M3 Rock Festival @ Merriweather Post Pavilion

COLUMBIA, MD—The M3 Rock Festival returned to the Merriweather Post Pavilion for the eighth year in a row. M3 is probably the largest hard rock/hair metal festival in the Mid-Atlantic region. This year’s two-day festival was headlined by Vince Neil and Kix on Friday night, and Queensrÿche and Tesla on Saturday night. Friday night also featured 86 Bullets, Gabbie Rae, Enuff Z’Nuff, Britny Fox, and Lynch Mob, and Saturday, Every Mother’s Nightmare, Faster Pussycat, Heavens Edge, Steelheart, Adler, Y&T, Stephen Percy, Firehouse, Quiet Riot, Slaughter, Night Ranger, and Tom Keifer.

A new edition to the lineup this year was 17-year-old solo artist Gabbie Rae. I’ve only seen Gabbie perform as an acoustic duo in the past, so this was the first time seeing her live with a full band, and she handles the big stage like a seasoned pro. She only had a short five-song set, but despite the brevity, included two songs, “Last In Line” and “Neon Knights,” from one of her influences, Ronnie James Dio. She filled out the set with three originals, and it’s evident that even at 17, she’s got a powerful voice, some good songs, and hopefully a long career ahead of her.

I spent the latter half of the ’80s in the same Philly and South Jersey clubs as Britny Fox, so it’s good to see them back at it again, although with a different lineup. Tommy Paris, who provided vocals for the third album, has been back out with them doing shows around the country since 2015 and sounding as good as ever.

Although Lynch Mob didn’t debut until 1990, Dokken has firmly rooted George Lynch with the ’80s scene. But George has by no means had to lean on those roots. George has had quite a career since 1990, and Lynch Mob has been an integral part of that. George and Oni killed it as usual, stuck mostly with the LM catalog, and were one of the highlights of the festival. They threw in just enough Dokken material to keep everyone happy.

Vince Neil was basically backed by Slaughter, minus Mark. Although billed as himself, Vince performed all Crüe songs and none of his solo material. The exception was Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” sung by guitarist Jeff Blando. The set opener, “Dr. Feelgood,” definitely sounded like it had canned backing vocals, but if not, I got to it hand to the guys in Slaughter, for they sounded damn good for a side project. Vince apologized ahead of time for “Home Sweet Home,” I guess considering there was no piano to tie it all together, but it came off fine with Jeff Blando’s guitar interpretation.

Always energetic and a crowd favorite, especially being the local heroes here, Baltimore’s own Kix wrapped up Friday night with an hour-plus set of their classics, ranging from 1981’s self-titled debut right up to 2014’s “Rock Your Face Off.” But according to the always comedic Stevie Whiteman, most of the material was from their non-existent White Album. Stevie’s got one of those voices that seems to defy the ravages of time, he just always sounds good, and the rest of the guys are right there with him.

Every Mother’s Nightmare opened early Saturday morning with a short but rousing five-song set to wake everyone up—or, at least those who managed to crawl out of bed at this point. These guys hit the ’80s scene late with their 1990 self-titled debut, so I have to admit they kind of post-dated my ravenous CD buying days and my familiarity with them was limited. But, they pulled a few tracks from the aforementioned debut, including “Walls Come Down” and “Love Can Make You Blind” and delivered an impressive performance nonetheless.

To make a statement about the morning appearance, Faster Pussycat came on stage in matching black pajamas with various accessories, one of which being singer Taime Downe’s sleep visor with “I love c***” scrawled on it in Sharpie. He also managed squeeze more vulgarities into a five-song set than anyone else on the bill, giving one the impression these guys are going for shock value. But if you’re into “Bathroom Wall,” “House Of Pain,” and “Cathouse,” you got that too.

Y&T has been one of the most consistently strong bands throughout their long career. These guys helped usher in the ’80s scene, and are still going at it. Each time I’ve seen them, they just have it together, and this performance was no exception. Powerful songs with great guitar riffs, and Dave Mineketti’s voice never seems to disappoint. Guitarist John Nymann took over lead vocals on “Squeeze” and Michael Sweet jumped in on backing vocals on “Forever.” Throw in “Mean Streak,” “Rescue Me,” and “Black Tiger” and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more rockin’ set.

Firehouse is another end-of-an-era band that probably never reached their full potential, but not for lack of talent. These guys are musicians and their performances are tight and polished, and this quick festival set was no exception. They have some of the catchiest tunes. I admittedly didn’t have any of their CDs back in the day to give their songs a chance to become ingrained my youthful psyche, but somehow they’re there anyway. Every song they pulled out from their first two releases for this show was quite memorable. In addition to tunes like “All She Wrote” and “Reach For The Sky,” they mashed up a bit of Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” with “Don’t Treat Me Bad” for good measure.

Quiet Riot at this point is basically drummer Frankie Banali keeping his life’s passion alive, and approve of the post-Kevin Dubrow lineup or not, the guys sounded good in their own right. Bassist Chuck Wright, who has had a long history with the band, is also back in the fold. QR went with an ’80s era setlist with “Metal Health,” “Slick Black Cadillac,” and “Cum On Feel The Noize” all in there, and opening with “Run For Cover” was a bonus.

Night Ranger is just phenomenal live. These guys are definitely deserving of a headline slot and I believe they’ve had that honor at M3 a few years back. They have no shortage of great songs of their own to fill a full-length set, let alone an hour, but still chose to send props out to Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw and include two songs from Damn Yankees. “Coming Of Age” and “High Enough” are both great songs and the audience had no problem rocking out to them along with NR favorites like “Eddie’s Comin’ Out Tonight,” Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “(You Can Still) Rock In America,” and even “High Road” from their latest album. Keri Kelli, who has been the go-to guitarist for many a band, is now the current replacement for the long-absentee Jeff Watson, and holds his own as he has with any of the heavyweights (Alice Cooper, Vince Neil, etc.) I’ve seen him play with.

As great as Cinderella is, Tom Keifer has taken it to the next level. The solo lineup’s arrangements give these now classic songs a fresh perspective, and with the whole band singing and the addition of two backup vocalists, the vocals sound like a choir. Tom got the audience participation going with “Heartbreak Station,” and it was by far the loudest of the festival. Considering the audience and the theme of the festival, Tom pretty much stuck to Cinderella material. The exceptions were “Solid Ground” from his solo album and a Joe Cocker version of the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” with “Purple Rain” mixed in as a tribute to Prince.

Queensrÿche would have to be one of the more prolific bands of this era, continually releasing studio albums since 1984 with no more than two or three years between them. Choosing a setlist for an hour show can’t be easy, but they hit on everything from ’84’s “Queen Of The Reich,” to 2015’s “Guardian” with cuts from Operation: Mindcrime, Empire, Rage For Order and Promised Land completing the set. Queensrÿche is one those bands that people could argue until they’re blue in the face about what constitutes the band, but vocalist Todd La Torre admirably covers all the Geoff Tate ground, and that’s no easy feat. Between the band’s performance, the video integration, audio clips, and lighting, their shows are quite theatrical.

Tesla is another one of those consistently tight bands. While they have continued to release music through to the present, they stuck with their early catalog from ’86-’91 for the hour or so they had to leave an impression on this nostalgic crowd and close out the festival. With songs like “Edison’s Medicine,” “Hang Tough,” “The Way It Is” and “Love Song” in the mix, it made it tough for even the people getting soaked by the pouring rain out on the lawn to leave before last notes of the band’s encore of “Modern Day Cowboy.”


Show date: April 29-30, 2016