Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My M3 Experience: Day 1

Hey everyone. Long time, no post.

I can't believe how long it's been since I've written a new "Throwing Forks" entry (well over a year). So much has gone down in the world of hard rock and heavy metal since then, that it's almost impossible for me cover all of the possible topics, so I won't even make the attempt, I'll just try to update the blog over the coming weeks and months with some of the more interesting stuff from the recent past. And, to that end, we begin again...

M3 2011: Day 1

Back in May, I had the pleasure of attending the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, MD, about 20 miles south of Baltimore. Now that I'm living near Philly, it's less than a 2 hour drive to the venue, called the Merriweather Post Pavilion, where the event is held annually (this being the 3rd edition of the event).

For those of you who don't know, M3 is strictly an 80's hard rock/metal festival (now expanded to 2 days) held in late spring in an outdoor shed-style amphitheater. Fortunately, it's not your typical outdoor shed, as this venue has a 40+ year history and was designed by architect Frank Gehry. The facade is made entirely of wood and the grounds are nestled in the forest, making Merriweather the antithesis of your cheesy, cookie-cutter concrete and steel concert venues. It more closely resembles Tanglewood than, say, PNC Bank Arts Center or the Comcast Center (aka, Great Woods, to those of you from MA). The point is, this is a nice place to see any show, never mind a metal show.

Another good thing about the event: the folks who put it on are smart enough to know their market and not make it traveling show that would, ultimately, result in its own demise. Simply put, having a one-off destination festival makes it that much more "special". Think about it: Lollapalooza was once a traveling festival, but became less and less successful over time, to the point where it was scrapped all together, only to be reborn years later as a destination festival in Chicago, which is now, once again, one of the bigger rock festivals in the world. Besides, when something only happens annually, people tend to want to see it that much more, i.e., great concert attendance!

M3 proved, once again, that this model works. The festival which, for the first time, was held for 2 days, had the venue nearly sold out for both of those days. This, in an era when 80's metal is only just beginning to reveal a hint of nostalgia in the public consciousness. What makes the possibility of a near sell-out seem even more unlikely is the fact that the first night was headlined by none other than Maryland natives Kix. That's right: Kix, you know, "Don't Close Your Eyes", "Cold Blood", "Blow My Fuse"? Remember?

Arguably a "fringe" band of the 80' hard rock era, the group enjoyed support from openers Jetboy (whom I missed, due to tailgating festivities), LA Guns, with "Stacey Blades" replacing founding guitarist Tracii Guns (cute, huh?) and a Jani Lane-less Warrant.

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much from LA Guns, but I was pleasantly surprised. I never got to see them "back in the day", but to my ears, they sounded as they should, with Phil Lewis' voice soaring over the top of fan faves like "Never Enough" and "Rip & Tear". Can Phil still hit all of the high notes? No, of course not, he's in his friggin' 50's! That said, the quality & tone of his voice remain intact and the overall sound of the band was what you would hope for. Their big moment was, of course, during "Ballad of Jayne" which many would agree is a pretty damn good ballad, "power" or otherwise.

Warrant followed LA Guns, their lineup now consisting of 4/5 of the original band. At the time of the show, former lead vocalist, and chief songwriter Jani Lane was still living, but had infamously been replaced by Robert Mason (formerly of Lynch Mob) when a newly sober Jani fell off the wagon in front of YouTube nation on the ill-fated 2008 Warrant reunion tour. Sadly, Jani died a couple of months ago, most likely from his long-term battle with substance abuse. That notwithstanding, Warrant's performance at M3 would feature Mason on vocals, especially considering the fact that that version of the band was promoting a new album.

This was the first time I had seen the mostly-original band since 1989, and the first time without Lane. The result? Meh. Admittedly, the original 4 guys (Sweet, Dixon, Allen & Turner) sounded great, were clearly playing well and were well-rehearsed. Mason? Great vocalist, to be sure but, sorry folks: the magic is gone. Their new single "Life's a Song"? Forgettable, and regrettably so. Clearly, so much of what Warrant was, was about Jani Lane's voice and songwriting. So many great songs! But hearing them with someone else on vocals is like hearing a tribute band and, ironically enough, they had more original members than several of the other bands at M3. Well, I can't blame them for trying, but I can't imagine that they'd be able to make a good living at this for much longer.

As for headliners Kix? What can I say? I was, once again, pleasantly surprised. I wasn't sure what to expect because, frankly, the Friday show was the "add-on" day this year, with the more lightweight bands on the bill to warm things up for Saturday. Billed as the "Kix-off Party" (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk), the band clearly were the featured act, and they took full advantage.

Front man Steve Whiteman came across a bit as a poor man's Steven Tyler, but the guy was funny, had great stage presence, and still has a great voice with a good amount of power left, even after all these years. To hear him tell the story of his reaction when he was told that Kix was going to headline the first night of the festival was priceless; even he felt it was ridiculous, but the formula worked! There had to be about 15,000 people there having a great time. So what if they weren't Motley Crue? Unlike the Crue, they actually worked for your applause and deserved it. And who knew they could fill a 2 hour set? Personally, I would have been happy with 75-90 minutes, but you can't blame them for carrying on, after all, it was probably, literally, one of the biggest gigs of their career, nearly 30 years on.

A fine warm-up show, indeed. And, with a ticket price of a measly 25 bucks, well worth the money.

Up next: M3 2011, Day 2.

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