May 6, 2013
On their own, some of the bands playing the 5th annual M3 festival at Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, can’t fill a bar, let alone an amphitheater. But the draw of the M3 festival is in the homogeneity of the lineup. This isn’t a “something for everyone” festival with various themed tents meant to appeal to the broadest swath of concert goers with disposable income. This is a concert for people who like bands that wore aquanet and topped Dial MTV in the late 80s.
And a lot of people still do. From fans who remember when MTV played music and people made phone calls with their phones to a surprising number of teenagers wearing throwback gear, the M3 festival did brisk business on Saturday, despite a weaker lineup than in years past. There was no Warrant, Winger, LA Guns, Whitesnake, Ratt, Cinderella, etc. and the main stage was headlined by a guy known more for reality tv than music in recent years. Still, by 3 o’clock the pavilion and lawn were filling up and fans were mulling about the concession area, some sporting mullets not often seen in a union state. This is a destination concert, and license plates from surrounding states dotted the parking lot, highlighting the rarity of an 80s glam festival in the Mid-Atlantic, even if there’s a long list of conspicuously absent Reagan era chart toppers.
Fans traveled between two stages, the main ampitheater stage and a makeshift riser at the back end of the gated area dubbed the “festival stage.” Though the main stage could house more spectators, the “festival stage” offered fans closer access to the show in a standing room only fenced in plot of pavement.
Below are some thoughts on the bands that performed in the mid-afternoon and into the night for day two of the M3 festival.
This is 4/5 of the all-female band Vixen, who lost a lawsuit to the other 1/5 for the rights to the band name. But even if they had performed as Vixen, this group was never popular enough to draw a huge crowd. The performance was fine and included a guitar-heavy version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and their signature hit “Edge of a Broken Heart,” but during their set many fans helped themselves to concessions or vied for sightlines at the second stage, where Great White were readying.
This is lead singer Jack Russell’s version of the band. A recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Russell looked sober and sounded crisp during the short set. Jack Russell is the only original member of Great White in this version of Great White, officially dubbed “Jack Russell’s Great White,” but he’s recruited a highly capable cadre of replacement players. The band closed with their biggest hit, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” itself a cover of a 1975 song by British artist Ian Hunter. Fans sang, swayed, and in some cases even played tambourines that apparently made it through security. They were watching Russell’s band, a tribute band to his own band, performing a cover song. It didn’t matter. The song had a great video back in the day and everyone knew the words.
Japanese metal band Loudness played the main stage, performing what was arguably the heaviest set for Saturday’s festivities. Though they never experienced the success in the U.S. that many American 80s acts achieved in their home country, Loudness was a favorite at the 2012 M3 festival, and they came back to the states just to play this gig. With 25 albums to pull from, Loudness had plenty of material to choose from and their ballad-free, guitar solo-heavy tracks were full of energy, but like JSRG, they’re another band that would have benefited from the up close and personal second stage. Last year, Loudness snuck up on a crowd that didn’t know much about them and made a number of new fans. This year, an upgrade to the main stage didn’t do them any favors, with the amphitheater creating a distance between the band and the people watching the show. Though they were once again well received, the frenetic energy of their music wasn’t absorbed with quite the same fervor via the main stage, where their unfamiliar sound was more of a novelty.
The only band that didn’t actually originate in the 80s (regardless of what their bio says), Steel Panther probably won a few converts on Saturday as well. Lead singer Ralph Saenz and guitarist Russ Parish are 80s hair band veterans, but their homage to 80s excess is often misconstrued as demeaning parody. Thankfully, songs like “Death to All But Metal” and “17 Girls in a Row” played to the crowd’s interest and fans saluted with devil horns aplenty. Steel Panther is a comedy act, but with only 40 minutes to work with, they could have stuck to songs from their two albums of originals rather than bantering for 10 minutes during band introductions. The shtick takes away from their show, and though they are selling an “act,” not just a band, they could abbreviate their talking points to a few quick quips s during shorter shows.
This band has remained largely unchanged since their early 90s heyday. Perhaps their lasting popularity in Asia and South America (where they still headline large venues) has kept them together. In the states, they’re mostly remembered for their ballads like, “When I Look Into Your Eyes” and wedding classic “Love of a Lifetime.” For the ballads, singer C.J. Snare played piano, quickly jumping into heavier fare after each ivory-laden single. Snare’s voice sounded solid and on key. He sported a fully follickled head that didn’t match his facial hair, suggesting that he may not be the president of the hair club for men, but he is a member. Most of Firehouse’s set was heavier than expected, with drummer Michael Foster filling up the rhythm section with copious amounts of double bass.
This was the surprise of the day. Twisted Sister haven’t had a new album in over 25 years and they performed without their classic stage makeup, but the band, with all of its original members in tow, played more like a bunch of guys in their 20s than a crew on the verge of 60. Lead singer Dee Snider sprinted up and down the amphitheater stage, singing rapid-fire lyrics without missing a note a la Vince Neil or audibly gasping for breath a la Axl Rose. Twisted Sister had fun with their show too, mocking themselves for going on a “10 dates a year tour,” and later teasing an unplugged set with an acoustic guitar before smashing it to bits, cursing off unplugged music and the bands who “sell out” via the unplugged format, and charging back into hard-pounding songs from their classic catalog that also played heavier live than on record.
The crowd ate it up. Like Twisted Sister, they wanted to rock. And rock they did. With their original members, engaging stage presence, and a popularity that endures in part from the rarity of their performances, Twisted Sister could have easily headlined this year’s festival.
Brett Michaels was selling-shirts for his Pets Rock line of products at Pet Smart. We left before his set.