M3 ROCK FESTIVAL 2022 (DAY THREE) CONCERT REVIEW – PART 2 OF 2
Date: Sunday, May 8, 2022
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
Event: M3 Rock Festival
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography
YouTube videos: Jim Powers
Louisiana hard rock trio Zebra were another band that I knew little about prior to my exposure to them at M3 this year, except that they were fronted by singer/guitarist Randy Jackson who went on to front China Rain in the early 90’s. I was most familiar with their hits “Tell Me What You Want”, “Who’s Behind The Door” and popular songs such as “When You Get There”. Those first two that I mentioned will immediately worm their way into your brain after an initial spin and you’ll be reciting them back to yourself for the remainder of the day. Jackson had a wailing falsetto on “Tell Me What You Want” back in their heyday that really sold the song, and his voice still sounds well preserved and in prime shape to this day, which is a good thing, as much of Zebra’s appeal is driven by his high-pitched plateaus and vibrato. Look no farther than the boogie of “Slow Down” if you require further evidence to that statement. It’s not hard at all to see how Zebra got their start as a cover band playing Led Zeppelin songs. Early in his career, Jackson’s voice was capable of travelling the octaves and range to hit all of the legendary heights that Robert Plant’s pipes could reach. For that reason, I’ve always loosely categorized Zebra in with Triumph, Rush and bands of that ilk.
Much like Blue Oyster Cult, who performed the day before, Zebra have had almost as lengthy a career and were a dazzling display of musical dexterity that sounded straight out of the Musicians Institute. Their songs were a voyage into lushy orchestrated works that took the audience through the footsteps of their career. Personally, not a path that I was always excited to be on after going face down in the gutter and being turned inside out only minutes before their set. However, the sounds that emanated from just three band members on stage were an astonishing feat that any true music fan could appreciate. Bassist Felix Hanemann divided his time between bass guitar duties and manning a table of keyboards that lavishly filled out their sound with drummer Guy Gelso, who is cut from the same cloth as other worldly percussionists such as Stewart Copeland and Mike Portnoy.
Randy Jackson shared in between songs that “the fans told us what should be on the first record”. In accordance with the saying that bands have their whole lives to write their first album, he went on to note that it took Zebra eight years to prepare material for their debut as they paid their dues in small clubs. Seated and unassuming on a stool positioned center stage, the frontman began strumming those sunny opening chords of ballad “Who’s Behind The Door” as song lyrics were poetically displayed behind them. Jackson’s voice echoed through the open auditorium and stirred up plenty of emotion. The pinnacle of Zebra’s M3 spot was “Tell Me What You Want”, which bridges together all of the band’s qualities in a selection that is both satisfying to the ear and a demonstration of depth. Hearing Zebra perform live gave me a much deeper appreciation for their talents that will likely have me exploring their back catalog of music when I’m itching for substance over style.
01. As I Said Before
02. Wait Until The Summer’s Gone
03. Arabian Knights
04. Who’s Behind The Door
05. Better Not Call
07. One More Chance
08. Take Your Fingers From My Hair
09. Tell Me What You Want
Zebra performing “One More Chance”, “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” and “Tell Me What You Want” at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 8, 2022:
Few musicians within the world of rock and metal draw such strong opinions as virtuosic guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. Most either love or hate what he does. I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to Malmsteen’s catalog. There are certain songs that he’s released throughout the years that I love and can listen to over and over again (“Facing the Animal”, “Eternal Bliss”, “Relentless Fury”, “Teaser”, etc.…). And then there are those times where I’m lost in the eccentricity and self-indulgence of his classically infused, mad-scientist style of playing. Make no mistake, I believe him to be a truly brilliant musician. Hands down, he is one of the greatest guitarists of our time. However, for me as a listener, his frenzied suites and crescendo at times become a vast labyrinth of notes devoid of all brevity. With that in mind, I was interested to see him perform this year but not quite to the extent that I was other performers. Definitely not the general consensus, as I witnessed throngs of ticketholders scurrying into position as he and his band were about to take the stage. Backed by the towering wall of Marshalls that he’s known for having onstage behind his latest prodigal entourage, I was intrigued that he brought most of his full stage show with him given the quick changeovers necessitated by an event such as M3. Thank God for that revolving stage!
As the sun was just starting to set on Sunday, things were returning to a less-comfortable temperature. Just as Tom Keifer’s backdrop made me feel even colder on Saturday night, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Parabellum themed backdrop depicted pixelized, flaming graphics that sub-consciously made my brain think that it was ten degrees warmer. That helped me to settle in and better immerse myself with the greater attention span that I would need to fully appreciate the guitarist’s performance. When the whistle was blown, “Rising Force” peeled wheels and flowered into a full spectacle with no limit of talent as the vocals to the song were effectively doled out to capacitate the song and give it distinction. The members of Yngwie’s band showed no signs of struggle in maintaining their speed with the maestro’s gripping conduction of the material at any point in the fifty-minute master class in symphony. As the Nordic guitar God played on, I felt assured that anyone within a two-mile radius of the venue was also enjoying the show thanks to the mammoth volumes being emitted from the factory.
Malmsteen plays with such control and a connection to his Fender Strat that it becomes easy to forget that the instrument isn’t a natural extension of his body that his brain commands as if it were another limb. There are also notches carved for his attention to showmanship as he would repeatedly kick guitar picks into the crowd or effortlessly send his guitar in a full revolution around his neck like a helicopter’s blade. He did so several times in the show without flinching an eye. The most discerning moment of the show came when the band unleashed “Relentless Fury”, which is one of the two very best from Yngwie’s most recent LP. It’s dramatic, it’s sweeping, it rocks. Hearing him also tackle the lead vocals on the song gave me a new appreciation for the realization that, in addition to his guitar wizardry, he can also sing as well as he does. With the long list of talented vocalists that he’s worked with over the years, to potentially see him find and perform with one singer that’s able to recreate that entire body of music would be a golden ticket. But until then, experiencing the master at work only adds a level of excitement to what he does. It’s a clinical display of brilliance that is guaranteed to strike both fandom and fear in the hearts of many.
Yngwie Malmsteen’s setlist:
01. Rising Force
02. Top Down, Foot Down
04. Into Valhalla
05. Relentless Fury
06. Badinerie (Johann Sebastian cover)
07. Far Beyond The Sun
08. Smoke On The Water (Deep Purple cover)
09. Trilogy Suite Op: 5
10. Black Star
Yngwie Malmsteen performing “Rising Force”, “Top Down, Foot Down”, “Soldier” and “Into Valhalla” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 8, 2022:
Much like Yngwie Malmsteen, Stryper are another band that draw very passionate points of view (and sometimes heated discussion) due to their past image, message, sound, well… you name it. They seem like they’re regularly under fire or making waves for something. But at the end of the day, it’s better to be talked about than not talked about I suppose, and especially when you have the goods to back it up. Under a heavenly marquee of clouds emblazoned with the classic Stryper logo, the stage appeared threatening like a hornet’s nest preparing to unleash the painful sting of a swarming colony. In this case, that “sting” would be the electrifying, consistent concert performances that Stryper are reputed for. Their 1985 sophomore album Soldiers Under Command was adequately represented, with the band not only beginning their show with “Surrender” but also getting to a few other cuts from that album later on in their performance. The song is an ideal number, acting as a countdown that gives way to one of the band’s best-known riffs.
With a black beanie hat pulled down low over his mane and sporting dark shades, singer/guitarist Michael Sweet appeared cloaked but armed and ready to do what he came there to do with his striped flying-V guitar in hand. The fan favorite, To Hell With The Devil album was the most exhibited in the band’s set, providing five songs in the twelve song set. It’s easy to forget just how many hits the band has had through the years, particularly in the first part of their career. As I was listening to one after another of these gems, I was reminded of all the great music that the band has under their belts in the span of their on and off run that began in 1983. That’s sometimes overshadowed by their Christian rock association, which some fans found (and still do find) polarizing to endure. To me, when a band sounds this good and continues to release outstanding new albums, I say follow your arrow.
From their 2018 release God Damn Evil, “Sorry” was the sole selection from the band’s post-reunion body of work released on Frontiers Music Srl (Reborn excluded). That was disappointing for sure, but M3 is all about nostalgia and most of the artists booked are keen to that and thereby draw up setlists encompassing their most commercially successful output — in most cases, their earlier albums. “Sorry” sounded monstrous as it chugged along and featured those tremendous harmonies that the band is capable of flying when they convene at their microphones in unison on the choruses. Still, I can’t help but wonder about the potentially razor-sharp set that they could concoct from material released from 2005 and on. As expected, drummer Robert Sweet gave us his usual lofty level of showmanship and insight into his astute timekeeping talents as he played sideways within the gigantic frame of his yellow and black drum cage. Appearing as a mythological, multi-armed Durga, the man just continues to slay behind the kit!
The very melodic “Always There for You” shined a light on In God We Trust, which is an album that tends to be regarded as a mixed bag amongst Stryper fans. I can’t disagree with that view on the album. However, “Always There For You”, which was a huge hit from the record, sounds phenomenal live. When the band opts not to include a ballad in their set, I’d have to say that this song is the next best thing. With the level of attention that the band gave to their first few LPs, I was then taken off-guard to hear Against The Law included in the show. Not only is this CD a mixed bag for fans, but the band members themselves have even expressed a disliking with certain aspects of the record. My astonishment continued by their choosing of “All For One” over single “Shining Star”. But it worked, and I think the song sounds right at home in their set. Stryper has, and continue to be, a band that routinely deliver the goods in concert. It would have been nice to hear one or two more of their recent efforts rolled out, but with just one hour to churn out twelve songs they chose the very same ones that earned them that title of the yellow and black attack.
02. More Than A Man
04. Calling On You
06. The Rock That Makes Me Roll
07. Loving You
08. All For One
09. Always There For You
10. The Way
11. Soldiers Under Command
12. To Hell With The Devil
Stryper performing “Surrender”, “More Than A Man”, “Sorry” and “Calling On You” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 8, 2022:
Skid Row made headlines earlier this year with the announcement that, seemingly out of nowhere, they had parted ways with lead singer ZP Theart and replaced him with Erik Grönwall, formerly of H.E.A.T. That reveal was met with a variety of reactions from fans and critics of the band – mostly positive, but also with a bit of negative feedback from long-time fans that still expect the band to reunite with their original singer. Like many others, I didn’t see it coming and the news took me by surprise. All seemed well within the previous line-up of the band and things were reportedly moving along with progress on the recording of their new album. But… things aren’t always what they seem and here we are. With powerhouse throat Erik Grönwall now at the mic, the band has released a brand-new single in “The Gang’s All Here” to universal acclaim. It’s got that classic, early Skid Row sound and promises huge things to come for the band in the remainder of 2022. With Skid Row out on a nationwide tour and with a confirmed release date for their full-length album now on the books, the future looks bright. So incandescent that 7:05 – 8:15 was NOT the hour to be fetching a beer or waiting in line for a meet and greet. Hype and anticipation had built throughout the weekend to culminate into a static energy as Skid Row prepared to take the stage to their familiar intro of “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones.
Then, just as the lights dimmed and the thrashy opening riff of “Slave To The Grind” came at us like a buzz saw, the band’s new frontman leaped out from behind the wall of sound created by Rachel Bolan, Dave “Snake” Sabo, Scotti Hill and Rob Hammersmith and ran to take his place up front and center. Ready to decimate the hungry crowd, Grönwall looked energized and animated as he belted out the words to the title track from the band’s second album. With an image of riot gear-wearing law enforcement officers taken from their United World Rebellion EPs above and at their backs, the beat down continued with “The Threat”.
Skid Row performing “Slave To The Grind”, “The Threat”, “Big Guns” and “18 And Life” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 8, 2022:
As the band continued on with several selections from their debut album, I was truly amazed at what I was witnessing. Their young, hungry frontman wasn’t just hitting all of the notes to “Big Guns” and “18 And Life”, he had Sebastian Bach’s tone and embodied the very lyrics of the songs. If you were to close your eyes and listen to the playback of the show, you’d almost believe that it was 1990 and the band was being fronted by their original singer once again. As the bass line to “Piece of Me” clunked and stammered along, Grönwall descended down into the front rows of the pit creating a flash mob of fans that rushed him in the hopes of obtaining a selfie which the singer was all too happy to oblige them with as photographer Mark Weiss captured all the moments with his camera.
Guitarist Scotti Hill was also a star player during the show, his guitar skills sounding and looking honed and concise despite his constant jumping and dashing around the stage. Jarring movements that might derail a lesser performer. Bassist Rachel Bolan gave Erik (and his pipes) a short break to recharge while he took the spotlight to tackle lead vocals for punk rock 101, “Psycho Therapy” from the B-Side Ourselves EP. Aside from the vintage sounds of their new single, that track from their 1992 cover project was the most current selection of the catalog to turn up. Other than that, it was down to the greatest hits from albums one and two. I heard no complaints about that. “In A Darkened Room” was a standout among those, and the eerie ballad served as yet another vehicle to showcase the realigned musical force of the band, which was going to be a very hard act to follow. Skid Row have upped the ante in their bid to retake their rightful position on the throne. And they’re weaponized.
Skid Row’s setlist:
01. Slave To The Grind
02. The Threat
03. Big Guns
04. 18 And Life
05. Piece of Me
06. Livin’ On A Chain Gang
07. Psycho Therapy
08. I Remember You
09. Monkey Business
10. In A Darkened Room
11. Makin’ A Mess
12. The Gang’s All Here
13. Youth Gone Wild
Skid Row performing “The Gang’s All Here” and “Youth Gone Wild” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 8, 2022:
Much like Stephen Pearcy and Tom Keifer before them, this Sacramento, California band delivered a set that was built upon hit single after hit single. In the roughly 20 minutes of changeover time leading up to the start of their show, the party continued in full swing and the pavilion was packed with people hanging from the ceiling just waiting for Tesla to take the stage. I’ve seen Tesla live quite a few times, but only in recent years and never back in their heyday or “pre-breakup”. They’re about as solid a live band as one can ever hope to see. This time around, I was positioned near the same side of the stage as lead guitarist Frank Hannon and got a better view of everything nuance that he contributes to Tesla’s performance. Hannon comes from the Jimmy Page school of rock and there are so many layers to what he does. One minute he’s playing a Gibson electric guitar, then an acoustic, then an EDS-1275 double-neck and so on. His talents are what I consider a very key component to the band.
Mechanical Resonance started things off with “Modern Day Cowboy” as a wild west gun battle raged on the big screen for an added visual effect. As many times as I’ve heard the song performed, it’s a classic that I never tire of hearing and based on the crowd’s reaction, I’d have to say that Merriweather felt the same! Following their plan to release music strictly in single format for the time being, “Cold Blue Steel” was unveiled to a rewarding roar in response. It features screaming guitar licks, big background vocals and an in-your-face attitude that make the song an undisputed winner in concert. I’ll be interested to see if Tesla continue to release music in this fashion versus the full-length album format that they typically drop every few years. After the next song, “Breaking Free”, it was forward in reverse back to 1989’s The Great Radio Controversy. The swampy, slide guitar intro of this one makes it so fun to hear live. They also played “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” from the album and as much as I like this song, I questioned its inclusion over “Hang Tough” which is my all-time favorite track by the band.
Following the announcement of drummer Troy Lucketta’s sabbatical from the band, drummer Steve Brown (also of The End Machine) was brought in to fill the vacancy in the band. He played so well that it was hard to tell he hasn’t been in the band since day one. The younger brother of Dokken’s “Wild” Mick Brown, you could certainly say that musical talent runs in the family. He was a dog off the chain on “Mama’s Fool” from Bust A Nut, which frontman Jeff Keith dedicated to all of the mothers in attendance with the date of the show coinciding with Mother’s Day. Jeff has such a charismatic/likeable personality on stage, that he reminds me of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. He still has that raspy, rough-around-the-edges vocal quality that is an identifiable necessity to Tesla’s sound. Without Jeff Keith at the mic, there is no Tesla. Period.
My biggest shock of the night was that they played nothing from Shock, their most recent full length studio album. The record has several tracks that they could have chosen from to throw in, so it’s absence in the set was rather conspicuous. Especially given that they played at least one song from almost every other LP with the exception of Simplicity. The southern rock flavored ballad “What You Give” and urgency of “Edison’s Medicine (Man Out of Time)” (both from Psychotic Supper) were massive highlights of the show that overshadowed the shocking omission. “What You Give” featured a career encapsuling video that comprehensively retraced the band’s years as they played on while the latter was a bold lesson in musical credibility. Waving his hands at a boxy theremin like a wizard casting a spell, guitarist Frank Hannon recreated that fuzzy distortion that gives “Edison’s Medicine (Man Out of Time)” such distinction. Two of the band’s biggest hits, “Little Suzi” and “Signs”, were a big kiss goodnight to M3. Tesla had the overwhelming task of following Skid Row’s gargantuan performance and they did so successfully while making it look easy. I never felt as though they were misplaced as the evening’s headliner.
01. Modern Day Cowboy
02. Cold Blue Steel
03. Breaking Free
04. Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
05. Mama’s Fool
06. Miles Away
08. Lazy Days, Crazy Nights
09. What You Give
10. Edison’s Medicine (Man Out of Time)
11. Love Song
12. Little Suzi
Tesla performing “Changes”, “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” and “What You Give” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 8, 2022:
As 2022’s M3 Rock Festival wrapped, I was already thinking about who I would most like to see in 2023. Two words come to mind and those are Blue Murder. Granted, the band’s discography is just a small blip in the history of rock n’ roll, but collectively, the band members have contributed their enormous talents to a variety of projects through the years. Their debut album is a sublime listen that is worthy of some attention all these years later. And not to discount the capabilities of bassist Tony Franklin or drummer Carmine Appice, but the John Sykes / Whitesnake affiliation could also be a huge draw for Whitesnake fans within the M3 community as the band begins its final lap with David Coverdale’s impending retirement.
Another band that I’d ike to see pulled from obscurity to reunite for next year is Salty Dog. I know it’s not likely to happen, but this Los Angeles band released two mighty fine slabs of rock n’ roll in Every Dog Has Its Day and 2018’s Lost Treasure, which is a collection of never before released demos that showcased their true potential as bastard sons of Led Zeppelin. It’s been a number of years since Salty Dog briefly reunited, however these two albums prove their merit. And… Thunder, which is far more likely than my first or second choices. Not only is their name more recognizable, but they’re still active and have just released another great album in 2022 with Dopamine. The level of their songwriting is abundantly displayed throughout their discography and seeing this blue-collar rock n’ roll band live has been an unchecked box on my bucket list for years. So there you have it. Whether or not any of these happen, only time will tell, but you have my vote.