KIX ANNOUNCE THEIR UPCOMING RETIREMENT WHILE PUTTING ON HIGHLY MEMORABLE SHOW
Date: Sunday, May 7, 2023
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
Event: M3 Rock Festival
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato (Soundcheck Rock Academy Band, Riley’s L.A. Guns), Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (all other photos)
Sunday morning of M3 weekend is always a kick in the ass, at least for me. It’s routinely the final wakeup after several very late nights, leading up to a (hopefully) monumental finale to cap things off for yet another year. And it always goes by in what feels like the blink of an eye. 2023 was no different, and despite the weekend’s festivities being shortened by one day, I was no more receptive to the belligerent pulse of my alarm clock signaling the start of the day. By the end of this year’s festival, I was depleted. As predicted, three consecutive late nights of shows did me in. Thankfully, those $6 Big Gulp-sized Cokes from the concession stand were a worthy investment that gave me precisely the sugar high that I needed to keep going through the end of the night, which wrapped on a rather surprising note. The picturesque weather that hung around for most of the weekend helped to keep me going too. Except for some rain on Sunday afternoon, we had clear blue skies and ideal temperatures for the duration of the festival. A stark contrast from 2022, where we were faced with lingering rain and cold temperatures that made things almost unbearable. Sunday’s line-up looked to potentially be my personal favorite, based on the roster of bands that were slated to perform. Following Friday’s M-Pre party and Saturday’s fantastic showing, I slowly got to my feet for the third and final day of what was an all-around incredible three days of music.
Soundcheck Rock Academy Band: Kill The Darkness
In early April, Loudness announced that their U.S. tour with The Midnight Devils had to be postponed due to ongoing pandemic restrictions imposed in their home country of Japan. Naturally, this included their appearance at M3, which left the festival’s promoters with the task of finding a replacement (or in this case, two) to fill out Sunday’s schedule. The big question on everyone’s mind leading up to the festival was “Who will take Loudness‘ place?”. Actually, the big question was “Do they ever show up?” but I digress. There’s certainly no shortage of bands available who I’m sure would have been ready and willing to jump onto the M3 line-up, even at short notice. I was actually hoping that The Midnight Devils were going to be one of them. They’re high-energy, have great songs, and bring pure mayhem to the stage with them. They also appeal to a new generation of rock n’ roll fans much in the way that many of M3’s acts did in their formative years. The Midnight Devils were also booked as direct support on that aborted Loudness tour, with a revised itinerary that had them in the Northeast right around the time of M3. But I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.
This brings us to the “Soundcheck Rock Academy Band”, who are formally known as Kill The Darkness. You may be wondering why M3 promotional materials listed Kill The Darkness as the “Backstage Rock Academy Band” and not the “Soundcheck Rock Academy Band” and then again, you might not care at all. But If you seek clarity, I spoke with guitarist Beckett France, who mentioned that this was something of a misprint on the festival’s times guide that couldn’t be corrected in time for the event. Kill The Darkness performed Saturday on the smaller 9:32 Club Stage, and Sunday on the main stage as the Pavilion was still receiving in the day’s attendees. Still in their teens, the band is comprised of relatively young, schooled musicians still burgeoning into their chosen career path of music. Oddly, they took the stage decked out in formal attire, dressed as if they were headed for prom rather than the openers of a big rock festival. Part of their schtick, perhaps? What followed, although well played, was an onslaught of straight-up, contemporary metal that I’d estimate was too intense for the early birds that dragged themselves out of bed to hear Heavens Edge rock steady. I saw a lot of blank stares coming down the ramp, much as I did during Burning Witches’ 2022 relentless beatdown.
Per protocol, Kill The Darkness played a short set, with the majority of it comprised of original material (“Clover”, “Evil Eye”, and “One Last Way Out”) with two covers piled on in showing of their love for metal. “Domination” was hands-down my favorite of the two, as I have a long-running enthusiasm for Pantera and everything that the Cowboys From Hell have ever released. I have to give credit where credit is due, as the members of Kill The Darkness executed their parts well and seemed comfortable playing in front of a large crowd despite their lack of experience doing so in larger venues. That’s not an easy thing to do. Performing in front of more sizable audiences is unique in that band members have to tailor their actions to reach eyeballs 20 rows back if they have any hope of maximizing their impact and connecting with the crowd. Watching Kill The Darkness, they were each in their own moment and not yet mindful of that requisite to being well-rounded performers. They’re young!
If you’ve ever raised a litter of puppies, then you’re familiar with how they all run in different directions and do their own thing when they’re released from their cage. Well, that’s the best analogy that I can give you to summarize Kill The Darkness. With three guitarists, a bassist, and a lead singer sharing the stage, the six-piece outfit often appeared disjointed in their movements, but nonetheless had their parts down flawlessly and show true potential if given the proper molding. At this early stage of the game, their show is visually scattered but sonically on-point. Kill The Darkness clearly have a heart for rock n’ roll and it’s beating in the right place.
Kill The Darkness’ setlist:
02. Evil Eye
04. One Last Way Out
Kill The Darkness performing “Domination” (Pantera cover) live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
I had faith that Loudness were going to steal the show at M3 2023, and that guitarist Akira Takasaki would drop us a stark reminder as to why his talents on the axe are so highly regarded in the world of hard rock. As disappointed as I was by their cancellation, every cloud has its silver lining. That silver lining that I speak of was the return of another legendary Philadelphia band — Heavens Edge. Much like Britny Fox the day before, Heavens Edge gave Pennsylvania some needed musical representation back in the day and continue to do so today. Heavens Edge hit the stage primed and ready to pick up where they left off following last year’s raucous performance. As was the case with several of the acts appearing at this year’s festival, the band was promoting a new album slated to drop just days after the conclusion of M3.
Get It Right is their long-awaited follow up to Some Other Place, Some Other Time and hit the streets on May 12th, 2023. Hype was rife in the air for all things Heavens Edge this year, and this is another album that I’ve been waiting a small eternity to get my hands on. The album’s first singles, “Had Enough”, “When the Lights Go Down”, and “What Could’ve Been” began their strut in early March, although “Had Enough” has been in rotation in the band’s live show for some time now. I first heard it back in 2022, when they debuted the song before a packed house at M3. Fortunately, Heavens Edge don’t appear to have tampered with their continued formula for success. The big harmonies, heavy grooves and guitar wizardry are all present and accounted for. If you liked them before then you’ll most likely find Get It Right a satisfying follow-up to their first two releases.
Primal, tribal-like sounds of the jungle corralled Heavens Edge into position, as they put the pedal to the metal with “Play Dirty” from their debut album. It was music to my ears in every sense of the word. Reaching a cult-like level of popularity, this is a band that represents the very best of what the late ‘80s and early ‘90s had to offer without the cheese factor that often grew like a fungus during that era. Heavens Edge had great songs, unapologetically packed a punch, and they COULD PLAY. Taken from their debut album, “Play Dirty” and “Rock Steady” are the affidavit. The latter featuring a blitzkrieg of a guitar solo at the hands of newcomer Matt Stanley, filling in for original guitarist Reggie Wu. A last-minute booking by promoters, the band couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play M3 once again given that they were about to release a new album, and this would be a huge opportunity to promote it in front of their target audience. Unfortunately, Reggie had a prior commitment that prevented him from appearing for Sunday’s performance. Well, Matt certainly had his work cut out for him but stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. With long-time Heavens Edge guitarist Steve Parry to his right, the pair absolutely leveled the playing field.
When Mike Tramp was abruptly forced to cancel his appearance on Sunday, Heavens Edge once again came to the rescue by extending their set with “Just Another Fire” to comb over the vacancy. Picking up his acoustic guitar, frontman Mark Evans strummed the Some Other Place, Some Other Time ballad with Steve Parry at his side. Much like their debut, their second album hits the same high standard that the band orbited with their earliest compositions. Not to any discredit of the song, this is one that I sometimes overlook however hearing it in their set I’m reminded of what a great track it really is. You can hear the demo version of it on the Rock Candy reissue of their self-titled record. Also sitting in with the band for this appearance, bassist Percy Trayanov temporarily replaced bassist Jaron Gulino, who was already committed to dates with his other band, Lynch Mob, prior to Heavens Edge being booked. High marks for Percy, who not only looks the part but more importantly, had it down perfectly.
Opening “Had Enough” with that low, chunky bassline that it’s now known for, Trayanov’s chops were on par with the remainder of the band here and throughout the show. The guy looks every bit the rockstar up there with his long black hair, nose ring and bass guitar draping down. His fellow newcomer to the band, Matt Stanley also aced the test with flying colors. He executed the lullaby-sounding hammer-on technique required at the intro of their hit “Find Another Way” and appeared undaunted. I was sold on Stanley’s playing from the start of their show and then hearing this made me an even bigger believer that Heavens Edge had pulled a Wunderkind from their hat for this gig. They wrapped things up with one of my very favorite songs in their cannon, “Can’t Catch Me”. It’s fast, it’s heavy, and it’s rude. The perfect equation for a victory lap before heading over to the winner’s circle. With a brand-new studio album out on the streets and concert dates lined up to get the word out, Heavens Edge are back with a vengeance.
Heavens Edge’s setlist:
01. Play Dirty
02. Rock Steady
03. What Could’ve Been
04. Skin To Skin
05. When The Lights Go Down
06. Just Another Fire
07. Had Enough
08. Find Another Way
09. Can’t Catch Me
Heavens Edge performing “Skin To Skin” and “When The Lights Go Down” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
Vixen was another band on my “can’t miss” list for the weekend. I had to think back to the last time that I saw them live, but it was at a club show by the band in late 2019 that I most recently caught them in concert. Four years is just too long of a stretch. Vixen have undergone a notable change in that time, welcoming new bassist Julia Lage (who replaced original bassist Share Ross in early 2022). They’ve been phenomenal every time that I’ve seen them live, but did they deliver once again on that high standard that I’ve come to expect from the ladies? Absolutely! Easily one of my top five performances of the entire festival, the fox-four killed it.
As is the case with a few other acts in this year’s M3 line-up, it’s been a small eternity since we’ve heard any new music by the band although they continue to hint that a new song is in the works. But really, just how long does it take to write and record one song? Are they trying to come up with the next “Stairway To Heaven” or “Back In Black”? You’ll forgive my impatience. I really want to hear some new music by the band, who continue to tour domestically and abroad playing big festivals, cruises, and state fairs. No shame in that at all – playing live is where bands make their money nowadays, and not by releasing a song or two on Spotify and YouTube. And their busy concert schedule is potentially a factor in delaying the release of new music – merely an educated guess on my part. I’m also guessing that our wait for new music might finally be over. I have it on good authority that the band recently filmed a music video for their new single, an optimistic development that we should be hearing their brand-new song imminently.
Coming in hot following an April trip to South America, the Fox was fighting fit and ready to rock once more. Following the playback of their “Yankee Rose” intro, the band looked statuesque as they runwayed into their positions and got ready to rock. The title track from their second album is the band at their pinnacle and ideal for kicking up dust as they peeled their wheels across the starting line. “Rev It Up” did just that. Rock Candy Records recently re-released this now-classic album in a remastered format with expanded liner notes. Like many, I consider this to be one of Vixen’s finest efforts and look forward to hearing the updated versions of these killer songs with a sonic facelift and some added punch. They followed up their opening number with a cover of Femme Fatale’s “Waiting For The Big One”, a mainstay in Vixen’s live arsenal for some time now. As the lead singer for that band long before her time came in Vixen, vocalist Lorraine Lewis is an experienced entertainer who knows more than a thing or two about commanding an audience. She’s like Moses parting the Red Sea! Like all great frontwoman, Lewis is a charismatic focal point in the band, and the audience was glued to her every move as their heads bobbed horizontally, following her like the ball in a tennis match. Much like a ritual, her motion, movements, and between-song banter all serve to loop the crowd into an exchange — a rapport between the band and the stands that is reciprocal and electric.
I was loosely aware of Femme Fatale during the days of MTV, but it wasn’t until I began to hear this song at Vixen’s shows that I really began to delve into their back catalog at length. Following “Cruisin” at roughly the midway point of their set, Lewis nearly experienced a Janet Jackson-esque wardrobe malfunction due to her exuberant stage antics and scantily clad attire. Realizing she was about to be exposed, she laughed it off and quipped “Don’t worry, I have pasties on. Don’t fear the nipple” which won her a few laughs and a rallying applause. She really is a bright ray of light, reminding those in attendance that “You are OUR people, you are our tribe” as if we had any doubts.
Following “I Want You To Rock Me”, Vixen audibly professed their love of influential, classic rock with a short off-road into the realms of Black Sabbath and Whitesnake, which were instantly identifiable to the crowd. They traversed a few bars of each song without breaking a sweat, a testament to the technique that Petrucci, Denaro, and Lage have under their rhinestone-studded belts. While we’re on the subject, Roxy Petrucci is one of the most infallible drummers in all of rock and the lady is just a badass to watch as she sets it off behind her kit. She’s flashy but hits the skins with great force and not at a loss of finesse. Really a riot act to witness, and Petrucci is seemingly always determined to give us the best that she’s got. The band’s time drew to a close as they locked into a trifecta of tunes from albums one and two.
Early on in their major label days, Vixen had top songwriters involved in the production of their music. For example, Richard Marx penned their hit “Edge of A Broken Heart”. One telltale sign of a well-written song is that it’s timeless and doesn’t depreciate in value as the years go on. “Edge of A Broken Heart” is a perfect example of that and was met with a warm reception from the audience as the band finished up their set with that song, which is now over 30 years old. Having earned their place atop the pedestal that they stand, Vixen wears the crown. Always on the road, they have even more international touring on deck for 2023! The band is headed back to Europe in August to play the mighty Wacken festival and then down to Mexico for shows in December as they cap off the year. If you get the chance to see them live, don’t miss it.
01. Rev It Up
02. Waiting For The Big One
03. How Much Love
06. Hell Raisers
07. I Want You To Rock Me
08. Love Made Me
09. Edge of A Broken Heart
Vixen performing “Rev It Up” and “Waiting For The Big One” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
Riley’s L.A. Guns
As they continue to gear up for the release of their new album The Dark Horse later this year, the ever-controversial Riley’s L.A. Guns returned for their third go-round at M3 and were once again fantastic. They had returned from the 2021 edition, where they were met with a few crossed-arms and raised eyebrows from purists despite the fact that drummer Steve Riley was one of the longest standing members of the band’s classic line-up. Surely those in the know will recall that Riley stuck around for Wasted, American Hardcore and Shrinking Violet long after the major-label party had ended, and other original members had flown the coop. When Phil Lewis returned to the line-up years later, Riley was still manning the ship and continued to stick with them through Man In The Moon, Waking The Dead, Tales From The Strip, Hollywood Forever and even Rips The Cover Off with the new line-up.
Consequently, I take no issue with him carrying on with his own faction of the band because really, it’s nothing new. For most of their career in the mid to late ’90s (and beyond), L.A. Guns operated with something of a revolving door policy. I loved the band then, and still do to this day – both camps. I liken the situation more to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra type of scenario, where there are two bands splitting touring duties between the East and West Coasts. As other L.A. Guns fans have stated, it really just comes down to more music being released for us to buy, and I’m always up for that.
With a list of band members that also includes bassist Kelly Nickels, guitarist Scotty Griffin, and vocalist/guitarist Kurt Frohlich, Riley’s L.A. Guns have weathered a few storms on their road to rock but have continued to distinguish themselves with the release of their excellent Renegades LP and consistently solid live performances in support of that album. Their 2023 M3 appearance brought more of the same, as the band members opened with their new song “Overdrive”. Backed by a foggy, blood red backdrop resembling a Transylvanian postcard, the stage had a darker vibe about it; however, the song has a lot of promise and leads me to believe that we’re going to get another high-quality record out of the band. Riley’s L.A. Guns split their short time onstage between old and new material, focusing almost exclusively on their upcoming new album and older fan favorites. The old being selections from L.A. Guns’ self-titled and Cocked And Loaded albums, with most of the new being an advance listen of what’s to come on The Dark Horse, which is still in the works and scheduled for release on Golden Robot Records later in the year. With those initial buzzsaw chords giving it away, “Never Enough” was their first foray into the classics that Riley and Nickels helped build their careers upon. As one of my all-time favorite L.A. Guns songs, this was a blast to hear so early in the set. It never gets old.
With “Overdrive” scratched off the list, “Darkhorse”, and “Somebody Save Me” gave us an even greater inkling of what’s in store when The Dark Horse arrives. Very much a continuation of where they left off with Renegades, these three songs sound like a natural progression of the band’s big albums from the ’80s and ’90s. I really liked each of them, but I’d have to give the nod to “Somebody Save Me” if I had to choose just one as a favorite. Taking up his bow, guitarist Scotty Griffin fiddled up a whirlwind of a solo, congruent with the swaying, Eastern flavor of the song. I detected a slight Blue Murder influence somewhere in there, and “Valley of The Kings” immediately came to mind. I’m sure that’s purely coincidental and the result of listening to too much music. And although I can think of far worse fates than being compared to John Sykes, it’s worth noting that the finished product could sound entirely different when the album is finally released.
Veiled behind dark sunglasses and the wide brim of his hat, bassist Kelly Nickels looked every bit the Sunset Strip icon that he is despite his low-key nature onstage. He and Riley were there to do a job and hammer out the songs and did just that. They left the audience interaction to Kurt, who chatted up the sizable number of attendees sparingly to allow the music to do the talking. Just as he’s done in the past, Frohlich did an admirable job of rendering the songs in the way that they were written. That is, recreating the dialect found in the original vocal and hitting the same notes. Following “The Ballad of Jayne”, I could hear a few disgruntled fans off in the distance booing as the band moved in to finish us off with “Electric Gypsy”. Hearing their apparent need to mark their territory, I remember thinking in amusement “I guess they don’t like L.A. Guns’ first two albums. What a shaaaaame”.
With their mid-afternoon time slot allotting them just 40 minutes of stage time, the band only had time for eight songs. Their set was short, sweet, and to the point. With this sounding as good as this did, I found myself wanting to hear Riley’s L.A. Guns play longer. If the album’s first singles “Rewind” and “Overdrive” are any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for another fantastic album when The Dark Horse rears its head.
Riley’s L.A. Guns’ setlist:
02. Never Enough
04. Somebody Save Me
05. Sex Action
07. The Ballad of Jayne
08. Electric Gypsy
Riley’s L.A. Guns performing “Darkhorse” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from Ron Murdock‘s YouTube page):
Believe it or not, I used to have a love/hate relationship with that first FireHouse album. Perhaps, that was due to the maddening, saturation level replay of “Don’t Treat Me Bad” and “Love of A Lifetime” that permeated the airwaves back in the day. In my heart, I do cherish the album but needed some time away from it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this is a record that I’ve come back to and have come to fully appreciate once again in recent years, and particularly, the lesser played deep cuts that weren’t spun every hour on the hour. It’s fortunate that I’ve made that 360 since FireHouse haven’t released a new studio album in nearly 20 years. Their final album, Prime Time, actually turns the big 2-0 on August 12th. In spite of that, the band continues to crisscross the continental U.S. playing before big crowds, who still flock to hear the band’s scorching brand of melodic hard rock and tender ballads.
My most recent FireHouse show was in June of 2022, and it was nothing short of spectacular. If you like what they do, the guys haven’t lost a step in delivering their passionate, radio-friendly array of arena rock hits. Like a growing number of bands, FireHouse operate under the model that they’ll survive on their past catalog and thrive on frequent live performances. That seems to be working for them, as they have no shortage of gigs on the calendar. M3 2023 was the latest of them for me, and it was a revisitation to a very familiar stage for them. FireHouse have played the Merriweather Post Pavilion at least a half-dozen times in their career, making M3 something of a homecoming for the band.
With their stomping “Rock On The Radio” warm up tremoring from every speaker in the venue, FireHouse rallied to the stage and flexed for a moment on their respective instruments to get Merriweather fired up for what was to follow. Wearing a tattered, graffiti-covered leather jacket and shades, C.J. Snare strutted out into position amidst guitarist Bill Leverty, bassist Allen McKenzie, and drummer Michael Foster, who were already revving up to start into “Overnight Sensation”. Appearing amused by the hoopla that he and his band’s arrival was met with, Snare was casually pumping his fist in synchronicity with their intro, all the while gearing up to touch the heavens with the banshee-like wail that he belted out to fully ignite the band’s engines. Flailing away behind him, it’s easy to underestimate the stamina that’s required by a drummer to play a song such as “Overnight Sensation”, let alone do it well. Michael Foster is the reason for that. He knocks it out of the park every single time that I’ve seen them live. It was also apparent that C.J. Snare has retained the full range of his powerful voice, possibly more than most of the vocalists that rose to fame in the early ’90s. This display of vocal gymnastics squelched any notion to the contrary. Stratosphere reached!
Roughly 80% of the band’s Sunday performance was culled from their self-titled CD, and that appeared to be a welcome development by the crowd, which gave them back a favorable response to these songs that they know and love. Following “Shake And Tumble”, C.J. Snare reflected that FireHouse have been making stops at Merriweather Post Pavilion for the past 33 years, affirming that it’s very much like a second home for them. During “Home Is Where The Heart Is”, a retrospective montage flashed by on the screen behind them, showing the memories and stops that they’ve made along their career. Tastefully, they didn’t omit Perry Richardson from the clips despite his departure from the band.
Much like many of the acts that play M3, where FireHouse falls short is in their reluctance to perform any of their more current material in their show. As was the case with Slaughter the day before, FireHouse lean on their classic catalogue without throwing anything new at us, and that can get stale. The members of this band are more than capable of, at the very least, including a song or two from 3, Category 5, O2, or Prime Time in their setlist. “I Live My Life For You” was a huge hit for them, but in my experience, they never play it. Let Michael take the mic and crank out “Door To Door” while C.J. takes a bathroom break. Bring out the stools and an acoustic guitar for “Seven Bridges Road”. Are we likely to see this happen? I don’t know, but I have my doubts. In terms of forward momentum, focus appears to be in the rear-view mirror for most if not all of these bands. Fortunately for FireHouse, the music contained on their first and second LPs translates extremely well to the stage and never fails to incite a visceral response from audiences across the nation – large or small.
01. Overnight Sensation
02. All She Wrote
03. Shake And Tumble
04. When I Look Into Your Eyes
05. Lover’s Lane
06. Home Is Where The Heart Is
07. Love of A Lifetime
08. Don’t Treat Me Bad
09. Reach For The Sky
FireHouse performing “Don’t Treat Me Bad” and “Reach For The Sky” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
Steven Adler and his entourage of star players were one of my most pleasant surprises when I first saw the band back in 2019. Their energy, attitude, and recreation of one of the greatest debut albums of all time had me floored from that very first introduction. Unexpected, to say the least. Looking back, I’m not too certain what I anticipated but I do recall a wave of excitement pouring over me hearing that 1987 masterpiece that is Appetite For Destruction, recreated verbatim live. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard it in my lifetime, Appetite just never gets cobwebs for me. It’s a place in time. A moment in history where sheer magic beamed down on five unsuspecting Hollywood punks and Mike Clink pushed the “record” button, capturing it all on tape. That perfect storm can’t ever be forced or recreated at will. It’s like a gift from above. From the moment that drummer Steven Adler and his band took the stage, their emulation of that short period in time had me hooked on what they do. 2021’s appearance by the band brought more of the same, with the addition of another original Adler song (“Good To Be Bad”) into the mix as well as their scorching take on “(Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A) Mercedes Benz”.
As the band prepared to take the stage this time around, an unknown individual (presumably a crew member from the Adler camp) intently approached the microphone. With a very deep, baritone voice, he invited us all to think back to that special place in time when we first heard Appetite For Destruction. All while narrating the potential mood, sounds, and style created by a legendary band amid their ascent into stardom, it was all coming back to me. Thoughtfully reflecting on the late ’80s, these few moments of recollection were turned upside down as Adler and company crashed the stage, bringing my flashback into the here and now at harrowing speed.
Adler and company opened with a pair of classics from that landmark album – “Nightrain”, and what is potentially one of my overall favorite Guns N’ Roses songs, “Mr. Brownstone”. Hearing the aggression, attitude, and nostalgia of these songs in a live setting, performed faithfully to the originals was just like getting to see Santa Claus as a kid. If you close your eyes and listen, their spot-on renditions of these beloved GN’R classics are so perfect that you’ll instantly be transported back to the late ’80s / early ’90s quicker than Dr. Who can get you there in the Tardis. If you’ve seen Guns N’ Roses live in recent years, then you know that Kamin’s raw power sounds more like Axl than Axl! He has the snake dance down, too. “Patience” took things down a notch but gave the band a chance to catch their breath after storming the gates. It also showcased Ari Kamin’s tremendous vocal prowess that I spoke of. The sole non-Guns N’ Roses tune in their set, “Good To Be Bad” was more like an intermission before what was to follow. Admittedly not of the same caliber as the songs that preceded and followed it, but also not too far removed from what I think G N’R fans would want to hear. Taken from his 2012 album Back From The Dead, “Good To Be Bad” is but one of many songs from this CD that has me of the opinion that it was a stellar comeback for the drummer at a period in time when he was aligned with the perfect cast of characters to get things back on track for him. Listen to “Habit”, and you’ll see what I mean.
With all of my beaming over Guns N’ Roses and my love for their first record, there are without question debacles through the years that stand to discount their credibility as musicians. But seeing Adler up on stage, beaming with a genuine love for rock n’ roll and his fans, affirms my belief that he’s right where he’s supposed to be. He appeared to take great joy in repeatedly tossing his sticks out to fans. Is he a technical aficionado? No, however he makes up for that with a passion for playing. He has a swing that is unrivaled and what I would say is the trademark of his style. That’s never more evident than it is at the beginning of “You Could Be Mine”, as his sticks fly across the table of snares, ramping up this classic cut from Use Your Illusion II. During “Rocket Queen”, an explicit cartoon played on the overhead monitors that was both strange and captivating at the same time. It was like a bad acid trip that somehow didn’t feel at all out of place with what I was hearing. The band wrapped with “Welcome To the Jungle”, and Merriweather went apeshit for it. It just doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
As I’ve hinted at in previous concert reviews, I’m not in the tribute band fan club. Perhaps it’s my deep-rooted love of G N’R, or a particular fondness for Appetite, but Steven Adler gets a hall pass. There’s history there. With seemingly more lives than a feral cat, Steven has been in the business long enough to know what’s going to work and what doesn’t. Once again, the band turned in what was more than just a salute to one of rock n’ roll’s greatest bands to ever crawl from the Hollywood underworld. They were a tattooed time capsule cracked open for M3, allowing us to once again experience that lightning in a bottle. Now, if only we could get a new album out of them…
Steven Adler’s setlist:
02. Mr. Brownstone
05. Good To Be Bad
05. You Could Be Mine
06. Sweet Child O’ Mine
07. Rocket Queen
08. Welcome To The Jungle
Steven Adler performing “Mr. Brownstone”, “Patience” and “Good To Be Bad” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
Returning for another year and with yet another new lead singer in their ranks, Great White once again had something to prove. In full disclosure, I was not a huge fan of Mitch Malloy fronting the shark. Solo, yes, but as the lead singer for this long-standing Los Angeles outfit, the stars just didn’t align for me. His polished but powerful, chest-beating style didn’t really mesh wish those soulful / bluesy rudiments of their sound. Apparently, I’m not the only person that felt that way because his tenure with Great White was a short lived one. That brings us to 2023, and the band has now partnered with up-and-comer Brett Carlisle, vocalist for the Alabama band All Or Nothing. Following a parting of ways with original frontman Jack Russell in 2011, Carlisle is now the group’s fourth lead singer in an ever-revolving door behind the mic stand. Ironically, Carlisle appeared on the M3 stage with XYZ last year, providing back up vocals for Terry Ilous, who was also the lead singer for Great White from 2010-2018 and sang on their Elation and Full Circle albums. Small world, huh? Despite those footnotes, I wanted to give Great White the benefit of the doubt and experience this show with a clean slate – as if they were a band that I had never seen live or heard of before.
As they often do, the band started off with “Desert Moon” from Hooked. I’ve often felt that this album was just a mediocre follow-up to its predecessor …Twice Shy, however this particular song serves the band well in that it builds some anticipation for Carlisle to take the stage as his bandmates begin to build into the opening number. It’s also just a cool song that puts their best foot forward. Following the first few bars of the tune, Carlisle slowly floated across the stage as if he was riding on air. But he hadn’t gone zero-gravity at all, he was rolling on Heelys. Yes, you read that correctly. The singer from Great White took the stage in Heelys. Talk about riding a wave! In all seriousness, it was a clever idea that likely gave a chuckle to anyone that doesn’t take all of this too seriously. Well played, Brett.
Much like the band’s new singer simultaneously fronting two bands, guitarist / keyboardist Michael Lardie juggles various duties in Great White. As if two hats weren’t enough, the multi-instrumentalist appeared to have also assumed the role of musical director in the group. His attention was planted on the soundman at the side of the stage on numerous occasions throughout their show, with direction being hand-signaled in an effort to perfect their sound. Involved in multiple facets of that finished product emitting from the speakers, I have to give credit to Lardie for his level of involvement. He wants things to sound good and works to make that happen.
With a setlist that gave a general, high-level overview of their career, “Lady Red Light” and “Stick It” gave Once Bitten and their 1984 self-titled album a seat at the table. I consider both to be absolute essentials in Great White’s history that have held up well given that they’re both approaching the big 4-0. Unlike many of their contemporaries, much of the band’s newer material measures up nicely when stacked against the oldies. As the lone selection from their masterpiece Can’t Get There From Here, the rumble of the bass gave way to the melodic “Rollin’ Stoned” from Great White’s only release during their short stint with John Kalodner’s Portrait imprint with Sony Records. Truly a pity that this partnership didn’t continue, since it yielded one of the band’s finest albums of the ’90s and a worthy successor to Let It Rock. If you’re a Great White fan and don’t own Can’t Get There From Here, I can’t recommend it enough.
Leading the charge in terms of hit singles, “House of Broken Love”, “Mista Bone”, and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” were every bit the music to my ears that they’ve always been. When it comes to the blues, Mark Kendall remains untouchable! As staples of Great White’s live show, I’m not sure I could walk away satisfied if I didn’t hear this trio of songs taken from the band’s most commercial time-period. The album …Twice Shy was my formal introduction to Great White and, while perhaps not regarded by critics as their best, it does house several tracks that I would rank as overall classics on their resume. These are but three of them. In keeping with the band’s clear intent on taking us through a quick history lesson on their years, “Big Time” offered a glimpse into 2017’s Full Circle CD. One of two albums that they recorded with Terry Ilous, the disc does have its moments, and “Big Time” is one of the better ones. I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t question the absence of 1996’s Let It Rock in their live profile though. “Pain Overload”, “Any Way I Can”, “My World”, or even “Easy to Love” would all be welcome representations of this sunken treasure.
Even with an open mind, focused on looking past their ongoing state of flux, Great White’s performance was about what I expected. Newcomer Brett Carlisle did his very best to vocally ascend the licks that Mark Kendall was bleeding from his guitar into the PA, while rhythmically, drummer Audie Desbrow and bassist Scott Snyder are about as in-synch of a rhythm section as any band could hope to touch. And you know…, it sounded fine. It was cool. But try as I may, Jack Russell’s voice is a key component that I need to hear when I listen to these songs. At his young age, Carlisle isn’t anywhere near the level that his bandmates are, and that’s to be expected. He’ll get there. Most importantly, he exuded great confidence fronting a well-established band and the elder statesmen of Great White have been in the business forever. I can’t say that the audience was fully locked into what he was putting out, but given the big skates, er… shoes, that he had to fill, their new singer did just fine.
Great White’s setlist:
01. Desert Moon
02. Lady Red Light
03. Stick It
04. Rollin’ Stoned
05. House of Broken Love
06. Big Time
07. Mista Bone
08. Save Your Love
09. Rock Me
10. Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Great White performing “Lady Red Light” and “Stick It” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
By the time that Warrant hit the stage on Sunday night, I was greatly feeling the effects of the weekend’s festivities, but nonetheless looking forward to a performance by one of my favorite bands. With original bassist Jerry Dixon sill absent from the fold, the dirty, rotten, filthy down boys were still down an original member, but with Robbie Crane in their ranks, they continued to plow ahead on almost all cylinders. Dixon’s sabbatical from the band has never really explained or elaborated on, however Crane does a superb job of filling in for him during his absence. Still, there’s always something magical about a band’s original line-up and Warrant are fortunate to still have 60% of theirs intact 34 years after the release of their debut album.
Of course, the other 20% of the lineup that I haven’t mentioned yet is lead singer Robert Mason, who took the place of original vocalist and frontman Jani Lane, who can never truly be replaced. Jani simply was the heart of this band. That’s not to diminish the fact that Mason is a stellar vocalist and frontman in his own right. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he’s one of the best in this league. The man is like a tornado on stage, and I wouldn’t want to be in the path of it. However, as the focal point of Warrant’s live show, I’ve always felt that his style is just a bit different than theirs. That could be due to the fact that I’ll always associate him with being the singer for Lynch Mob, which had a darker, more brooding vibe than Warrant ever did. He brings an aggression and edginess to the songs that’s just different than how I’m used to hearing them. Consequently, every time that I’ve seen them in concert for the past 15 years, I have that one tiny reservation in the back of my mind. His penchant for consistently turning in captivating concert performances tips the scales back into the black though. And the albums that he’s recoded with the band, Rockaholic and Louder, Harder, Faster are cool – he’s undoubtedly the card bolstering the band to keep going strong and continue packing houses all these years later.
Much as they’ve done for the past few shows that I’ve attended, the band sticks almost entirely to their first and second albums in terms of song selection. For better or worse, It’s the mantra for all of these bands. Take it or leave it. They play what the average fan knows and wants to hear, which for the majority of people makes perfect sense. For the diehards that see any given M3 band multiple times in a year, be prepared for some repetition, at times verbatim. “So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against The Law)” opened their show and had the power of a freight train figuratively cutting right through the sea of people. This is one that I never really cared for when Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich came out but has grown on me quite a bit through the years. Much in the way that “Cold Sweat” has. From that same album, “D.R.F.S.R.” is much like those in that it was always a song that I could skip when I spun the CD but it’s become one of my favorites as the years have progressed.
Not surprisingly, Cherry Pie won the most representation in Warrant’s set, with eight out of 15 songs played in their show originating from that release. Following “I Saw Red”, the band paused while Robert Mason introduced their next song as “the b-side of the Cherry Pie [single] record – whoever gets that wins a big old prize”. I had the “Cherry Pie” cassette single in my youth, which I purchased because it contained the non-album b-side “Thin Disguise”. In those days I would buy up every piece of music that my favorite artists released and now that I think about it, I still do to this day. I don’t recall hearing “Thin Disguise” at the past few Warrant concerts that I’ve gone to, so this was cool to hear in their show.
If you were to ask me for my ten most underrated albums of all time, Warrant’s Dog Eat Dog CD would be somewhere on that list. “Machine Gun” is regularly included in the band’s set, but it’s one that I still get pumped up to hear when I feel the beat of Steven Sweet’s snare drum and cymbals against Joey Allen’s buzzsaw guitar riff that Dog Eat Dog rips open to. Allen rightfully continues to assume the role of shredder in the band, laying down a blistering solo following “Sometimes She Cries”. His counterpart, Erik Turner, sticks to the rhythms, which has been status quo in this band for as long as I can remember. Finishing a high-velocity set on an even higher note, Warrant wrapped with three of their biggest hits – “Heaven”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, and “Cherry Pie”. Another set from the weekend that I can’t sing enough praise for – it was that good.
As much as I love Warrant’s first three albums, it would be nice to hear some new music from the band, or a cut or two from one of their more recent records in the set. The bread and butter for many of these bands is in the “greatest hits revue”, so I’m not sure how likely that even is at this point. As evidenced by the presence of “Thin Disguise” in their show, the band does attempt to throw rarities at us, so there is hope.
01. So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against the Law)
02. Down Boys
03. Big Talk
04. You’re The Only Hell Your Mama Ever Raised
05. Blind Faith
07. Machine Gun
08. Sometimes She Cries
09. Train Train
11. I Saw Red
12. Thin Disguise
14. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
15. Cherry Pie
Warrant performing “Machine Gun” and “Sometimes She Cries” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
2023’s installment of M3 came to a bittersweet finale, to say the least. It will forever be remembered as KIX’s final appearance at the festival, which some would say they were integral in the continued success of. But you’ve got to hand it to them. The guys had some bad news to deliver and chose to give it to us straight from the horse’s mouth during this paramount performance in their motherland. Rather than let fans hear about their impending retirement from various media outlets in the form of a press release, Maryland’s legendary hard rockers dropped the news of their departure right from the stage during what was their final M3 performance. None of us are getting any younger, and I suppose this was an inevitability. That doesn’t take away the sting. Despite parting with guitarist Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and drummer Jimmy Chalfant’s health scare in recent years, I felt like the band still had some life left in them. Given the reasons that they’ve provided for saying “Sayonara”, I can understand their position on wanting to bow out gracefully rather than beating it into the ground. No one wants to see them go out anywhere but at the top of their game. And April Wine said it best, rock n’ roll is a vicious game. One that you can’t ever take your eyes off the ball for.
With the abbreviated duration of 2023’s happenings and Friday night’s kickoff officially sent to the chopping block for most ticketholders, Maryland’s hometown heroes saw their traditional opening night headlining slot go the way of the dinosaur and replaced with a Sunday night sendoff instead. But no matter, if KIX aren’t cutting the ribbon on the festival, they’re going to slap a bow on it and close M3 out with a loud bang for yet another year. The guys didn’t let the change up slow their roll one bit, as they took the shift in stride as they rocked, rattled, and rolled Merriweather one last time. With original drummer Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant back behind the kit for the first time (and full show) since November, the band sounded as ambitious and energized as they ever have. And why wouldn’t they? KIX turned up ready to rock the house and gave 100% per the standard that we’ve come to expect from them.
From their 1991 album of the same name, “Hotwire” was pulled from the vaults to freshen up their set just in time for their bon voyage. It sounded better than ever, and I was happy that the band made efforts to unearth a few lesser-played songs to make this show special. Truly one of the greatest live frontmen in all of rock, Steve Whiteman was his usual, animated self. That is, a non-stop blast of 5-hour Energy. Even at 66, he never stops going up there or fails to wrangle in the audience with his between-song bits. “Midnight Dynamite” was second and the polar opposite of “Hotwire” in terms of the regularity that it’s performed, however that song and album are so beloved by fans that I don’t think that the band could ever get away with not playing it. Well, I guess they can now. They’re calling it quits. The other surprise came with their performance of “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” from their best-selling Blow My Fuse disc. This is another one that I haven’t heard in forever and it was a standout of the show, hearing the song live one last time. In recent years, KIX have more or less stuck to the same 14 songs in their live show, but this time I got the sense that they wanted things to be different.
While the number of original members in the band has dwindled down to just three, Mark Schenker and Bob Pare are top-notch musicians that brought stability to the foundation during shaky times. Even as hired replacements, I’ve never gotten the sense that they weren’t native to the band. Their presence up there meshes so well with the partners in the group. But like many others, I do miss the original band members playing together on stage and how their musical chemistry would cook up what was essentially a spectacle for the eyes and ears. They were explosive. Will we see that original line-up take the stage one last time at their final show in September? That’s to be determined, but I’m sure I speak for many when I say I hope so.
I was recently listening to the band’s 1995 effort Show Business and maintain my stance that it’s a fantastic, underrated disc in their catalog. It was also their last to feature the songwriting of bassist Donnie Purnell, who was a principal songwriter in the band for much of their career. As such, it features many of those classic elements that we know and love about that signature “KIX sound”. Show Business turned out to be the band’s last gasp of air during the grunge years, however this album has no shortage of killer songs, and the band’s decision to add “Baby Time Bomb” back into their repertoire was a welcome addition. It has that classic KIX sound, that identifiable formula that is the DNA of their music, and had the album been released a few years earlier it would likely have been a smash.
KIX delivered one highly memorable show for their M3 swan song. Though they’ve never attempted to reinvent the wheel, they hold the aces at what they do. They routinely turn in a high-octane, bombastic set demonstrative of what a fine-tuned machine they are. There will never be another band quite like them.
01. Hot Wire
02. Midnite Dynamite
03. No Ring Around Rosie
04. Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT
05. Scarlet Fever
06. Girl Money
07. Get It While It’s Hot
08. The Itch
09. Baby Time Bomb
10. Don’t Close Your Eyes
11. Wheels In Motion
12. Cold Shower
13. Cold Blood
14. Blow My Fuse
KIX performing “Cold Blood” and “Blow My Fuse” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 7, 2023 (video footage from LORDOFTHE80S‘ YouTube page):
One of my favorite aspects of M3 is to behold the exceptional and often stellar caliber of musicianship exhibited by key members within many of the bands that frequent the festival. Some of whom, I’d go so far as to say are among the finest in the world at their respective instruments. That’s not to say that mediocrity doesn’t rear its ugly head at times, but more often than not there are individual performances that can put a band’s otherwise meager performance back on the map. I was reminded of that this year as I witnessed many compelling sets and lesser ones that were salvaged by star players.
With M3 being a yearly tradition for many hard rock fans, it was also great to see the festival incorporate in bands that have called this area “home” and were essential in creating a local scene, regardless of how underground it might have been. With the news of KIX retiring, Child’s Play’s inclusion then felt like a calculated move to test the waters as a potential replacement. A grooming to determine market share. While KIX and (later) Child’s Play were rising to notoriety at drastically opposed eras on the timeline, they were both essential in pumping blood into the heart of rock n’ roll in Baltimore during their respective careers. Following the conclusion of M3, the almost immediate on-sale date of their final show solidified my belief that this was well-incubated hatch rather than just a nod to the hometown boys.
Sometimes you have to just take things for what they are and not overthink them. Seeing these two Baltimore bands again stirred up a lot of good memories for me, and that’s what it all boils down to. Having played M3’s VIP night, American Jetset are another up-and-coming band from this area that are currently out there kicking ass and taking names. It was great to see their presence on the bill for added “local” representation. To that end, perhaps we’ll see a Wrathchild America reunion on the horizon and they’ll grace the Merriweather stage in 2024 to continue that representation of the mid-Atlantic scene. It would be a stretch, but I could even see Crack The Sky adding some interest for local rock fans. It’s a tradition that would now hold even greater value given that one of the event’s headliners are finally putting away their dancing shooz.
As I do every year, I leave you with my wishlist of bands that I’d like to see onstage at M3 2024: John Corabi (acoustic), Hardcore Superstar, Kingofthehill, Slik Toxik, Tuff, King’s X, Babylon A.D., and Dangerous Toys. Lastly, give new bands your support! Buying a t-shirt, CD, or record from their merch table goes much, much farther than streaming their music on Apple Music or Spotify. The local band that you’re supporting today could be an arena act of tomorrow.