Saturday, July 14, 2018

Concert Memory - M3 Musical Festival: May 4-5, 2018

The 2018 edition of the M3 Music Festival was supposed to be one for the record books. Sadly it was not. Instead it was an empty promise filled with chaos and confusion. Sure there were debuts and good times as well, but in retrospect, the bad outweighed the good for the first time since I’ve been attending the event. Although it was the 10th anniversary of this festival, and the promoters claimed greatness for year ten, I don’t think there was anything spectacular about it. The lone exception being that Ace Frehley was performing there for the first time in his career. That, however, still wasn’t enough to make it a grand 10th anniversary celebration.

Perhaps I am jaded from attending 9 of the last 10 festivals (I’ve only missed the first one), but I found myself wondering if this was going to be the last one I came to for a while. Yes, I love spending the week in Columbia with some great friends and capping it off with a weekend of fabulous music, but it might be time to consider a different festival in 2019. The future will show what course I take for certain next year, but for the first time since I’ve been going to the M3 festival, I am giving actual consideration to not going to the next one.

What exactly went wrong to even put those thoughts in my head? Well, there were several snafus that led to this train of thought. The first being the acts announced were far from the acts that ended up performing. When M3 was officially announced, the bands on the bill included LA Guns and Loudness. Both acts excited me for different reasons. I wanted to see LA Guns because they had just released a magnificent album with Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns in the band (The Missing Peace). And Loudness was unable to enter the country last year, so having them try again in 2018 was good news. I’ve seen Loudness in concert and they are exceptional!

Unfortunately, neither of these bands made the final lineup. Loudness once again had issues getting into the country and had to cancel their trip. This makes me wonder when they are going to get new management, because their current company clearly doesn’t know how to gain appropriate access for their band to come to the US. 

LA Guns pulled out a week before the show. The rumors are that they didn’t like the time slot they were given. Now, I can’t overly criticize M3 for this, I mean with Night Ranger, Ace Frehley, and Queensryche wrapping up the night, when exactly did LA Guns think they were going to perform? As it was, they would have been either right before or right after Sebastian Bach. If you ask me, given the lineup, that’s a pretty good slot for them.

I love their new album, and I really wanted to see LA Guns perform with Phil and Tracii, but there is no way they can go on after Night Ranger, Ace Frehley, or Queensryche. I’m not even sure they can go on after Sebastian Bach. These are the heavy hitters of hard rocking metal and not to criticize LA Guns, they just aren’t on that level from a live performance perspective. It would be like Faster Pussycat saying they want to go on after one of those bands. I love to see them live, but they aren’t in the same league. LA Guns were not willing to accept this and thus they pulled out of the event. If M3 is smart, they will have to think about not inviting LA Guns back for a long while (if ever). It sucks to say that, but you can’t have bands pulling out if they aren’t comfortable with the time slot they are issued.

Other challenges occurred all weekend long as well. The most egregious of them was the fact that venue renovations were not completed before the concert. I paid decent money to have a good seat only to learn that it wasn’t covered and there would be no roof over my head. This caused several issues for me. The first being that rain was in the forecast for Friday night. If I didn’t buy a lawn seat, it was for good reasons, one of those being I don’t want to get wet during the night. Not having a roof over my head prevented the possibility of staying dry if the rains were to come (and they did).

My second issue with being in an uncovered seat (and probably a much bigger issue for me) was that there would be no protection from the sun. I am a borderline albino vampire and the sun and I just don’t get along. I’ve tried to make amends with the big shining star for years, but he’s not having any of it. If I stay exposed too long, I’m going to burn. I put on my sun block when I need to but I don’ t like it. And again, since I had purchased actual seats, I didn’t expect the sun to be an issue. But it was, because day two had all the elements. Heat, sun, and then rain. It made for an interesting day at the festival.

Perhaps because of the ongoing renovations there was no second stage this year either. Last year, the venue built a permanent structure in the woods that was a lot of fun to visit. It provided an opportunity to get up close and personal with any of the bands performing there If timed correctly. This year, the venue went back to the rotating stage, which I commend. However, I missed the opportunity to see certain acts in a more intimate setting in the woods. I guess the second stage will return next year once all renovations are completed, but it wasn’t happening this year.

Parking was also a complete mess. We had to get a parking pass well in advance of the show and could only park in the lot that was printed on that pass. The problem with that was the lots were not well numbered and it was impossible to find ours. On night one we just parked wherever we could and on day two we finally saw the tiny little sign that told us where our lot was. And the parking staff were pretty much useless (like most venue parking lot staffs). And due to the renovations, there was only one road in and out of the venue which led to some serious traffic. 

And while those irritating nuances caused some disappointment, it was the music that I came for. Night one consisted of KIX (who were spectacular as always), Y&T, Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Faster Pussycat, and Tom Keifer. It was great seeing Pretty Boy Floyd, although I do have some personal issues with the band (a story for another time). As much as I liked them, there is animosity that prevents me from loving them. Nelson was tremendous and even gave a touching tribute to their estranged mother who had passed away a week earlier. Faster Pussycat had their lead singer intact this time around, so they gave a tremendous performance that included one of my favorite covers “You’re So Vain.” I was never a huge Y&T fan, so I sat through their set, but I really just wanted to hear “Summertime Girls,” which they did play toward the end.

KIX was magnificent! They gave a special 30 year anniversary performance of Blow My Fuse in its entirety which was jaw dropping and a real treat. I’ve seen KIX a dozen times now and this was the most special performance I’ve ever seen. Just hearing “Piece of the Pie” live made my entire weekend. Unfortunately, due to schedule constraints and the fact that they were not the headliners, KIX wasn’t able to play much more besides that album. And for the first time ever in witnessing their live act, they did not close with “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” which left a lot of fans angered. They didn’t even play it.

And that is probably the biggest issue I had with M3 in 2018. Look, I absolutely love Tom Keifer and I am a big supporter of his solo album and his Cinderella stuff, but there was no way that he should have went on after KIX. Especially not in Maryland. It just wasn’t meant to be. And if Tom’s ego forced him to say that he had to be the headliner on Friday night, then M3 should have said “Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll find someone else.” Keifer has been playing the same setlist for the last five years and he’s been at M3 four years in a row. It might be time to give him a rest and get some other acts in there. There are several that could have played in the slot before KIX on Friday night. Just off the top of my head they could have gotten any of the following: Mike Tramp (of White Lion fame), Dokken, Warrant, Michael Monroe, Extreme, Steel Panther, or Saigon Kick. I know it’s not easy organizing these events and it’s hard to secure bands, but M3 needs to stop going to the same well year after year. And while Keifer’s performance was solid, it wasn’t as good as KIX who should have wrapped the night.

Day two was filled with its own issues, but at least we were able to find the correct parking lot. And the lineup for day two was a strong one. Not historical, or one for the record books, but solid nonetheless. Tyketto, Last In Line, Warrant, Lynch Mob (both with Robert Mason singing), Stryper (who also could have filled that Friday night slot before KIX), Sebastian Bach, Ace Frehley, Night Ranger, and Queensryche. That’s one heck of a lineup!

Seeing Tyketto live was grand. I had never seen the band perform before and although their set was extremely short (I think they played for 25 minutes) they gave their all in one of the hardest slots of the entire weekend (opening band, day two). This is what draws me to M3 every year. An opportunity to see a band that I missed back in the golden era of glam rock. Tyketto was one of those bands and I am glad that M3 got them to perform. Now if we could get Vinnie Vincent or Mike Tramp for 2019 I may have to confirm my attendance.

For me, the treat of the weekend was Ace Frehley. I gave a brief review of his performance on a recent episode of my podcast (The Psycho Circus Podcast), but I’ll reiterate it here. Ace was exceptional and I expected nothing less. Some folks thought he was drunk or high, but he wasn’t. That’s just the way Ace is. He’s spaced out. But he’s clean and sober now which is a win for the fans. Ace was brilliant and gave an exceptional blend of KISS songs, solo songs, and Frehley’s Comet songs. The one gripe I had was that he talked about the brand new single he just released (Bronx Boy) and made it sound like he was going to perform it, and then went into an entirely different song. Now, I don’t know if that was due to the time constraints of his performance or that the band didn’t rehearse the song, but it was odd and a trifle annoying. Other than that, Ace was extraordinary.

I honestly didn’t think anybody was going to top his performance, but Queensryche showed why they were billed as the headliners for 2018 (a recommendation I’ve made in the past). Queensryche slayed onstage. As tired as I was from a long week of partying and rocking, I was on my feet for the entire set. The Todd LaTorre led version of Queensryche is an unstoppable force and if you haven’t taken the time to see them live, you must. Put aside the fact that he’s not the original lead singer and take in one of their shows. Your rock life will be forever changed.

All in all, it was another fun weekend, but M3 has to fix a lot of things if I’m going to be back next year. The venue has to be completed (or move it to another one – the Arts Center in Jersey would show them how it’s really done). The parking has to be fixed. And the acts have to be stronger and preferably acts that haven’t been there in a while or at all. Get Jetboy back. Bring back Steel Panther. Give us Poison as a headliner. Do something different. For 2019 I am going to have to seriously study the lineup and as painful as this is to say aloud, if the acts aren’t there, I may not be there either. It may just be time to check out another hard rock festival and create a new annual adventure.  

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Concert Memory: Brian Fallon - April 29, 2018

I returned to the Starland Ballroom for my second time this year on a Sunday night in late April to see Brian Fallon in concert. The weather was chilly, but clear. Playoff hockey was still going strong (at least for my favorite team, who would be eliminated from the playoffs just over a week later). Baseball season had started and my favorite ballclub was getting hot. And I was preparing for my annual trek to Columbia, Maryland for the M3 Festival. All these wonderful thoughts of Spring were on my mind as I rolled into the parking lot of The Brass Monkey Bar and Grill to have dinner with my cousin prior to the show.

Should you ever get the chance to visit the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, I A: highly recommend that you do, B: implore you to stop at The Brass Monkey prior to the show. This is one of those hole in the wall dive bars that has great service and some of the best burgers in the state. Discovered by my friend Bobby during our trek to see Theory of a Deadman where I would discover Pop Evil, The Brass Monkey is just amazing. Great food, great service, and great prices. You really can’t go wrong if you eat there prior to attending the concert. My cousin got to experience this place for the first time and he was impressed.

After leaving with a belly full of hard cider and amazing burgers, we ventured to the venue to see Brian Fallon perform. We got in with plenty of time to grab a drink, pick a spot to stand, and wait for the opening act to grace the stage.

Caitlin Rose was that act and while I had never heard of her prior to this show, I certainly know who she is now. She was terrific! Seeing her live made me seek out her material and I added spending quality time with her music to my to-do list. I was impressed with her stage presence, her style, and her magnificent voice. A tip of the cap to Brain Fallon for choosing her to open on this tour. It was a terrific option to say the least.

I had not seen Brian Fallon perform a solo show before, and I had not seen him perform at all since one of the final shows the Gaslight Anthem did in New Jersey. Since then he had released two solo albums that I fell in love with and left me craving more. The songs from these records were all terrific and I was excited to see which ones he would perform. I was also curious to hear how they would sound in the live setting versus the studio version. The short answer is wonderful. Brian Fallon was in extraordinary form that evening.

I’ve always felt that the best concerts are the ones where you leave with a new favorite song. Perhaps it’s a song you hadn’t heard but now love, or a song that you forgot about and had the joy of rediscovery during the live setting. In the case of that Brian Fallon show, I was fortunate enough to leave with two new favorite songs.

“Sugar,” is a forgotten gem from The Horrible Crowes, a one-off studio album that Fallon recorded with Ian Perkins in between Gaslight Anthem albums. When I heard it on Elsie I thought it was a good song, but never gave it proper attention. “Sugar” is a slow, dark song and I was more attracted to the harder rock style songs on that record. Yet, hearing “Sugar” live for the first time totally changed my appreciation for this song. I never realized how magnificent the song truly is. Since this night, I’ve listened to “Sugar” dozens of times. I am grateful that Fallon decided to perform this one in concert. 

“My Name Is the Night (Color Me Black)” is a song from Fallon’s latest release, Sleepwalkers. It’s a song that I liked a lot after hearing it on the record, but it’s also a song that I now absolutely love. I most likely would have fallen in love with this song given enough time, but hearing it live just promoted the timetable. Fallon’s live rendition of this future hit was spot on. Most of the crowd seemed to enjoy the song as well because they were singing the lyrics right back to Brian. This is a magnificent song, that will be enjoyed for years to come. It will probably also become a go to request for future Fallon concerts.

The night wrapped up in an odd, but spectacular fashion. Technically, there was no encore, but the way Fallon addressed this was exceptional. After the performance of “Etta James,” the band walked off the stage and Fallon moved over to the onstage keyboard. He addressed the crowd about how encores have basically become fake. You know that the artist is coming back out, they just go backstage and wait it out. What are they even doing back there? Fallon suggested that rather than wasting time like that he could play another song instead. The crowd roared their appreciation.

Brian then performed the jewel of the evening. A stripped down, piano only version of the classic Gaslight Anthem song “The ’59 Sound.” The new arrangement was breath taking as the focus was clearly on the lyrics in this quieter rendition. Hearing this song in that arrangement was a real treat to the ears. It was a beautiful version that I hope will be captured on a live record someday for all to enjoy. Although, with the power of today’s internet, I am sure that you can just look it up on YouTube and see it for yourself.

The evening wrapped up with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright),” which was performed as a duo with Caitlin Rose. She mentioned how she was overwhelmed by the response the crowd gave her that evening to which Fallon replied “This is Jersey! These are my people!” That of course got one of the loudest roars of the night. “See You On The Other Side” came after the duet and the hard rocking “If Your Prayers Don’t Get To Heaven” (one of my favorites) closed out the show.

The end of the night came much too soon and left my wanting so much more. I don’t say that like it’s a negative either. That’s the sign of a great performance! Hopefully I will be able to catch The Gaslight Anthem at one of their anniversary shows this summer. If not, I will just have to hope that Fallon decides to make a return trip to New Jersey for a solo performance. As soon as it is announced, you can count me in!

Last Rites
Forget Me Not
Red Lights
Come Wander With Me
Bell Bottom Blues
My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)
Among Other Foolish Things
Downtown Train
A Wonderful Life
Etta James
The ’59 Sound
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (w/ Caitlin Rose)
See You On The Other Side
If Your Prayers Don’t Get To Heaven

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Concert Memories: Drive By Truckers and Old 97s - March 16, 2013

Old 97s are a band that I got into in my late 20s thanks to a colleague of mine. He was almost as obsessed with music as I was and turned me on to some fabulous bands during the time we worked together. Old 97s were one of those bands and my love for that band ignited when he loaned me a copy of Fight Songs. After hearing “Jagged” just once, I was hooked. By the end of that album I had a found a new band to fall in love with. I immediately got my own copy of Fight Songs and from there I branched out to their other releases. Satellite Rides was next and then I purchased their double live album Alive & Wired. That put this band over the top for me! Their live concert sounded amazing! From that moment, I knew they were a band that I wanted to see in concert.

The opportunity finally arrived in March of 2013. Old 97s were opening for the Drive By Truckers at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey. Having seen several shows there in the past, it was a familiar venue for me. Admittedly, I had no idea who Drive By Truckers were when I purchased tickets for this show. This was my opportunity to see Old 97s live, so I decided to take a chance that the headliners would be decent. I talked Mrs. Vie into attending the show with me and the evening was set.

The Old 97s were still supporting their Grand Theatre records (Volume One and Two) as the spring of 2013 approached. Unfortunately for me, I did not have either of those records, so I wasn’t familiar with the songs they contained. 2013 was an odd year for my music collecting capabilities. Record stores were phasing out completely. Big boxed stores were carrying less and less music, and I had yet to embrace the digital format. It was harder and harder for me to know when new albums came out, or how to get a copy of those albums. Between 2013 – 2016, a lot of albums were released that escaped my notice, or I wasn’t able to add to my collection.

I was also doing a lot of review writing for Hard Rock Hideout at that time, so my desire and availability for new music was limited to what I would get for reviews. Ironically, managing my music collection was becoming a chore that was more hassle than it was worth. Hence, I did not know that Old 97s had two new releases. I went to that show expecting to hear the Alive & Wired hits. What I got instead was a mix between classics and songs that I did not know. Which was okay, because shortly after the concert, I went out and got copies of The Grand Theatre Volume One and Two, and my love for Old 97s was reignited!

Their opening set was short and sweet (10 – 12 songs if memory serves correctly), but it was fantastic! The fact that it is still the same original four members making music together almost 20 years later was impressive. Very few bands stay together with the same exact lineup for every album, so to see the Old 97s do it was a testament to their longevity and dedication.

I knew they were the openers, so we didn’t expect them to play too long of a set. I think we got about 50 minutes from them, which was great. Of course, I wanted to hear more, they were the band that I had come to see, but I understood why that wasn’t going to happen. All in all, I was glad that I got to see what I did from them and I told myself that I would need to see them live as headliners at least once in my lifetime.

Prior to the show, I tried to give myself a crash course lesson on the Drive By Truckers. I purchased their greatest hits record and listened to a couple of live concerts on the internet. They seemed like a solid band and I was hopeful that I would enjoy their show. They weren’t a band that I fell in love with right away, but they had a lot of solid songs, enough to hold my interest, that I figured I would enjoy their set and perhaps walk away from that show wanting to see more.

Sadly, my crash course did nothing to prepare me for most of the Drive By Truckers set. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t good in concert, or that I did not like them. I liked their performance a lot and could tell that they were a finely tuned, talented group of musicians. The problem was that I did not know enough of their songs to really lose myself in the performance like I do with most bands that I see live.

One of the songs I did fall in love with on first listen was “Zip City.” This is a fantastic song about love, lust, angst, and anger, with vocals by the uber-talented Mike Cooley. It was the one song that I wanted to hear that night and fortunately for me, The Drive By Truckers obliged. They performed it as the first song of the encore and it got the biggest roar of the night from me. I sang every word at the top of my lungs with glee. I was ecstatic.

Memories of this evening are dominated by seeing Old 97s live for the first time, but I also have fond memories of my first time witnessing Drive By Truckers in concert. I was impressed by their performance and left with a desire to see them in concert again. After the show, I spent more time listening to their music and while they aren’t at the top of my “go-to” list when I am wondering what to listen to, I do pay a lot more attention to their music and have added a few more of their records to my collection. Sadly, I have not seen either of these bands live since this night. I need to change that in the near future.

Drive By Truckers Setlist
The Southern Thing
Get Downtown
The Fourth Night of My Drinking
Space City
Why Henry Drinks
Women Without Whiskey
Drag the Lake Charlie
Self Destructive Zones
Steve McQueen
A Ghost to Most
Sink Hole
Uncle Frank
Lookout Mountain
3 Dimes Down
Used to Be a Cop
Where the Devil Don’t Stay
Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
Zip City
Let There Be Rock
Shut Up and Get on the Plane
Angels and Fuselage