M3 Rock Festival (Day Three) Concert Review

M3 TURNS OUT TO BE PROMISING REBOUND FOR LIVE ROCK N’ ROLL

Date: Sunday, July 4, 2021
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
Event: M3 Rock Festival
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato (Little Caesar, Great White, Warrant), Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography  (all other photos)
YouTube videos:
 lordofthe80s (Little Caesar, Pretty Boy Floyd), Jim Powers (all other videos)

If I had to choose one day of M3 that was the strongest overall, I’d have to go with the third and final day. Not to take anything away from the previous two days, but Sunday’s lineup was simply jam-packed with bands that I wanted to see. With such a stellar showing in what was essentially a comeback year, I’m already looking forward to seeing which bands the promoters have lined up for next year (which has already been confirmed). I came up with my own “wish list” of who I would like to see appear at the 2022 edition of M3, and Ugly Kid Joe, Hardline, Electric Boys, D.A.D., Thunder, SouthGang, Michael Monroe, Tangier and Johnny Crash are all on it. That’s a full day right there alone. Are any of those likely to happen? Unfortunately, I doubt it. With several of those bands being based out of Europe, it’s not feasible for them travel across the pond for one performance. But you just never know who might be touring the States next year and in this neck of the woods! It’s always fun to see new bands appear that aren’t repeat bookings from years prior too. Which brings me to Sunday’s first band to grace the Merriweather stage….

Little Caesar

Little Caesar are one of those bands that were always a bit more rough and tumble than many of their Sunset Strip counterparts. Incorporating elements of soul and the blues into their Bob Rock-produced major label debut, they’ve always been more akin to bands such as Junkyard or The Four Horsemen to my ears, and even more so with their initial EP, Name Your Poison. It’s that harder edge and look which also made them difficult to pigeonhole from a marketing standpoint. Rock n’ roll fans don’t care much marketing. However, being a musician in a band signed to a major label that doesn’t know how to promote your album can surely be viewed as a problem. Particularly when image conscious media outlets such as MTV fail to push your videos. Those footnotes can have huge ramifications on a new artist and any member of Little Caesar will likely tell you the same thing.

Luckily, Little Caesar have managed to carve out a diehard cult following that have stuck with them through the years and they’ve maintained their core line-up which includes vocalist Ron Young, drummer Tom Morris and guitarist Loren Molinare. Joined by bassist Pharoah Barrett and guitarist Mark Tremalgia, Little Caesar have continued to release new music and tour on a fairly regular basis. Except for their guitar and bass rigs, Little Caesar had a minimal stage production for their opening slot which is on par with other bands that have played first thing in the afternoon. They kicked things off with “Hard Rock Hell” from American Dream, amidst a haze of clouds being generated by the fog machine at the side of the stage. In accordance with their “no-frills” approach, frontman Ron Young asked that they be turned off not long into Little Caesar’s performance. They aren’t the kind of band that warrant smoke and mirrors, which do nothing to enhance what they have going on in their show.

And then it was on to their highly underrated Geffen Records debut with “Rock-N-Roll State of Mind” and “Hard Times.” I’ve always felt that this is such a sleeper of an album, with many standout tracks that will optimistically get the recognition that they deserve someday. These are but two of many songs from the record that would’ve gone over brilliantly. However, Little Caesar opted instead to span as much of their career as possible in what was a very short set. Even paying a visit to their second album Influence via the upbeat, rockabilly stomp of “Rum And Coke.” It’s such a fun live song, but perhaps not at around 1:00 in the afternoon when many in attendance are still hungover from the night before. Fans of Little Caesar’s 2018 gem Eight were served up with three helpings from it via “21 Again”, Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and the ballad “Time Enough for That.” In a perfect world, that last tune should have been a huge hit for the band, and I recommend checking it out if you’re ever so inclined.

In between songs, Young professed his appreciation for outlaw performers such as Haggard and the late Johnny Cash and I think his affinity for them goes without saying. It’s evident in Little Caesar’s attitude, sound and style. He touted those greats for being the “real deal” in stark contrast with the popular musical acts of today, proclaiming that they would never have thought of renting a Harley for their music videos or any “fake bullshit” like that. A well-said and to the point statement before the band closed out their show with the apt “Drive It Home.”

Little Caesar’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Hard Rock Hell
02. Rock-N-Roll State of Mind
03. Hard Times
04. 21 Again
05. Chain of Fools (Aretha Franklin cover)
06. Straight Shooter
07. Time Enough For That
08. Rum And Coke
09. Mama Tried (Merle Haggard cover)
10. Drive It Home

Little Caesar performing “Chain of Fools” live at the M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Pretty Boy Floyd 

Pretty Boy Floyd were unveiled as another addition to the revised itinerary for M3’s new dates when they were announced. They’re a band that I had been waiting forever to see live, but for one reason or another have never had the chance to. And I’ve tried on many occasions. I’ve heard nothing but good things about their live show and that frontman Steve Summers gives 100% during the band’s performances. I can attest to that being mostly true, and I was very impressed with the band’s set. Looking half-glam and equal parts goth as they took the stage in black on black (with a bit of red thrown in for good measure), the band managed to play nine of the ten tracks found on their iconic debut Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz. “The Last Kiss” was the only song that they didn’t play from the cult favorite, which I assume had to be cut due to time constraints.

Alas, this was more or less a Pretty Boy Floyd revue show since original guitarist Kristy “Krash” Majors was unable to appear for this date. Regardless, Summers was joined in this incarnation of the band by former Murderdolls bassist Eric Griffin (filling in on the guitar for this show), Diego “Ashes” Ibarra on bass, and “The Living Dead Drummer” behind the kit. This wouldn’t be the first time that Summers has had to carry the Pretty Boy Floyd torch on his own, and I kept that in the back of my mind and just enjoyed their show for what it was. Steve has waved the flag and kept the band name alive since the ’90s, so if that entails using hired guns to play a show, I say that’s his right and more power to him. Especially given that this line-up was tight and threw down flawless renditions of all their songs. I have a huge admiration for the Murderdolls too, so seeing Eric Griffin play guitar for this band was kind of cool. He nailed all of Kristy’s leads with perfection and gave off the distinct impression that he was there to destroy, and the audience could take it or leave it. I would’ve expected nothing less. His “R.I.P. Ben Graves” t-shirt had me recalling that wasn’t the first time that Pretty Boy Floyd have crossed paths with the Murderdolls. Drummer Ben Graves (R.I.P.) also played with the band at one point and even designed the cover art for their 2017 release Public Enemies.

I doubt that the average fan knows or cares who is in the band at this point aside from Steve Summers anyway. He’s the face and voice of the band and has that indelible x-factor as a performer. As the afternoon sun was warmly beaming down from one side of the auditorium, the singer removed his long leather jacket to make one fan’s day a whole lot better when he tossed it out to her as keepsake. Talk about a cool souvenir! I’m sure she’ll never forget that moment. The frontman appeared in good spirits on the day of the show, chatting with the audience between songs and even light-heartedly joking around at the expense of a few other ’80s singers who shall remain nameless in this review. My inaugural Pretty Boy Floyd show more than lived up to my expectations. They sounded phenomenal, played all of the songs that I wanted to hear, and captured the attitude and spirit of the Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz.  

Pretty Boy Floyd’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz
02. Rock And Roll (Is Gonna Set The Night On Fire)
03. Wild Angels
04. 48 Hours
05. Toast of The Town (Mötley Crüe cover)
06. Rock And Roll Outlaws
07. Only The Young
08. Your Mama Won’t Know
09. I Wanna Be With You

Pretty Boy Floyd performing “Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz” and “Rock And Roll (Is Gonna Set The Night On Fire)” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Ariel Kamin (National Anthem)

The audience was teased with a “special guest” performing the National Anthem on Sunday, and it turned out to be Ariel Kamin of the Steven Adler Band. I’d venture to say that if there is one song that you do NOT want to screw up as a professional performer, it’s this one. It’s tricky, it’s acapella and it’s unforgiving. Kamin performed a beautiful rendition of the song that further demonstrated what powerhouse pipes he possesses as if yesterday’s show wasn’t evidence enough to that.   

Faster Pussycat

2021 brought the first new music we’ve heard from the Faster Pussycat camp in something like fifteen years. Their appearance at M3, while offering up more of what we’ve come to expect from the band’s live shows also brought a few new twists and turns. In his trademark sunglasses and cowboy hat pulled low, main man Taime Downe hung back behind his mic at center stage from the word “go” and mostly just let the music do the talking. Even so, opening number “Where There’s A Whip There’s A Way” sounds just as dope today as it did when it was released back in 1989. The audience was then greeted with the standard “What’s up motherfuckers?” which, coming from Taime, is somehow endearing in a weird sort of way. Faster Pussycat are back, and sound reinvigorated following their time off of the road.

In keeping with Wake Me When It’s Over, “Ain’t No Way Around It” was up next and the guys brought plenty of piss and vinegar to the stage with them for this one. I think they hit paydirt here. Guitarist Xristian Simon and bassist Danny Nordahl fired off gang vocals on the song that were nasty and right on-point. Remember that “new twist” that I mentioned? Faster Pussycat’s new single “NOLA” followed and is an ode to the Big Easy, which is near and dear to the heart of frontman Taime Downe. For a newer song, the audience seemed already well-acquainted and I heard a lot of people singing right along. Always a good sign! The B-side to the single is a cover of Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers’ “Pirate Love” and was the other half of the sandwich around “Number 1 With a Bullet” from Power And The Glory Hole. I like that album, but with it being a departure from their trademark sound, I think maybe they should’ve swapped it out for “Nonstop To Nowhere” or “You’re So Vain” for their stop at M3. Either of those would surely have fared better in the way of audience response.

Throughout their performance, wunderkind guitarist Sam “Bam” Koltun was absolutely on fire. He was running back and forth, jumping and making full use of stage like a kid in a candy store. The veteran members, while undoubtedly focused, mostly just held their ground at their respective posts for the duration of Faster’s set. Koltun even picked up a mandolin to accompany the band on its next song. Faster Pussycat have been playing the ballad “Friends” from the Whipped album on their last few tours, and Taime took a few moments leading up to it to reflect on his missed appearance at M3 four years ago when he was rushed to a local hospital. He went on to express his heartfelt gratitude to girlfriend Kimberly Burch for helping him to stay clean and sober for the past four years during his recovery. It shows, too – the singer looked and sounded great at the show. Their ever present and oh-so-mean cover of “Shut Up And Fuck” by Betty Blowtorch is always a good time, and a fitting tribute to fallen Betty Blowtorch singer Bianca Butthole, who was a very close friend of Downe. Faster Pussycat closed out their show with “Babylon” from their debut album.

Faster Pussycat’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Where There’s A Whip There’s A Way
02. Cathouse
03. Slip of The Tongue
04. Ain’t No Way Around It
05. Pirate Love (Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers cover)
06. Number 1 With A Bullet
07. NOLA
08. House of Pain
09. Friends
10. Bathroom Wall
11. Shut Up And Fuck (Betty Blowtorch cover)
12. Babylon

Faster Pussycat performing “Best Whorehouse In Town” and “Slip of The Tongue” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Riley’s L.A. Guns

Steve Riley’s spinoff of L.A. Guns was another of my favorite bands at the 2019 edition of M3. I had great anticipation leading up to their much talked-about live debut and was blown away by both the song selection and accuracy with regard to execution of the classic material. It wasn’t the first time that we’ve had two factions of L.A. Guns simultaneously making the rounds on the concert trail and I wasn’t really sour about it. To me, as long as the legacy of the band was being well-preserved (and it was), I had no gripes and it was just more music to go around. Let’s not forget, Riley and Nickels played on most of those albums that their show draws from, with Riley himself being one of the most consistent members throughout the entire L.A. Guns discography. Anyone remember American Hardcore or Shrinking Violet? Since their last gig at M3, the guys have released a very well-received album in 2020’s Renegades that left me hankering to hear some of those songs incorporated into their set. When I first heard the album, I immediately thought that tracks such as “Crawl”, “Well Oiled Machine” or “Lost Boys” would fit right in alongside “No Mercy” and “Sex Action.” Their 2021 appearance at M3 drilled that theory right in, with their new material flowing seamlessly alongside the classics.

Riley’s L.A. Guns performing “Crawl” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

But from their first song until their very last, something was just different this time around. I detected a sense of “resistance” from the crowd. It didn’t matter that the band played “Over The Edge”, “Wild Obsession”, “Never Enough, “Sex Action” and “The Ballad of Jayne” with astute integrity and to near perfection. It didn’t matter that the blistering guitar solo on “Renegades” sounded just as incredible in concert as it does on the album. Loyalists to the other L.A. Guns camp feel how they feel and they were making a stand. Or not standing… as the case may be. If fans of a particular version of the band feel the need to choose one side over the other, that’s their right as a consumer. Knock yourselves out. I thought the band were on fire and can’t remember ever hearing “Kiss My Love Goodbye” sound as flawless as it did when played by just four musicians. Before taking the microphone to fire off lead vocals on the punky “Nothing Better To Do” towards the end of their set, bassist Kelly Nickels warned that he hadn’t sang in almost a year and a half and wasn’t sure what to expect. For being out of practice, he still sounded great and his moment in the spotlight is always a highlight of their show for me. Nickels has that cool, no-fucks-given air about him onstage and to hear him tackle that particular song fits the vibe of it succinctly. Riley’s L.A. Guns were as solid as ever, dishing out their new material while revisiting the music that originally put their band on the map. They played on one hell of a show.

Riley’s L.A. Guns’ setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Over The Edge
02. Never Enough
03. Sex Action
04. Wild Obsession
05. Kiss My Love Goodbye
06. Crawl
07. All That You Are
08. Lost Boys
09. You Can’t Walk Away
10. Well Oiled Machine
11. Renegades
12. The Ballad of Jayne
13. Nothing Better To Do
14. Electric Gypsy

Riley’s L.A. Guns performing “Renegades” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Lita Ford

I’ve loved Lita Ford’s music since I was a kid. I could listen to the Black Widow sing the phone book and be perfectly content to do so. She’s a true phenom on the guitar and also has a beautiful voice to match. I’m also fairly sure that she’s made some secret pact with Satan, because the woman just does not age at the rate of normal human beings. Taking the stage in a skin-tight, red leather body suit that she appeared to have been poured into, Lita looked every bit the rock legend that she is and props to her for that. It had to have been sweltering in that get up under those hot stage lights in July. As far as her band goes, she’s had the same guys with her for a number of years (guitarist Patrick Kennison, bassist Marty O’Brien and drummer Bobby Rock). As such, they gel like a fluid, well-oiled machine onstage. If any bum notes were hit, I certainly couldn’t detect any in what was essentially a set filled with hits and a few covers going all the way back to her days in The Runaways. Nothing from Living Like A Runaway, (aside from one bonus track), nothing from Black, and certainly nothing from Wicked Wonderland made the cut.

Shortly after taking the stage, Lita appeared to be having issues with her guitar levels not being prevalent enough in the mix and she wasted no time in pointing that out to her tech and whoever else was at her beck and call on the side of the stage. She was repeatedly looking over at them and pointing up in a subtle cue to raise her levels. It wasn’t working and she quickly had her tech bring her a different guitar out to plow through the set, since the clock was ticking. And really, what may have seemed disastrous from an audiophile’s perspective probably wasn’t even detectable to the packed house that were there to see her. Once the band members bypassed that minor technical issue, they rocked hard and blazed through scorching versions of “Larger Than Life” and “Can’t Catch Me” that were just a whirlwind to hear live. I’ll vouch for The Runaways’ forty-five(!) year old hit “Cherry Bomb” sounding not only relevant, but also resounding to this day. It’s always a gas to hear it played in Lita’s set and is sure to induce a bit of revelry in the crowd.

Lita Ford performing “Close My Eyes Forever” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Drummer Bobby Rock demonstrated his virtuosity with a truly maniacal solo, at one point even tipping his front snares forward as if he was going to toss his entire kit off of the riser! I think the first five rows of the audience were waiting to exhale at the very moment that he pulled them back. Surely a nail-biter for his drum technician. Long-time guitarist Patrick Kennison joined Lita on the microphone to duet with her on one of her biggest hits, the melancholy “Close My Eyes Forever.” Kennison’s take on Ozzy Osbourne’s verses in the original are convincing without being imitative. I’ve thought that he has sounded great each time I’ve heard him sing this song with her in concert. He really makes it his own and has the vocal prowess to win their live version of the song a thumbs-up in my humble opinion. With Lita teasing fans with the details on her long-awaited new album for quite some time, I was hopeful that she might drop a new song into her M3 set to tantalize us a bit more (“Monster” perhaps?). What better way to promote your new album than to bust out a new song on the target demographic? It wasn’t happening. Looks like we’ll just have to wait to hear that new material that she’s been hard at work on, but good things come to those who wait.

Lita Ford’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Gotta Let Go
02. Larger Than Life
03. The Bitch Is Back (Elton John cover)
04. Hungry
05. Playin’ With Fire
06. Can’t Catch Me (with drum solo)
07. Cherry Bomb (The Runaways cover)
08. Only Women Bleed (Alice Cooper cover)
09. Close My Eyes Forever
10. Kiss Me Deadly

Lita Ford performing “Kiss Me Deadly” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Great White 

I have a full disclosure to make. Hearing Great White with Mitch Malloy on vocals took some getting used to for me. Their back catalogue of albums (with Jack Russell on lead vocals) is aces, and I also liked Terry Ilous as their frontman. I thought that his vocal style was well-suited to their sound. While Malloy is an accomplished performer and certainly very talented in his own right, I find his vocal style to be a bit of a departure from what I’m used to hearing when I listen to Great White’s records. Malloy has a cleaner, more polished technique that is less akin stylistically to what the band’s previous lead singers brought to the table. There’s a sultry/blues element that I need in those older songs that just isn’t quite there. All of that aside, I’m glad that the band members are able to continue doing what they do and I tried to go into Great White’s Sunday night performance with an open mind. Leading things off with “Desert Moon” from Hooked, the well-travelled band play about as tightly as a group of musicians can get. Yes, these guys are that good.

Spinning his mic stand through the air, Malloy exuded charisma from the stage and looked every bit the textbook rock star under the neon lights and patriotic version of logo displayed on their backdrop. He seems to know what the audience wants, and when it was time to bring 2017’s Full Circle into the mix, the singer asked “You like the old stuff? Well, this is new stuff that sound like the old stuff” before the band moved into “Big Time.” I thought that Great White would likely stick to their greatest hits this time out and they did by and large. Truthfully, I was surprised that they played anything from the Ilous-era albums. However, this was the sole representation of that period in the band’s career. From there on out, it really was their brightest and best on display. I thought that their show was somewhat laid-back given that this was the final night of the festival, which could be attributed to their song selection. It wasn’t sleepy by any means, just not quite at the level of intensity that I would expect from the third to last band.

Hearing Mark Kendall play the bluesy licks of “House of Broken Love” only underscores what an amazing guitarist he is. His t-shirt read “fucking awesome” and that about sums it up right there. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Lardie is another secret weapon in the band. Not only does he play rhythm guitar and keyboards, but the man wails on the harmonica. This was evidenced on their classic and instantly identifiable “Rock Me.” Great White finished out their set with “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and I have to say that I was sold on Mitch Malloy. They won me over. No, he doesn’t sound like Jack Russell but he’s both entertaining and convincing as the band’s frontman without trying to be his predecessor.    

Great White’ setlist (as per setlist.fm with slight edit):
01. Desert Moon
02. Lady Red Light
03. Big Time
04. Face The Day (The Angels cover)
05. House of Broken Love
06. Mista Bone
07. Save Your Love
08. Hard To Say Goodbye
09. Rock Me
10. Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Ian Hunter cover)

Great White performing “Rock Me” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Warrant 

The “Down Boys” had originally planned to spend 2020 celebrating the 30th anniversary of one of their biggest albums, Cherry Pie. That didn’t happen for obvious reasons, but it appears that the celebration will now be commencing, albeit on a belated schedule. Warrant’s M3 setlist saw their sophomore album played in its entirety with a few cuts from Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich thrown into the mix for good measure. Rather than playing the songs in the exact sequence that they’re found on the album, they went with the lesser-known album tracks first and stacked the hits on the end. For this performance, original bassist Jerry Dixon was once again absent from the line-up. Filling in for him on bass was none other than Robbie Crane (Vince Neil, Ratt, Black Star Riders) who is a long-time friend of the band. He played with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and was rocking out from the moment that the band took the stage until the very end. In their requisite sunglasses, guitarists Erik Turner and Joey Allen each stuck to their side of the stage with few exceptions.

At the other end of the spectrum, vocalist Robert Mason is always the consummate performer and was fully invested in the show with an admittedly different style than original vocalist Jani Lane. This was my third time seeing the band with Mason on vocals and I’ve never seen him not giving it his all at 100%. The man just throws down up there, even playing a bit of guitar on a few songs. Mason rarely stood still and was constantly pacing or running from one side of the stage to the other in an effort to connect with the audience from all angles, all while passionately belting out his lead vocals. Those DRFSR tracks that I mentioned having made it into the set were none other than “Down Boys”, “Sometimes She Cries” and the title track. With it being a chart-topping hit, I was surprised that “Heaven” wasn’t played in place of “Sometimes She Cries”.

The guys finished out their set with a visit from an old, familiar face. That greedy, gluttonous kingpin from Warrant’s debut album cover made a surprise appearance to harass and chastise the band as they tried to play “Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich” without laughing at their roadie in costume. He even had a “money gun” that spit fake bills out into the first few rows. All in all, it was comical, and I thought it was a fun moment in the show that fans really enjoyed. This line-up of Warrant is both consistent and solid with Robert Mason as their frontman. It would be a nice change to hear more songs from the two albums that they’ve recorded with him or maybe even a Lynch Mob track thrown in. How rad would it be to hear Warrant’s take on “Tangled In The Web”,  “No Good” or “Jungle of Love” with the man that actually recorded them? You’ve got my vote.

Warrant’s setlist (as per setlist.fm with slight edits):
01. Sure Feels Good To Me
02. Love In Stereo
03. Bed of Roses
04. You’re The Only Hell Your Mama Ever Raised
05. I Saw Red
06. Song And Dance Man
07. Mr. Rainmaker
08. Blind Faith
09. Guitar Solo
10. Train, Train (Blackfoot cover)
11. Down Boys
12. D.R.F.S.R.
13. Sometimes She Cries
14. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
15. Cherry Pie

Warrant performing “Cherry Pie” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

Night Ranger

Perhaps one of my biggest revelations of M3 were Night Ranger. I admit to only knowing a handful of their songs – mostly their greatest hits from the Midnight Madness album. As a result, I was somewhat indifferent to seeing their performance leading into Sunday night. That indifference turned to curiosity as the day went along, thanks in part to a widespread sense of anticipation for the band that was static in the air throughout the day. Truth be told, I’ve always followed Jack Blades more closely with his solo work and his other band, Damn Yankees. Nonetheless, I appreciate his talents as a singer, bassist and songwriter which had me interested in catching their set. Another factor that had me curious in seeing Night Ranger perform is that guitarist Kerri Kelli is now in the line-up. Kelli is a founding member of L.A.’s seminal glam band Big Bang Babies and has also toured with Pretty Boy Floyd, Warrant, Slash’s Snakepit and Alice Cooper over the years. A godfather of glam, if you will.

I had hoped that with Night Ranger headlining the festival on night three (also Independence Day), organizers might have arranged for celebratory fireworks on Sunday while the band played “(You Can Still) Rock in America.” But it was ultimately decided to have them on Friday night instead. Perhaps there’s a city ordinance / curfew in effect that prevents the venue from releasing fireworks on certain nights of the week. What seemed like a missed opportunity may have actually just been catering to local laws. There’s no denying that the song would have made a great soundtrack to a bombastic spectacle out on the lawn, where the fireworks were disbursed from two nights prior. Having now seen their live show, my final verdict is that Night Ranger rocked hard and were one of the most dynamic and visual acts that graced the Merriweather stage this year.

Like Queensrÿche the night before, the huge screen behind them displayed wild imagery and graphics that changed often throughout Night Ranger’s performance but distinct to each song as it was being played, often tying in conceptually to song lyrics or the album that any particular song was derived from. Their light show was also dramatic and highlighted whichever band member was in the spotlight at any given moment. These effects only enhanced their outing, which mostly showcased the band’s most familiar material. “Why Does Love Have To Change” saw drummer Kelly Keagy also take the microphone for lead vocals and he was later joined by three of his four bandmates in a gathering around his kit for a jovial Night Ranger drum-off. The band also managed to dust the cobwebs off of two of Damn Yankees biggest hits, “Coming of Age” and “High Enough”, with guitarist Brad Gillis laying down respectable takes on Ted Nugent’s guitar work. It’s been years since I’ve heard either of these songs performed live and both sounded true to their original versions, with Gillis doing his very best to replicate Nugent’s rude guitar solos. Nicely done! In hindsight of all this, I can’t help but think that Night Ranger would be the perfect band to take a stab at a Vegas residency. They have the songs. They have the visceral appeal. And they have a lot of fans. I nominate them as an ideal contender for the job.   

Night Ranger’s setlist (as per setlist.fm):
01. Touch of Madness
02. Four In The Morning
03. Sing Me Away
04. Coming of Age (Damn Yankees cover)
05. Rumours In The Air
06. The Secret of My Success
07. Why Does Love Have To Change
08. Night Ranger
09. High Enough (Damn Yankees cover)
10. When You Close Your Eyes
11. Don’t Tell Me You Love Me
12. Sister Christian
13. (You Can Still) Rock In America

Night Ranger performing “Sister Christian” live at M3 Rock Festival on July 4, 2021:

All in all, the 2021 edition of M3 turned out to be a promising rebound for live rock n’ roll, which has been lying dormant for far too long. The festival had a heavier vibe this year, undoubtedly due to the harder edge that a few of the bands brought with them in their performances. While I initially lamented the loss of Mike Tramp, Tyketto, Bang Tango, Dangerous Toys, Doro Pesch, Tesla and Ratt from the original line-up of bands slated to perform, I was grateful to just be back at the festival enjoying a slew of kickass rock and roll bands and taking it all in. If 2020 taught me one thing, it’s to savor the moment and not take things for granted. It also forced me to realize that my complaints over long lines for the bathroom or a $9 pretzel are just trivial things. One never knows when those things that are a huge part of our lives might come to a screeching halt.