved the best for last with an encore of their runaway hit “Smooth Up In Ya.” I listened intently to Torien’s vocal performance of that rather tricky song and it was right on the money. No bum notes. He can still wail like a banshee as is required for the song. Dubbing their performance as “musicians against Ritalin” is the highest compliment that I can pay to the BulletBoys’ energetic and inspired return. Seeing the original four together again was high on my bucket list and they lived up to my lofty expectations.
01. Hard As A Rock
02. Hell On My Heels
03. The Show
04. For The Love of Money (The O’Jays cover)
05. THC Groove(with snippets of Power To The People)
06. Hang On St. Christopher (Tom Waits cover)
07. Shoot The Preacher Down
09. Smooth Up In Ya (with snippets of Queen’s We Will Rock You)
BulletBoys performing “Smooth Up In Ya” at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
There are singers in rock n’ roll bands, and then there is Miljenko Matijevic. With an octave range reaching heights that will nearly shatter glass, many either love or hate the sound of SteelHeart’s music for that very reason. I have to say that hearing those vocal feats in person gave me a whole new appreciation for Matijevic’s degree of excellence. When he repeatedly arched his upper torso back like a dragon about to unleash hellfire, the audience witnessed firsthand the sheer power that the man omits from his vocal cords. Astounding! The band opened their show with “Blood Pollution”, as also performed by their alter ego Steel Dragon. The song appears on the soundtrack to the film Rockstar, starring Jennifer Aniston and Mark Wahlberg. When you hear Wahlberg’s character sing in the movie, it’s generally lip-synched to Miljenko’s voice. The current version of SteelHeart is a four-piece band, which is a stripped-down version of the quintet that recorded their first two albums. Guitarist Joe Pessia does a more than formidable job holding down both the lead and rhythm guitar duties, and there’s really no audible difference when the truncated band performs live. I will say that the background vocals that I was hearing emitted from the P.A. sounded far more substantial than the guys that were singing them onstage. Even IF they were using pre-recorded backing vocals, SteelHeart certainly wouldn’t be the first band to use tape to supplement that aspect of their sound. And frankly, how many musicians can keep up with Miljenko and not have it sound paltry by comparison?
SteelHeart performing “Blood Pollution” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
That wasn’t a concern on “My Dirty Girl” from their 2017 CD Through Worlds of Stardust, which had a nasty and rocking sound thanks to distorted vocals and excellent performances by the guys. From there it was straight back to 1990, with not one but four cuts from their superb debut album — “Gimme Gimme”, “She’s Gone”, “Everybody Loves Eileen” and of course, “I’ll Never Let You Go”. SteelHeart were running behind during the festival’s tight schedule, and in an effort to play as many songs as possible kept the between song conversing to a minimum. Checkmark on that decision. Marten Andersson’s impeccable bass intro to “We All Die Young” quickly let the cat out of the bag on the finale to SteelHeart’s show, but I don’t think anyone was complaining. This is a monster of a song to experience live. To say that Matijevic’s voice is powerful is a bold understatement and I can attest firsthand that his voice hasn’t waned at all in recent years. My first time seeing SteelHeart live had me blown away and I like forward to seeing a full performance in the future.
SteelHeart performing “We All Die Young” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
Original Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler aligned himself with a fresh crop of musical talent and star power when he assembled his current ensemble of players in the Steven Adler Band. They delivered what was one of my favorite performances at the 2019 edition of M3 and returned in 2021 to do much the same with Argentinian vocalist Ariel Kamin once again transporting us back in time with what can only be described as an uncanny resemblance to Adler’s former bandmate Axl Rose. They more or less played the same songs that they did during their 2019 appearance, but with a few surprises thrown into the mix this time around. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the legendary music of Appetite For Destruction performed live. It’s rude, it’s nasty and it never fails to get my heart racing hearing those classics at top decibel. “Nightrain” and “Mr. Brownstone” turned up early in the set, just as they did at Adler’s previous performance. But their next song, “The One That You Hated”, admittedly had me scratching my head at first. It’s originally by Adler’s eponymous 2012 band and I haven’t heard the song in quite a while. I had almost forgotten what a cool song it is and was a real treat to see Back From The Dead represented in their set.
Kamin rendered an impressive acapella version of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” that had all eyes on him. Bassist Tanya O’ Callaghan whipped the audience into a frenzy with her bass playing on “You Could Be Mine” as she thrashed about the stage. Draped beneath her massive bouffant of dreads, she looked so cool and played like a beast! The band didn’t get to “Patience” this time, but I was actually happy that they changed up their show a bit. They pretty much have to play the “big three” from Appetite, but it was cool to hear a few new songs thrown into the mix. With such a strong band, I’m sure Adler could pull a few more tricks out of his hat for the next go around. It would be interesting to hear them play more off of the Use Your Illusion records or perhaps “One In A Million” from Lies. It sounds cliché, but there really is nothing new under the sun. Regardless, the one-time Guns N’ Roses drummer didn’t miss a beat as his new band dolled out a mighty fine helping of some of rock’s biggest anthems. All of the cuts were served up with attitude to spare and were an electrifying hit of nostalgia.
Steven Adler’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
02. Mr. Brownstone
03. The One You Hated
04. Anything Goes
05. (Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A) Mercedes Benz
06. Good To Be Bad
07. My Michelle
08. You Could Be Mine
09. Sweet Child O’ Mine
10. Rocket Queen
11. Welcome To The Jungle
12. Paradise City
Steven Adler performing “Nightrain”, “Mr. Brownstone” and “The One You Hated” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
Allow me to go on record in stating that Winger are perhaps the most unfairly vilified band in the history of rock n’ roll. They’ve got an arsenal of great songs composed by world class musicians and songwriters that always put on a great show. Sure, one or two of their music videos from the ’80s might have been what some consider “over the top” but there is still great substance to the band that was wrongfully pigeonholed by those MTV clips many years ago. Furthermore, the ’90s gave birth to some of the most contrived albums in the history of music. Enough of my soapbox rhetoric though. The band began their show with “Midnight Driver of a Love Machine” from 2014’s Better Days Comin’. I definitely didn’t see that coming, but alright. We were moving in reverse chronology as “Junkyard Dog” from Pull was up next. Pull is one of my favorite Winger albums and I’m so glad that they included songs from the album in their show. To me, this record was the band’s “middle finger” to naysayers that wrote them off as ’80s bubblegum and the album’s lead single “Down Incognito” sounds every bit as relevant today as it did in 1993.
Karma even got a little but of love with “Pull Me Under” turning up later in the set. I really liked that the band made an effort to play at least one song from most of their albums rather than just playing every track off of their biggest seller, which seems to be the modus operandi of many veteran rock acts. They seem to know what fans want and try to deliver on that. Nice! “Deal With the Devil” and “Rat Race” sounded ferocious and drive that point home rather nicely. The band weren’t there just to play “Headed For A Heartbreak” and “Seventeen” although those did turn up later in the set to win the band a thumb’s up from me. Eddie Trunk introduced Winger as one of the few bands at M3 consisting of entirely original members and that is true for the most part with one exception. Rhythm guitarist John Roth is not an original member. He joined the band for their Pull album campaign after the departure of original guitarist/keyboardist Paul Taylor. Taylor has since rejoined the band and was present at this show.
Winger’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Midnight Driver of A Love Machine
02. Junkyard Dog (Tears of Stone)
03. Easy Come Easy Go
05. Pull Me Under
06. Down Incognito
07. Rainbow in The Rose
08. Miles Away
09. Deal With The Devil
10. Rat Race
11. Drum Solo
12. Headed For A Heartbreak
13. Can’t Get Enuff
15. Guitar Solo (by Reb Beach)
Winger performing “Seventeen” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
Germany’s chief metal export Wolf Hoffmann honored Accept’s originally scheduled appearance from 2020’s postponed edition of M3, with the band appearing on night two of this year’s festival in support of their exceptional new album Too Mean To Die. And what an appearance it was, with the band leaving its competition in the dust. They were seemingly turned up to eleven and played louder, faster and heavier than any other band of the weekend. In the current incarnation of the band, founding member Wolf Hoffmann is joined by guitarist Philip Shouse, bassist Martin Motnik and drummer Christopher Williams with long-time vocalist Mark Tornillo helming the colossal sounding quintet. I’ve always thought Tornillo is a near-perfect replacement for original lead singer Udo Dirkschneider, and that Accept were lucky that they found him when they did. He’s recorded several remarkable albums (such as 2010’s Blood of The Nations) with the band since joining in 2009, and he delivers the classics in a way that fans remember hearing them. To me, that’s of paramount importance for any legacy act that changes lead singers. David Reece is a great singer in his own right, but Tornillo just fits in with them so well.
Accept started off their show with “Zombie Apocalypse” from their new album, which isn’t about zombies at all. It was such a thrill to hear this song and others from the new album, which I’ve had cranking in my stereo since its release last January. “Overnight Sensation” and “Too Mean To Die” made their way into the mix as well. Wolf Hoffmann introduced the very apropos “Pandemic” to the audience, explaining that it now lands the band a high volume of Google hits just as one might expect. Imagine the number of people that have now been turned onto Accept while searching for up to date information from the CDC. Truth be told, they’ve been playing this song on and off again for a number of years, since the release of Blood of The Nations in 2010. So, to say that they’re playing it for the sake of novelty would not be accurate. It’s simply a great song.
Accept performing “London Leatherboys” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
For being the guitarist in a legendary metal band, Hoffmann doesn’t take himself too seriously onstage and the same can be said of the rest of the band. Hoffmann was smiling and interacting with onlookers while clawing out guitar riffs non-stop through their set. I got the sense that he genuinely enjoys what he does and was having a lot of fun up there. Despite the intensity of the music being made, Tornillo did a quick double take as the beach ball that was being volleyed around flew by him as he was belting out song lyrics. How often do you see that? Hoffmann and Philip Shouse had their generic but synchronized windmilling down and entertained the audience, but bassist Martin Motnik kept a fairly low profile towards the back of the stage. Even so, he turned in earth-shaking bass grooves in perfect sequence with mechanized drummer Christopher Williams. Oldies such as “Princess of The Dawn”, “Fast As A Shark” and “Metal Heart” were rendered with such an attack that they sound as relevant and edgy as ever.
To say that Accept were exhilarating really only scratches the surface but, in truth, having Accept follow up Winger’s performance was a questionable decision in my mind. And I mean no disrespect to Winger by that statement. In actuality, Queensrÿche should have gone on after Winger to effectively segue from their melodic hard rock sound into the razor sharp metal that Accept pummelled the audience with. We went from “Rainbow In The Rose” into “Balls To The Wall.” Accept’s performance at M3 was possibly the most anticipated of the entire festival and the hype was warranted. To put it further into perspective, I actually saw Eddie Trunk watching their performance from the crowd for a better vantage point of what was truly a master class in metal.
Accept’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Zombie Apocalypse
02. Restless And Wild
03. London Leatherboys
04. Overnight Sensation
05. Final Journey
06. Shadow Soldiers
07. Princess of The Dawn
08. Midnight Mover
10. Fast As A Shark
11. Metal Heart
12. Teutonic Terror
13. Balls To The Wall
Accept performing “Balls To The Wall” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
Queensrÿche had the daunting task of following up Accept’s mind-blowing performance at M3 and I didn’t envy the band for that. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes business factors that determine the order that bands play at a festival and some will not go on before or after others due to various reasons. Queensrÿche have also sold more albums in the continental United States, thus rendering their brand to be more of a marquee for promoters. I’ll leave that right there. Following the recent re-release of their ever-popular Operation: Mindcrime and Empire albums with the deluxe treatment, the band had reason to celebrate and did so with a setlist that leaned heavily on those two albums with many old-school gems thrown into the pot. Opener “The Needle Lies” was undated and made the furious declaration that if any band were up to the challenge of chasing Accept, Queensrÿche were. Drummer Casey Grillo sounded remarkable, never missing a beat during the relentless tempo of the song.
Queensrÿche have made a concerted effort to rebuild their name and image since Geoff Tate left the band, and it would seem that part of that process is to revisit their earlier albums, which initially won them their fame and favor with fans. “Walk In the Shadows” and “Prophecy” were in line with that practice and also the first of several older songs that the band would play during their performance. I was pleasantly surprised to hear “I Am I” from their 1994 Promised Land album make its way into the set. With striking visuals displayed behind as the band played, this was the most current of the Tate-era material that the band was to include. Guitarist Parker Lundgren was noticeably absent, having recently announced his departure from the band. Q2K era guitarist Mike Stone rejoined the fold (at least temporarily) for the band’s performance at M3. Todd La Torre was on fire and sounded impeccable, particularly on “Take Hold of the Flame” and “Queen of The Ryche” which are always a treat to hear live.
On the heels of releasing his debut solo album Rejoice In The Suffering (one of my favorites so far this year), vocalist Todd La Torre still sounded nothing less than stellar fronting Queensrÿche and seemed to be giving it his all. I had very little hope that any of his solo material would make its way into the Queensrÿche set though, especially at M3 where bands are generally relegated to playing their hits. I’m glad that I didn’t have my hopes set on that little pipedream. Ultimately it would not only would it be impractical for Queensrÿche to do so, it would effectively bump another song in an already truncated performance. Not one, not two, but three encores were in store for us on Saturday night as “Operation: Mindcrime”, “Screaming In Digital” and chart-topping “Empire” capped off the show. With their intriguing stage production, extraordinary playing and a song selection that touched on just about every point of their catalogue, Queensrÿche demonstrated why they still have a lot of life left in their career.
Queensrÿche’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. The Needle Lies
02. Walk In The Shadows
04. Blood of The Levant
05. I Am I
06. Man The Machine
07. Breaking The Silence
08. I Don’t Believe In Love
09. The Whisper
10. Silent Lucidity
11. Jet City Woman
12. Take Hold of The Flame
13. Queen of The Reich
14. Eyes of A Stranger
15. Operation: Mindcrime
16. Screaming In Digital
Queensrÿche performing “Empire” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 3, 2021:
With the close of Day Two, I couldn’t help but obsess over how quickly the days were just flying by. They always do when we’re having fun, but ten or eleven hours had just gone by in what seemed like the blink of an eye. I was really looking forward to what was ahead of me on Sunday’s schedule since another of my most anticipated bands were set to perform on the third and final day of M3.