The M3 Festival has become a moderately recent Maryland rock tradition, but it has brought together some of the biggest names in 80’s heavy metal year after year. Merriweather Post is located in the sleepy suburbs of Columbia, MD, a bedroom community for many Washington, DC commuters. Greats such as Led Zeppelin played there (and yes, there’s a plaque posted about that). Of course, there’s also a plaque telling you how many thousands of pounds of mulch were brought in during construction. Take it as you wish. It’s a decent size venue, located behind some woods, with a moderately large wooden covered pavilion full of seats. The remaining lawn a giant sea of beach chairs, blankets and picnicking revelers. Two large jumbo-trons frame the stage, which also houses an impressive light rigging and a temperamental but powerful sound system.
Given that my entire commute to M3 was a whopping 45 minutes without much traffic (certainly felt odd to have such a short trip!), I met up with some of the crew, helped Animal get settled in, and headed off to check out the bands. I was able to catch a closing bit of Danger Danger’s set from backstage–they played a good set to an appreciative and vocal crowd–then ran off to the vendors and scarfed down an overpriced and unimpressive crabcake sandwich.
We joined the crowd to take in KIX–the Friday festival night before was hailed as the “KIX-Off Party”–KIX is the homegrown, local band here in Maryland….but according to their lead singer’s anecdote on-stage, a certain band that was left unnamed refused to go on second-bill. [This elicited a certain response from the crowd] Kudos to KIX for proclaiming, “We don’t give a shit if we headline or not….we just love playing!”
And played they did! KIX did a fantastic set opening with “The Itch”–Baltimore loves KIX (or as we say here, “Bawlmer”)…what other band could sing about crabs (and I ain’t talking about the ones we steam with old bay spice) and make it cool. Actually, what amazes me most about KIX…while so many other bands from the 80’s have, shall we say it? Expanded their….er…girth..KIX is the opposite. if you put all of the band members in KIX together back to back, you’d have a size 30 slim pair of pants. Seriously. No fat elvis here–those boys are like metal stick figures!
KIX played tight and fast–proving that even harmonica solos, in the right context, can be metal! Great rendition of “Don’t Close Your Eyes” (complete with gyrations that seemed to please the ladies). Lead singer Steve’s raps were absolutely hilarious–at one point, he humbly admitted that he was so into his rap that he forgot what song was supposed to be next! He used the word “cornhole” at least six times…and you’d think that it would get old, but no…turns out cornhole jokes (especially those told with a Baltimore accent) are just damn funny every time! He confided in the crowd his passion for another Baltimore tradition–“I play bingo!” and then admitted, that “it has absolutely nothing to do with the next song.”
KIX killed it with an expertly played “Cold Shower,” gave us an honest-to-goodness blistering guitar solo–I mean, a guitar SOLO–no band, no drums–just guitar, and then asked Baltimore, “Are you ready to shit your pants??!!” Yeah, welcome to Baltimore, folks. We don’t just rock our asses off, we shit our pants! “Blow My Fuse” –sung through a microphone complete with lit fuse–then launched into “Midnight Dynamite” and “Tell Me Now.” The crowd was simply on their feet, having a blast! KIX asked us, “Are you Happy?” The crowd gave a resounding, “Hell yeah!” KIX…in their homestate. What a great time!
W.A.S.P. then took the stage by storm. I saw W.A.S.P. on their “Last Command” tour back in 1986 when they opened for “Black Sabbath…WITH TONY IOMMI!!!” [Actually, it was Tony Iommi…playing Black Sabbath songs. Believe me, if you saw that tour, you know what I’m talking about.] I get a little nervous these days seeing 80’s bands that I saw during their peak–but I have to say that W.A.S.P. coming out of the gate did not disappoint me. (hey, it was Kentucky Derby weekend. I had horses on the brain.)
Blackie Lawless, the only original member of W.A.S.P. playing, made a dramatic entrance with air raid sirens blaring, red lights flashing, glinting buzz saw blades and two big scrims and a banner hailing the 30 years of W.A.S.P. They launched into a high energy run of songs, in which the scrims dropped, revealing two addition rear-projection screens and a large screen behind the drum riser. As they played all of their 80’s hits, the original videos of the same songs, synchronized well to the live music….if you could overlook that the original videos had. well, original band members.
It was a neat gimmick for one song, but after three, it became a little disorienting, and at times, highly distracting when the lips didn’t quick synch up. But that aside, we had “Real Me”, “Love Machine,” “Wild Child” and “Be Somebody.” I was very impressed–thought they sounded very good overall–had a lot of energy if could overlook all of Blackie’s Gene Simmon-esque textbook moves.
Then..things got weird. W.A.S.P. decided to play thirty straight minutes of “Crimson Idol.” Now don’t get me wrong, they played it expertly, and it’s an interesting album–kind of a new-agey rock opera–but it’s also slow, light on vocals, and I’ll say it….. intended for headphones. Harcore W.A.S.P. fans in attendance were really, really enjoying it—in fact, the W.A.S.P. fans were truly thrilled. I saw them reacting the way us S.M.F.’s get excited when we hear something that we don’t usually get to experience live. And the music itself was played skillfully, but live, this album was just kina mellow after their killer opening.
Then it got even weirder. On our three screens, we had a black and white video loop showing us the “plot” of said rock opera–a boy raised by two religious zealots who mentally and physically abuse him until he runs away and becomes a rock star….only to be rejected once more by the parents whose love and acceptance he never earned….and he hangs himself, ending with some religious iconographic imagery.
Um, yeah. Thirty minutes of watching a boy get whipped by a belt over and over again….followed by suicide. And if my mellow couldn’t have been harshed further, they ended with non-stop projections of civil war photographs of the dead bodies strewn over Gettysburg. Seriously. It was a bummer. After the last note of the “Crimson Idol” set, there was a lull in which I heard a fan behind me, exclaim, “Well, I’ll just slit my wrists now…”
By the time they were done, W.A.S.P. managed to clear out entire sectons of the audience. Which is a shame, because when they woke the audience up with the finale of “Blind in Texas,” those folks who left missed a great closer. I give them an “B” for the first 30 minutes, B as in “Badass”….and then an “F” for the next 30, F as in “Are you fucking kidding me? Can we keep the music but turn the screens off please?” The music was technically very good, but I just question the artistic decisions made. After KIX’s totally happy and upbeat set, W.A.S.P. was a bit depressing,especially when I didn’t get to hear, “Animal: F**k like a Beast.”
So that was Friday night, my babies. The KIX-OFF party was a load of fun…and if you can overlook some truly poor artistic decisions, there *WAS* some very good heavy metal music.
But nothing….NOTHING could compare to what our boys in black and pink did the next night…
Stay tuned…..Day 2 of the M3 Festival coming next…