Melodic Rock Fest Australia Concert Review feat. Reckless Love, Ron Keel, Midnite City & more

REMAINING BANDS FOR MELODIC ROCK FEST AUSTRALIA DELIVER THE GOODS

Date: Saturday, March 7, 2020
Venue: The Croxton Bandroom
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Reviewer: Rob Colaiacovo
Photos: TB Photography & Videography

It’s hard to write this review without at least mentioning the debacle in the lead up to this event. Bands pulling out, venue cancellation, three days reduced to one, innuendo surrounding who was to blame…were we ever going to see the light of day for MRF 2020? From the list of 25 bands/artists that were on the initial bill, only nine actually fronted the fans and now, even as a write this after the event, the turmoil is still lingering on.

However, I’m not writing this to add my thoughts on that. I attended as a fan of melodic rock to see artists that I’ve only dreamed of seeing. As they say in the classics, the show must go on…and it did! Did the crowd turn up? Not really (I’ll say more about that later). But for the three or four hundred that did attend, I’m confident that I speak on behalf of most (if not all) that we witnessed a treat and I hope you enjoy this review.

Saint Scarlett:

Starting it all at 1pm were Saint Scarlett with a short 20-minute set. A young band from Melbourne, they could be described as heavily influenced by KISS and were the perfect opener for the event.

They will be looking to break some new ground in 2020 and their single ‘Polaroid’ is definitely worth checking out.

Saint Scarlett’s setlist:
01. Dangerous
02. The One That Got Away
03. Can’t Say Goodbye
04. Polaroid

Ragdoll:

Next up were another Aussie band in Ragdoll. A three-piece hailing from Perth, Australia, they brought their riff heavy version of melodic rock to the festival. I actually went to see these guys headline the previous night at a local bar in Brunswick and what struck me straight away was how full their sound was for a three-piece. I could really see some readers of this site digging their music. Both sets were quality and I recommend the song “Love On The Run” to give you a taste of what this band offers. Loved their live version of this song.

Ragdoll’s setlist:
o1. All I Want
02. Tell Me
03. The Word You Gave Us
04. Follow The Leader
05. Break You
06. Love On The Run
07. Shine
08. Rust

White Widdow:

The last of the Aussie acts were the local boys White Widdow. Led by brothers Jules and Xavier Millis (vocals and keyboards respectively), these guys have brought their music all over the world playing at various festivals with a number of bands they would have grown up idolising. Melodic rock with a touch of AOR, they have released four albums in 12 years. Absolutely killer riffs combined with early Bon Jovi / Journey would be one way to describe their sound. They produced an awesome set. I’ve seen these guys a few times now and enjoyed watching another great performance. Guitarist Enzo Almanzi absolutely tore it up. If you’re unfamiliar with this band and a fan of early Bon Jovi, I would suggest listening to “Reckless Nights” and “Broken Hearts Won’t Last Forever.” These guys are talented!

Midnite City:

So, with three bands down and six international acts remaining, a weird feeling engulfed me at the end of the White Widdow set. The band that I wanted to see probably more than anybody else (even from the original list) were up next — UK based Midnite City. It felt like I was waiting for the main act and it was only 3:00 pm. Fronted by Tigertailz member Rob Wylde, this was their first appearance in Australia and second show, having played with White Widdow and Reckless Love on the Thursday night. Anticipation was high and looking around the room, there were Midnite City t-shirts everywhere. Having released two albums in 2017 and 2018, they bring high energy, fist pumping, feel good hair metal and to sum it up, they tore the place down. Miles Meakin’s guitar tones were top notch and I really enjoyed watching his performance with his nifty feet movements tip toeing around the stage with a smile on his face the whole time. He clearly loves what he does. Rob’s vocals were supreme and I could go on.

In short, they ‘brought the party’ and left the crowd in awe of their performance. They arguably received the loudest reception for the day. I don’t think they could have anticipated such a response. It was also what turned out to be the largest crowd gathering for the day. The atmosphere after their performance was not quite at the same level as some patrons decided to make their way having seen who they came to see. I met these guys after the show and tried my best not to look like a kid in a candy store. Great guys, really humble and a performance I’ll remember!

Midnite City’s setlist:
01. We Belong
02. Ghosts of Our Old Friends
03. Life Ain’t Like This On The Radio
04. You Don’t Understand Me
05. Here Comes The Party
06. Heaven’s Falling
07. One Step Away
08. Until The End
09. Summer of Our Lives
10. Give Me Love

Janet Gardner:

With only 20-minute intervals between sets (which would be a staple for the whole event), the music kept flowing. Janet Gardner (ex-Vixen) came on stage with her band led by husband, guitarist, co-writer and co-producer Justin James. I loved Vixen growing up in the late ’80s (who didn’t?) and I have really enjoyed the Janet Gardner band’s first two albums. She looked great and sounded fantastic playing predominately music from the 2017 release Janet Gardner and 2019 release Your Place In The Sun (some really kick-ass tracks) with some Vixen classics thrown in like “Rev It Up,” “Cryin’” and “Edge of A Broken Heart.” Gracing the stage with the fans whilst singing “Edge of A Broken Heart” was a real highlight. A tight band with real chemistry, something I’ll remember from the performance was the passion and smile on drummer Richie Rivera’s face as he played throughout the set. Such a great set! Really nice people too!

Janet Gardner’ setlist:
01. Flame Thrower
02. Rev It Up
03. If You Want Me
04. Your Place In The Sun
05. Cryin’
06. Without You
07. A Way To Your Heart
08. [Unknown]
09. Edge of A Broken Heart
10. Rat Hole

Ron Keel:

Up next was the man, Ron Keel. Sharing the stage with members of White Widdow, this was another absolutely brilliant set. Who decides to open the set with a ballad? Ron Keel, that’s who. And you know what, it worked. It really did. He opened with “Calm Before The Storm” from Keel’s 1987 self-titled album and over the next hour, he played some of my favourite songs from the Keel catalogue in “Because The Night” and “The Right To Rock” to name a couple. Following suit from Janet Gardner, Ron came down to the crowd when performing the “The Right To Rock” which ultimately closed his set and left the crowd on a high. He also mixed it up with songs from his solo career in “Road Ready” and “Fight Like A Band.” He covered Rose Tattoo’s “Rock N Roll Outlaw” and Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell.” However, my personal favourite was his 2020 version of the Steeler song “Serenade” which he described as the first good song that he wrote. This was epic and highlighted to me just how good this guy can sing and how he has developed his voice over the years. You could see how much it meant to him at the end of his set when he got a deserved almighty reception from those who witnessed his show. Thank you Ron for one of the best performances of the night!

Ron Keel’s setlist:
01. Calm Before The Storm
02. Road Ready
03. Fight Like A Band
04. United Nations
05. Wrong Thing, Right Girl
06. Because The Night
07. Somebody’s Waiting
08. Serenade
09. Cold Day In Hell
10. Rock N Roll Outlaw
11. Heaven And Hell
12. Tears of Fire
13. The Right To Rock

Kip Winger:

The legendary Kip Winger graced the stage with an unplugged set after the next interval accompanied by Robby Rothschild (a talented musician from Santa Fe), who for most of the tracks sat on a kick box with a bongo drum and high hat. Before I speak about Kip’s performance, I really have to acknowledge Robby’s contribution to the set. He was awesome and the two in tandem seemed to have a real chemistry. Playing predominately songs from the Winger back catalogue, Kip pleased the crowd with what they wanted to hear but for me, this was all about his vocal performance. Man, can he still sing! Providing comedic relief between songs, the crowd appreciated hearing classics like “Miles Away,” “Seventeen,” “Hungry” and “Down Incognito.” I was spellbound by his instrumental performance of the song “Free” which he wrote whilst in Egypt in 1998 and can be found on his third solo release Songs From The Ocean Floor. A very enjoyable set and I’ll be going to his Adelaide show on Tuesday night to watch him tear it up again.

Enuff Z’Nuff:

With two acts to go, it was time for Enuff Z Nuff. I’d never really been a big fan of this band other than their first two albums and was hoping to hear lots of tracks from it. Whilst my wish was granted, something I couldn’t help but notice was how loud both guitarists, Alex Kane and Tory Stoffregen, had their amps. Standing near the front of the stage made it difficult to hear a clean sound and it had been the first time during the day where I noticed that level of distortion. I went back and heard a cleaner sound but boy, were those amps loud! Chip’s vocals were hard to hear at times, but I did thoroughly enjoy listening to them play “In The Groove,” “The World Is A Gutter” and of course “Fly High Michelle” to name a few.

Chip kept commenting to the crowd how much he loved Australian wine and women (not necessarily in that order) and it was the first thing he said to me after the show when I met him. Sorry, I can’t quote it! Part way through the show, a bottle of red wine was brought to the stage and into the hands of guitarist Tory Stoffregen. Over the next 90 seconds, Tory’s left hand held wine bottle whilst Chip came from behind to put his hands around Tory’s guitar and played it, whilst Tory drank the whole bottle and was using his right hand to strum Chip’s bass at the same time. You had to appreciate the talent on many levels. Never seen anybody down a wine bottle in 90 seconds and it was straight back to business from there.

Reckless Love:

It was a shame that the crowd had diminished a little further by the time Enuff Z Nuff had come on because with the main act to come in Reckless Love, I expected the opposite. Perhaps it was the show that they played on Thursday night where people thought, “Well, I’ve seen them.” I’m not sure if I buy that excuse because their performance on Thursday night had the town talking about how good they were. Wouldn’t you want to see that again? Nevertheless, they burst onto the stage and what struck me straight away was energy with which they played at. Frontman Olli Herman owned the stage and had the women in raptures with his David Lee Roth inspired moves.

Now, I’m quite a big fan of their first three albums (couldn’t get into the 2016 release of InVader) and the hearing the songs live sounded better than their studio releases. Guitarist, Pepe stole the show for me, despite all the swagger that Olli possesses, Pepe played with a level of confidence that was hard to look past. They played many tracks from their original self-titled 2010 release commemorating its 10-year anniversary and whilst some who saw both performances said that it didn’t reach the same atmospheric level from Thursday night, I would see these guys again in a heartbeat. No questions asked! Hearing classic tracks like “Animal Attraction,” “Beautiful Bomb,” “Paradise” and “Night On Fire” being played live from a band that I love, reminded me how much it was totally worth being there.

And then, as quickly as it started, it was done! Overall, it was a great day of melodic rock music — meeting bands and hanging out with people who share the same love. I’m thankful I was there. Was it the three-course meal that we all thought we were going to get before the drama started? No, but for the artists who turned up and performed, it was one hell of a dish that they served up! Let’s hope that there’s been some lessons learned from all involved behind the scenes and maybe one day, I’ll find myself writing Australia’s next Melodic Rock Fest review.