M3 ROCK FESTIVAL 2022 (DAY TWO) CONCERT REVIEW
Date: Saturday, May 7, 2022
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
Event: M3 Rock Festival
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography
YouTube videos: LORDOFTHE80S (Enuff Z’Nuff, Lillian Axe), concertsrock (Vain, Tony Harnell), The Metal Maiden (Heavens Edge), Ben Christian (Stephen Pearcy), Jeff Perlin (Blue Oyster Cult, Tom Keifer)
The blare of my alarm clock was a rude awakening on Saturday morning. It was an awakening that, after two very late nights, I just was not ready for. Between the rain and the cold temperatures, Friday night was a physical struggle to see through to the end. Especially after daylight hours were over and the miniscule rays of sunlight that we saw had set for the day. As I stared at the beeping clock with one eye open, I struggled to gain coherence but as I slowly recollected all of the killer performances that I had experienced in the two days prior, motivation to move slowly began to sweep over me. After all, today was going to be monumental. The Saturday roster featured the bulk of my most anticipated performances and promised to be another incredible day of live music. The first of those showings was the result of a last-minute revamp to the Saturday itinerary that came about very late in the game.
As I made my way into the venue, I stopped by the merch booth to see if anything new had been added since the night prior and potentially pick up a new shirt or two. If you’re into music memorabilia, I always recommend checking back at M3’s merch booth daily because the selection on hand can potentially change each day as the artists from the previous day depart and the new crop arrive onto the grounds. You also never know who you might run into! American Jetset were on hand to spread the word on their new album, Cat’s Got Your Tongue, which had just been released a few days prior. The guys were signing copies of their new effort and posing for photos with fans. If you’re into their debut Live, Love, Die on Main,you’ll undoubtedly find a lot to like with this disc as well. What better way to promote a new record than by connecting with your niche market at the grassroots level of one of the nation’s biggest events for this type of music? With their merch table propped out near the lawn area at Merriweather, they were quite literally at the grass roots level of things. After chatting with the band, I quickly headed down to my seat because I did not want to miss a minute of the first act to grace the stage on Day Two of M3.
Extreme were an eleventh-hour cancellation due to reported medical issues within their camp, leaving a gaping hole on the table for Saturday. Disappointing for sure, but par for the course in these whacky times that we’re living in. Enuff Z’Nuff swooped in to save the day and did they ever! Helping to fill what would have otherwise been a huge void left in the line-up, the band appeared and gave Saturday’s festivities a much-needed awakening. This is a band that I’ve seen live countless times over the years in varying-sized venues, and they just never disappoint. This time around, their set was heavy on selections from current Frontiers Records release Hardrock Nite, with a sprinkling of their own hits rounding out what was ultimately just too short of a performance. And inspired, electrified versions of Beatles classics are hardly a bad way to wake up and start the day.
As the familiar sound of the circus crashed into the band’s first song, “Magical Mystery Tour” brought back fond memories of M3 2021 when the band opened with this very song and subtly confirmed their much whispered-about Beatles cover collection that was about to become a reality for us. Complete with mesmerizing harmonies and drummer Dan Hill destroying the silence with a machine-gun of an opening drum roll, the song was finished to perfection with guitarist Tory Stoffregen’s inspired guitar solo that took us out. Perched over a monitor at the front of the stage, with wirey string-ends poking out from the headstock of his guitar, Tory played one killer solo after another in those 35 minutes. The words “Kiss this!” were then shouted out to let Merriweather know what the next three minutes had in store for us. That raunchy groove, bobbing rhythm and blustering pomp of “Kiss The Clown” took us on a visit to Enuff Z’Nuff’s 1989 debut release that made up a good portion of their setlist. It would be hard to go wrong with any of the tracks from their debut album, which is also the band’s most commercially successful record.
I’d love to see the band come down from the attic with a song or two from their third album, Animals With Human Intelligence, at some point. Following their move from Atco to Arista records in the early 90s, Animals With Human Intelligence is on par with the band’s first and second albums and features some of their finest work. If played live, “Master of Pain” is one of those entrancing grooves that might just snap necks. Plucking the multi-colored, neon strings of his weathered, sticker-bombed bass, founder and frontman Chip Z’Nuff gazed out into the crowd as he serenaded the words “I look at all the lonely people” in sad observation to us. As he sang those words to “Eleanor Rigby”, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of irony in the lyrics to the McCartney/Lennon penned song.
“Jet” was up next and served as the final installment of representation from Hardrock Nite. Standing tall behind his microphone, Chip Z’Nuff introduced the band’s next song as “A great song to fuck to” and, well, he’s not wrong. “In the Groove” is primal in nature and slowly thuds along to a dirty bass groove that builds and builds until the monumental chorus peaks and drives the song home. With the success of their very first singles, it’s easy to forget some of the other great songs on that first Enuff Z’Nuff album. “In the Groove” is oh but one of them. Hats off to a truly unsung hero of the band, guitarist Tony Fennel. Not only does Fennel sing like a bird, but his rhythm and lead guitar parts root the band’s live sound and give it that stout conveyance which Enuff Z’Nuff are so renowned for turning in. “Fly High Michelle” and “New Thing” rounded out the set and reminded us all why we’re at M3. To hear brilliantly written time capsules such as these that take us back to another time and place. These are absolute classics of the late ’80s, and an Enuff Z’Nuff show wouldn’t be complete without them.
Enuff Z’Nuff’s setlist:
01. Magical Mystery Tour
02. Kiss the Clown
03. Eleanor Rigby
05. In the Groove
06. Fly High Michelle
07. New Thing
Enuff Z’Nuff performing “In The Groove” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022:
They say that rock n’ roll is a vicious game and only the strong survive. That’s certainly true, and the members of New Orleans based Lillian Axe would certainly attest to that statement. Founder and guitarist Steve Blaze has seen his share of line-up changes and inner struggles within the band throughout their career, only to rise above those hurdles and come out stronger in what is truly an underdog story. Following the departure of long-time vocalist Brian C. Jones in 2020, the band was left with the daunting task of picking up the pieces once again and continuing on with a new lead singer. That’s certainly a huge hurdle to overcome, and to do so yet again could not have been an easy thing to endure. Enter vocalist Brent Graham, formerly of the bands Supercharger and Sledgehammer, to stabilize the situation and move Lillian Axe from shaky ground to higher ground. M3 marked the return of the band to the area and a showing of their re-solidified line-up and the exciting things that the band have up their sleeves in the months ahead.
They started their show with “Misery Loves Company” from the 1988 self-titled debut. Possibly due to the opening riff, this song always reminded me of Dokken and that’s not a bad thing at all. I took great interest in hearing Graham’s interpretations and delivery of older songs such as this and I immediately liked what I heard. He can hit the high notes! Graham also sang all of the older songs mostly faithful to the original versions, which I’m sure Lillian Axe fans would want and expect. “Misery Loves Company” proved to be a nice, heavy number to open the show with and Brent’s voice isn’t a drastic departure from Ron Taylor, who sang on the band’s biggest selling albums. From there, the oldies but goodies kept coming with “All’s Fair In Love And War” from second album Love + War. Vocalist Brent Graham once again demonstrated his vocal prowess and did a great job hitting the opening scream that is a signature of the song before the heavy guitar riff kicks in.
Crouched down under the arm of his microphone, founder and lead guitarist Steve Blaze proved his immense talent on the instrument as he would travel to the center of the stage regularly to rip through mind blowing solos. He also contributed heavily in the area of background vocals, adding some muscle on the choruses to many of the songs. In contrast, guitarist Sam Poitevent mostly stuck to his side of the stage (I presume) to avoid outshining lead guitarist Steve Blaze. That’s not to imply that there’s a contest going on, simply that there is a pecking order in every band. Drummer Wayne Stokely also kicked ass behind the kit and never missed a beat. His performance in the band really stood out for me, and particularly on their next song, which was the rapid-fire, frenzied “Deepfreeze” from 1993’s Psychoschizophrenia. It’s hands-down one of my favorite songs in the Lillian Axe discography and also one of their most aggressive — well lent to a live setting. The band could have chosen from a number of songs off of Psychoschizophrenia to include but I think they were wise to settle on the ones that they did.
From the era of MTV, “True Believer” is one of Lillian Axe’s most recognizable songs in their arsenal and fittingly, it won the band a warm response from the audience and those still trickling down into the venue for the day. The Love + War LP was then revisited via “Ghost of Winter”, with the haunting ballad offering greater evidence of the tremendous vocals of frontman Brent Graham and particularly near the end of the song, where his range was put to the test with those high-pitched screams. The song also demonstrated why I consider Steve Blaze to be one of the most underrated guitarists of the era. He played a blistering, heartfelt solo in the song that exemplified the degree of skill that he possesses. “Crucified” was another rabbit from the hat that is Psychoschizophrenia. It’s one of those songs that shows off the best of what the band has to offer. If Blaze was ever to pull out the acoustic guitar and play “The Needle And Your Pain” from that record, it would sound incredible. Lillian Axe didn’t ignore the Brian C. Jones period of their career, tackling “Death Comes Tomorrow” from The Days Before Tomorrow. It’s easily one of my favorites from that album and was another highlight of their show. And you just knew they weren’t getting out of there without playing their biggest hit, right? Lillian Axe saved the best for last, clocking out with “Show A Little Love”. It was met with much fanfare and succeeded at capping off their excellent performance on a very high note.
Lillian Axe’s setlist:
01. Misery Loves Company
02. All’s Fair In Love And War
04. True Believer
05. Ghost of Winter
07. Death Comes Tomorrow
08. Show A Little Love
Lillian Axe performing “True Believer” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022:
There are very few debut albums that I hold in such high regard as Vain’s No Respect. The album is dripping with attitude, sleaze, and hooks for days. The same can be said for much of Vain’s catalog, right up through 2017’s Rolling With The Punches. No Respect, in particular though, has a certain rawness and magic to it that simply cannot ever be contrived or manufactured — much to the chagrin of many record label executives, I’m sure. There’s a mystique to it that still takes me back to another time and place when I listen to the album. For those reasons, I consider Vain to be one of my favorite bands to ever crawl from the guttery, musical underworld of San Francisco. I consider myself fortunate in that I’ve had not one, but two opportunities to see the band perform live in my lifetime. They don’t tour regularly and, save for the bigger rock festivals and cruises, don’t perform live very often.
So, any time that I’m seeing Vain on a concert stage, I consider it a once or twice in a lifetime experience that I’m going to relish every minute of. This time around was no exception, and I kept my eyes glued to the stage and fixated on every moment of their performance to take it all in. It’s just not every day that you get to see Vain in concert. With much of their set derived from No Respect, I could not have been happier. Sure, there are tons of songs from later works that I’d like to hear that would stack up nicely against these from their debut but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. And with just 50 minutes of stage time as the third act to go on, the band is going to hit the crowd with their best and brightest to maximize their impact.
“Secrets” kicked things off and was every bit as arrogant and ardent as I remembered it and possibly more so with the heightened tempo of this live version. Vain is all about a vibe, an element of danger and an air of the unexpected that is beguiling. They still have it. Midway through the song when it was time for the guitar solo, Vain pointed to Nova and screamed “Tell me some secrets Dylana” as the guitarist ripped into an intensive attack on the strings. Pacing the cold stage in bare feet, black leather pants, and a black t-shirt with his dark hair tucked under a fedora, the band’s namesake looked very bohemian and avant-garde as he slithered and traipsed the wide stage to connect with the audience facing him from all directions. Before beginning “Aces”, Davy Vain introduced the band by offering “If you’re in the vein for coffee, we’re willing to give the cream any time”.
Guitarist Dylana Nova exhibited pure wizardry on the guitar from the moment that she took the stage, playing all of her parts with the same fire and edge that she does on the band’s albums. As he would before most of their songs, Davy reflected that when the band was formed in San Francisco, they were exposed to a lot of colorful characters in the city. “Icy” was one of them. That might not have meant much to the average person in the audience, but for fans of the band, those brief back stories added another dimension to their performance and particularly on this song, which is one of the album’s best. Addressing the commonplace use of backing tracks in the music industry, Davy snidely noted that “Nothing is pre-recorded. Leave a note in the suggestion box if you think we should switch to a recording”.
Vain’s album Enough Rope was shown a bit of attention with “Greener”. It was a short, but effective detour from No Respect. That was also the case with “Push Me Over”, which was a quick branch into Davy Vain’s solo album In From Out of Nowhere. Can you believe that album turns twenty this year? Hearing a cut off of that album was very cool indeed. The title track from No Respect was segued into with an introduction to the key players in the band, “Tommy, Ash and Dylana – the rhythm section of Santa Rosa High School”. The song was every bit as impactful as it is on the CD, opening with that quiet intro before coming down on us like a ton of bricks. “Beat The Bullet” was jokingly referred to as taken “from Peacemaker”, the HBO Max series that recently featured the song on an episode. I’d say that the show’s producers have great taste in music and hearing it live was like a trashy trip down memory lane. It wrapped up what was undoubtedly one of my favorite sets from M3 2022.
05. 1,000 Degrees
06. Who’s Watching You
07. Push Me Over
08. No Respect
10. Beat The Bullet
Vain performing “Greener” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022:
Helping to keep day two rolling along on a high note were Philadelphia, PA’s Heavens Edge. The band released their self-titled debut back in 1990 and, on the strength of hits “Skin To Skin” and “Find Another Way”, developed a strong cult following that has stuck with them to this day. Their appearance was originally scheduled for 2020, moved to 2021, but then postponed to 2022. Needless to say, it’s been a long time coming! This was a performance that I’ve had been waiting to experience for quite some time, and it was worth the wait. Unfortunately, I was never able to see the band back in their heyday since they mostly played clubs that I wasn’t old enough to get into yet. So finally getting to see them live was a definite checkmark on my bucket list.
I’ve always viewed Heavens Edge as a bit more rough and tumble, harder edged and musically proficient than some of their counterparts that broke out during the MTV age. That proficiency was proudly on display during “Rock Steady”, dispelling any notion that they may have lost some of their fire. Lead guitarist Reggie Wu was, in fact, a bolt of lightning on stage and still plays with the same heart, soul and feel that he did in the band’s early days. I did find it interesting that the band chose to start things off with a lesser-known song off of their second album Some Other Place, Some Other Time over a track from their debut. But good is good, and it’s hard to argue when things were off to such a running start. The bands that are allotted enough stage time to play six, seven or even ten songs should make the most of every moment. Hit ‘em hard and leave a mark. Heavens Edge are wise to this concept and came out all guns blazing.
Lead vocalist Mark Evans still has a great voice, which was resoundingly clear on “Up Against The Wall”. It was the first of many songs they would play from their 1990 debut album. Their very first single “Skin To Skin” was third in line and appeared to be highly recognizable to those in the stands watching the band’s performance. It’s easily one of my favorite songs by the band and succeeds at encompassing all of their very best qualities of their songwriting into one track. It’s got that high-octane, heart-pounding rhythm, the hammer of the bass and spitfire verses that are capped off with an infectious chorus that the crowd lent a hand in singing along to. The stomping “Daddy’s Little Girl” was a ferocious four and a half minutes in the set, which saw Wu, guitarist Steven Parry and bassist Jaron Gulino convene center-stage as they did multiple times throughout their show. For the faithful, old-school fans, the band still does all of their synchronized kicks and twists in unison, just as they’ve done since their inception.
Before picking up his acoustic guitar, frontman Mark Evans pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to ask a favor of the audience as they looked on. He explained that his son had been involved in an accident of some sort and, aiming his phone’s camera at the crowd, asked that the attentive throng send him a cheer of encouragement and well wishes to speed along his recovery. Merriweather responded with a roaring “Justin, we love you” as the singer smiled back in gratitude at his fulfilled request. The mid-tempo, pop flavored “Jacky” followed. I’m always reluctant to call the acoustic-flavored song a ballad, though I suppose it technically meets that criteria. The next few moments were somber and reflective as the band paused to note that it had been five years since the passing of their original bassist George “G.G.” Guidotti, who was memorialized as Evans shared anecdotes before finally lifting one of his bass guitars high into the air in a moving tribute and celebration of G.G.’s life. I think that George would be happy to know that Heavens Edge have soldiered on and have been hard at work on new music which will culminate in their first release for new label Frontiers Records, which they announced at M3.
If “Had Enough” is any indication of things to come, I’d say we’re in for another burner from the band in 2023! The song was heavy and aggressive with a ferocious groove that potentially has it primed for a permanent slot in the Heavens Edge live show. “Play Dirty” was particularly potent, featuring that sinister, nasty riff that the song is so reputable for and street gang vocals at the chorus. With this being the first song on their first album, one would expect nothing less. For their closing number, the band was joined onstage by none other than Danger Danger’s Ted Poley. Ted has become the unofficial “Ambassador of M3” over the years, and it’s always great to see him back on the stage whether he’s fronting his own band or joining his musician friends to jam. Helping to fill out the choruses on one of their biggest hits, Poley’s time on stage was quick but got a lot of horns in the air for his appearance. I liken Heavens Edge to a quickly passing comet. If you’re ever lucky enough to see one blazing through the night sky, seize the opportunity because one just never knows when or if it’ll be back around. In the case of Heavens Edge, I have a feeling they’ll be orbiting the world of rock n’ roll for years to come.
Heavens Edge’s setlist:
01. Rock Steady
02. Up Against The Wall
03. Skin To Skin
04. Daddy’s Little Girl
06. Don’t Stop, Don’t Go
07. Had Enough
08. Is That All You Want?
09. Play Dirty
10. Find Another Way
Heavens Edge performing “Play Dirty” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022:
Renowned vocalist Tony Harnell, perhaps best known for fronting the Norwegian hard rock band TNT throughout most of their storied career, made a big splash in his mid-afternoon time slot on Saturday. As a fan of his aforementioned outfit as well as his extensive work with Westworld, Morning Wood, Starbreaker and LoveKillers, Harnell’s 4:25 stage time found me yet again ready and waiting at my seat to experience his entire performance and hopefully hear a variety of material spanning those various musical ventures during his one-hour and ten-minute allotment under the stage lights. Without knowing exactly which material he would draw his set from, I thought for sure that he would touch on various points of TNT’s discography, with perhaps a few selections from his more recent offshoots and endeavors thrown in for good measure.
For various reasons, I had zero doubt that his short-lived tenure fronting Skid Row in 2015 would be bypassed from the setlist and mostly due to the fact that Skid Row were also playing the festival on the next day. For Harnell to touch on that period in his career just wouldn’t make sense at all for this show. Had he recorded an album with that band during his time with them, different story. This performance would also be unique in another way. Harnell was to be inducted into the Metal Hall of Fame for his extraordinary accomplishments as a lifelong performer of rock and metal music. That prestigious honor is shared by a very distinct echelon of artists. Following a short intro, the band began with “As Far As The Eye Can See” from TNT’s extraordinary 1987 album Tell No Tales. It was the first of many tracks to represent the album. From the moment that he began to sing, it was truly astounding. The place just lit up and particularly on “Desperate Nights” with Harnell’s voice reaching the heavens with that piercing falsetto and range that he wields. Harnell’s guitarist Gaurav Bali, of Eve to Adam, could have potentially stolen the show if not for the understated and reserved posturing of his performance. He executed the intricacy and complexities required of those leads with great accuracy while also providing backup vocals throughout the songs.
Following “Downhill Racer”, Harnell confided that he never thought that he’d still be around and making music after so many years. Perhaps that was a bid for humility, as I’m not convinced that anyone that sings with that level of inherent talent would question the longevity of their career. The band then slowed things down to perform the enchanting “Northern Lights”, which the singer did nearly acapella towards the end before the full band kicked in and finished out the song. I heard from many that Harnell’s powerful performance at M3 was one of their favorites, and with a setlist encapsuling all of TNT’s gems such as this one, it’s not hard to see why or disagree. Due to the nature of festival shows, it’s difficult for any of the bands to bring in elaborate backdrops due to tight scheduling, but I could have imagined Tony Harnell’s performance benefitting from a more lavish production and stage show. There are certain bands that are well suited to a bare-bones backline, and other acts that are enhanced by ornate lighting and visuals to compliment what they do. Harnell falls into the ladder category.
At about the midway point in their show, the music was halted while Tony was inducted into the Metal Hall of Fame for his various career accomplishments, influence and without question the body of work that he’s contributed to in his time as a musician. It’s a true honor that puts him in great company with the likes of the legendary Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford. Shortly after his acceptance speech, the singer shared that he’s turning 60 this year and I find it fascinating that he’s kept the octave range of his vocals intact for so long given the magnitude that he performs. “Intuition” only exemplified that statement. As the title track to TNT’s 1989 album of the same name, the song has always been near and dear to me. It was my very first introduction to the band’s music many moons ago and from there I quickly schooled myself on their previous efforts. Following this stellar outing, I was remiss by the fact that Harnell didn’t include any selections from his solo career or side projects. The TNT classics that he and his band delivered were carried out so remarkably that I was truly in awe of his show.
Tony Harnell’s setlist:
02. As Far As The Eye Can See
03. Desperate Nights
04. She Needs Me
05. Seven Seas
06. Downhill Racer
07. Northern Lights
08. Metal Hall of Fame Induction
09. Forever Shine On
10. Tonight I’m Falling
11. Listen To Your Heart
12. 10,000 Lovers (In One)
14. Everyone’s A Star
Tony Harnell performing “10,000 Lovers” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022:
There are very few hard rock bands that I hold in as high regard as Ratt. They could just do no wrong. They’re at nearly the same level as Mötley Crüe in my book. Like fine wine, their music does seem to only get better with the passing of time. It just pains me that I was never able to see the original band live with Pearcy on vocals. I was fortunate enough to catch them on tour when Jizzy Pearl was fronting the band, but it’s not quite the same hearing those songs without Pearcy’s distinct, high-pitched snarls and growls which are unique to his signature vocal style. For me, if I can’t hear Ratt with Pearcy at the mic, then seeing a Stephen Pearcy solo show is the next best thing. In the time since he initially departed the band post-Detonator, I’ve followed his career assiduously and picked up every solo album and side project that he’s put down on tape. Call me a Ratt “superfan” if you will.
From Ratt’s debut EP, “Sweet Cheater” sounded raw and popped the cherry on things, so to speak. I was grinning from ear to ear at what I was hearing. In silver-studded black pants and a black leather jacket that proudly read “Hollywood: Ratt” in bold letters across his back, the slender frontman perused the audience from all angles behind the frames of his dark sunglasses. His confidence as an iconic founding member in one of the genres’ finest bands was easily detectable. I can’t say that I’d expect any less from him and that’s a key element to being a successful entertainer, right? While I did expect a bit more energy from Pearcy onstage, he certainly did not disappoint and made repeated efforts to liven things up. Even advising those “Out on the grass to smoke some grass”.
With so many solo albums under his belt, I was surprised that Pearcy and his band didn’t touch at least one solo track. Nothing from Smash or even View To A Thrill, his two most recent solo offerings. There are quite a number of songs that he could have pulled from those two LPs or even the first Arcade record that would have sounded phenomenal nestled in between the Ratt hits, but I suppose he wanted to keep things rolling with their biggest and best. Similar in fashion to Vince Neil exclusively performing Mötley Crüe material at his solo shows — I get it. That’s what most people want to hear, and that’s what they give us. Pearcy’s longtime guitarist Erik Ferentinos was the backbone of what we heard coming from the stage. His leads were spot-on with the recorded versions and I think that really says something. After all, we are talking about recordings by the great Warren DeMartini and Robbin Crosby. Ferentinos sang his heart out too, in a needed contrast to Pearcy’s vocals within the respective songs.
The same can be said of guitarist Johnny Monaco, who was announced as a fill-in for guitarist Chris Hager just days before the show. Like Ferentinos, I studied Monaco’s performance and to my ears, could not detect any deviation from the originals. That’s high praise if he truly only had days to learn the fourteen-song set. Former Hellyeah bassist Jerry Montano and drummer Joaquin Revuelta comprised the rhythm section in this latest incarnation of the band and did so beautifully, never once leaving the pocket. All four members of Pearcy’s back up band were exceptional given the enormous shoes that they’re filling. And anywhere they play, their performances will be under the microscope because of that.
Given that legacy and Stephen Pearcy’s role in an original band that not only shaped an era but rose to the top of the Sunset heap, I found his timeslot on the festival to be a tad misplaced, but OK. We all have our M3 bracket sheets of things that we would move around if we could. And here is mine — Pearcy should have been swapped with Blue Oyster Cult. Throughout Stephen Pearcy’s set, I saw people smiling and dancing in the aisles with their fists in the air. They were singing along to one definitive musical gem after another and generally going apeshit. I saw little to none of that in the hour and ten minutes after Stephen Pearcy and his Ratt Bastards left the stage.
Stephen Pearcy’s setlist:
01. Sweet Cheater
02. Wanted Man
03. You Think You’re Tough
04. Slip of The Lip
05. U Got It
06. You’re In Love
07. Lay It Down
08. Lack of Communication
09. Way Cool Jr.
10. Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job
11. I’m Insane
12. Body Talk
13. Back For More
14. Round And Round
Stephen Pearcy performing “Slip of The Lip” at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022:
Blue Oyster Cult
Blue Oyster Cult formed in the late ’60s and more than likely were a major (or at least, minor) influence on many of the bands that played M3 this year. Best known for their classics “Godzilla”, “The Reaper” and “Burnin’ For You”, they brought a more subdued “classic rock” element to the stage that was perhaps a bid by promoters to widen the appeal of this year’s line-up. We heard last year that changes were coming to M3, and here’s the proof in the pudding. Truth be told, it’s a change that I’m not overly thrilled about. Thinking about this in greater depth — I wouldn’t be bothered if they had booked Alice Cooper so I suppose I shouldn’t take issue with Blue Oyster Cult being there. It’s just that, much like the legendary Deep Purple or UFO, I don’t consider them to be standard fare for M3. With something like 15 albums (depending on whether you count Cult Classic or not) under their belts, their long career is certainly deserving of reverence and respect. There’s no argument there.
With only really knowing their biggest hits, I put their 2020 Frontiers release The Symbol Remains into rotation before the show to test the waters on their more current offerings. It’s about on par with what I was expecting — smooth, layered harmonies over sophisticated / prog time changes, guitar licks galore and bedazzling musicianship. “The Alchemist” and “Stand And Fight” are quite solid, as is the rest of the album. Hardly what I would call “just a stop gap” to satiate fans coveting new material since 2001’s Curse of The Hidden Mirror.
“Dr. Music” kicked things off and was heavy on the keyboards while showing off the band’s tremendous musicianship. Of all the performances that I watched over the long weekend, Blue Oyster Cult’s performances were some of the most fluid and skilled to behold. “Golden Age of Leather” demonstrated another phenomenal attribute of the band in their beautifully synchronized four-part harmonies that few acts could rival save for perhaps The Eagles. When “Burning For You” rolled around about mid-way through the set, it was a ray of light that really woke up the crowd and built some excitement in the air. Then, the extended jamming began, and things trailed off a bit. “Harvest Moon” started off very mellow before segueing into a prolonger instrumental showcase that didn’t seem to connect with the crowd. “Then Came The Last Days of May” met that same fate – a sleepy odyssey that wasn’t what fans at a hair band music festival wanted to hear on a frigid Saturday night sandwiched between sets by two hard rock giants in Stephen Pearcy and Tom Keifer.
Giant sounding footsteps then shook and rattled the P.A. of the pavilion, indicating that a rebound was about to take place, and it did – albeit a short lived one. “Godzilla” featured monstrous bass playing and got things rolling once again. It was followed by “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, that conjured up a sleepy, psychedelic aura. By that point, I could see my own breath as I would exhale and didn’t need anything else to subdue my state of mind. “Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll” rounded out Blue Oyster Cult’s performance and featured a heavier, doomy guitar riff that helped to clear up one thing that I’ve long wondered about the band. I now understand the “American Black Sabbath” comparisons that this band gets. The wild imagery, affinity for fantasy themes and occasionally doomy chords help to conjure up that very association.
Blue Oyster Cult’s setlist:
02. Before The Kiss, A Redcap
03. Golden Age of Leather
04. That Was Me
05. Burnin’ for You
06. Harvest Moon
07. T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
08. ME 262
09. Then Came The Last Days of May
10. Buck’s Boogie
12. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
13. Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll
Blue Oyster Cult performing “Godzilla” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022:
Cinderella is another band that could simply do no wrong, in my book. I’m a lifelong fan of the band and used to wait for their albums to hit the shelves on release day. I’d also catch them in concert whenever they would hit my town. Sadly, those days are now long gone but fortunately their music lives on through the band’s former frontman and songwriter, Tom Keifer. Fortunately, that legacy is not one that Keifer takes lightly, and he seems to carry it with the utmost veneration. From 2019’s Rise LP, “Touching The Divine” started the show and I immediately got the sense that Tom Keifer and his collective were so grateful to be back in the saddle of performing live after an extended hiatus. “Night Songs” was next and featured guitarist Tony Higbee on the slide. Such a skilled, passionate performer that is truly entertaining to watch.
The Cinderella hits kept coming with Higbee trading in his electric guitar for an acoustic while background singers Kendra Chantelle Campbell and Savannah Keifer harmonized and rattled their maracas for an added percussive punctuation to the ballad. Sitting at this piano, Tom Keifer lamented that this was the band’s first show in over two years, so there was obviously some pressure to get things right. As he began to play the intro to “Rise”, the singer said “Life is so uncertain, so breath in every moment. I hope I don’t fuck this up.” Sounding just as soulful as ever as he poured himself over the keys, I’d say he needn’t worry.
As the opening notes to “Nobody’s Fool” began to creep along, they were immediately recognizable to what was now a full house and the band was responded to with a roar of the crowd. Keifer agonizingly screamed out that very word about midway through the song, before collapsing to the ground and pounding on his chest with a closed fist for dramatic effect. He sold it with true conviction and the theatrics worked for the song. “Solid Ground” was the lone selection in the set from The Way Life Goes, but MAN does that song rock. It’s one of those songs that take on a new life in a live setting. It was like a Mack truck going 85 out the back of the venue! I’ve always considered The Way Life Goes the perfect accompaniment to Cinderella’s Heartbreak Station LP, and this one kind of personifies that. Played live, it has the same attitude as say, “The More Things Change”.
Most of the remaining songs in Keifer’s set were comprised of Cinderella’s monster hits, one after another. A true highlight of those was Tony Higbee’s perfect solo on “Fallin’ Apart At The Seams”. When the band got around to playing the bluesy “Long Cold Winter”, Keifer offered that “I apologize, but we’re about to make it a little cooler in here” as the backdrop behind them was changed to a park bench frozen in winter. Seeing that must have had a psychological effect and triggered my brain to actual feel like hypothermia was even closer to setting in. The Keifer Band, as they’re commonly referred to, play their butts off and gave 100%! I can only summarize the experience by saying that it was a revival. So much so, that after their performance is over, you feel exhausted for THEM. Without hesitation, one of the strongest performances of the weekend. In spite of the rain and what felt like freezing temperatures, Columbia was sizzling on Saturday. It was one of those days that required a bit of “mind over matter” to see through to the end, however the scorching performances certainly helped to block out side-effects of the lingering bad weather.
Tom Keifer’s setlist:
01. Touching The Divine
02. Night Songs
03. Coming Home
04. It’s Not Enough
05. Somebody Save Me
07. Nobody’s Fool
08. Solid Ground
09. Fallin’ Apart At The Seams
10. The Last Mile
11. Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)
12. Shake Me
13. Shelter Me
14. Long Cold Winter
15. The Death of Me
16. Gypsy Road
Tom Keifer performing “Somebody Save Me” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 7, 2022: