CONCERT REVIEW: Three Marvelous 3 Nights
GUEST POST: Lance Elias
In the late 1990's there was only a small handful of bands carrying the torch for power pop and hard rock.
Sure, bands like Cheap Trick were giving grunge and nü metal the finger and refusing to fade quietly into the night, but there were also a few younger bands following in the footsteps of those guitar pop heroes.
I was working in a small, run-down used record store in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at the time, surviving on bands like Ben Folds Five, The Knack, Union, Samantha 7, Imperial Drag, SHAD, and Paul Gilbert's incredible journey into power pop. These bands were my only escape from the dark years of the '90s, a period when music on the radio generally didn’t seem fun anymore.
And I liked fun. A lot. Still do. But South Florida was more tuned into rap, Marilyn Manson, and Latin music at the time, which didn't leave much for a suburban guitar pop fan like me to sink my teeth into.
Then one day a copy of Marvelous 3's Hey! Album came into our store.
I read the liner notes (remember those?) like the music geek that I am and realized I was familiar with the musicians—Butch Walker, Jayce Fincher and Doug "Slug" Mitchell—from their '80s glam band Southgang. That band wrote their first album with Desmond Child and got a little airplay on MTV with "Tainted Angel," a hard rockin' tune complete with hooks, riffs and gospel style background vocals.
My curiosity was piqued about Marvelous 3, so I put the CD on the store's sound system. It opened with some well placed guitar feedback, a simple four chord riff, and some literal "do-dooda-do-do's," all of which brought a smile to my face.
Harmonies? Guitars? Snarky, clever lyrics about break-ups? Hey! Album checked all the boxes.
I was hooked by the time the second, now infamous track "Freak of the Week" finished. Counter melodies? Big choruses? Are you kidding me? KEEP GOING!
The entire CD was solid power pop rock and I was excited. "Maybe the next century isn't going to be all depressed kids, angry rappers, or bizarre rock mutations," I thought. "Maybe, just maybe, power pop is finally going to return in style."
M3 released their second major label album, Ready Sex Go, the following year—another collection of hard power pop rock perfection, along with some piano contributions from Jellyfish/Imperial Drag founder Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
A fan like me couldn't ask for more. I even scored a promo copy, along with the commercial release, from the Border's employee who obviously recognized my fandom.
I drove 3 hours to Orlando a few months later to see the mighty M3 perform in a small outdoor festival. They were incredible, with the energy and conviction of a band performing for 15,000, not 1,500.
I was front and center, taking photographs, catching guitar picks, and singing along to every word, convinced this band was going to save the world. I even snuck through a broken wire fence after the show to get backstage for autographs and photos. The band was happy, full of energy and living in the moment. It was (ahem) marvelous.
A few months later, a customer came into my tiny used record store and lit up when he heard Marvelous 3 on the stereo:
"Oh, wow! You must love Tsar too, right?"
"Tsar? No, who are they?"
BOOM. Yet another incredible band roaring with guitars, vocals and real drums.
"The 2000s are going to rule,” I thought to myself…
Then the Marvelous 3 broke up. Tsar never played Ft. Lauderdale. The fun faded almost as quickly as it arrived.
In 2005 I moved to Atlanta, home base for Marvelous 3.
The fandom was still strong there, partially fueled by a loyal community that continued to support Walker's solo career. He released his own music while also producing albums for Bowling For Soup, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Sevendust and many others. He had the perfect day job to support his own musical career.
At many of the big hometown shows that Butch played to support his solo releases, two guests would occasionally appear to close out the set—Jayce and Slug from Marvelous 3. We all lost our minds whenever the trio played "Freak of the Week."
The chemistry onstage was undeniable and the crowd response was only intensified by M3’s absence. It was all the loyal M3 fan base talked about afterward.
So, when a full blown M3 reunion album, IV, along with three sold out gigs at Atlanta's infamous Tabernacle were booked for October of this year, fans flew in from all over the world. Tribute shows were booked in M3’s honor, fan get-togethers were planned, and charity events were organized to raise money for the Butch Walker Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer.
The fans were ready. I was ready.
Thanks to this community of fans and friends—my Atlanta family—I was able to attend all three nights, right up against the front barrier. The first night, I wore my Tsar shirt which got an incredible amount of attention from fans. (Hi, Tsar! If you are reading this, we still love you. Love, Lance) [S.W. Lauden Note: I was in Tsar (aka “Coulter”)—that’s how I met Lance—but I was only the drummer, so it barely counts. More on all of that nonsense way down below. Now let’s get back to the Marvelous freakin’ 3!]
Each night of the M3 reunion shows in Atlanta was peppered with different guest appearances: producer Jim Ebert on piano for a tune; Mike Grier (aka Puddle's Pity Party) singing Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure"; Butch's son James Walker and his band performing an original tune, "SpongeBob Made Me Stupid"; Ed Roland of Collective Soul doing “Shine” with M3; Jeremy Popoff playing guitar on "Every Monday"; and Atlanta's own power pop legends The Producers were in attendance as M3 played the band's classic "She Shelia," a recording of which is also featured on IV.
There were also homages to Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller Band, Queen and Rush included in the intros/outros to many M3 songs. And the radio station 99X—who took the "Freak of the Week" demo and put it into heavy rotation in the late '90s, thus breaking the band and getting them signed to a major label—were honored each night. To top it all off, a voice mail recording of Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx praising the band in 1999 was played over the PA.
The show production was huge with immense video screens, CO₂ jets, confetti, balloons, and even faux snow.
To top it all off, the surprise fourth member of the band to round out the live experience was Holden Fincher, son of bassist Jayce Fincher, on guitar and vocals—fitting for the "family, friendship, loyalty and history" theme of these shows.
And, of course, fun.
Gone was Butch Walker's persona of "serious songwriter from the Georgia mountains." It was back to a musician having fun with his best friends and rocking the fuck out complete with onstage guitar pick tricks and smiles. It was about Southgang and Floyd's Funk Revival T-shirts worn on stage (the latter was their band name just before becoming M3).
The community reunion vibe was enhanced with a slide show featuring classic fan photographs (many of them in the audience), pics of the band members from over the years (including one of Slug wearing a Tsar T-shirt!), and photos paying tribute to the band members’ fathers and other close friends who have passed.
The mostly consistent set list for all three nights relied heavily on the band's first two major label releases, with two tracks from the reunion album IV, but nothing from the band's first indie album, Math and Other Problems:
You're So Yesterday
Write It On Your Hand
Vampires In Love
Let Me Go
Over Your Head
Cold As Hell
My Old School Metal Heart
If We're On Fire (Let It Burn)
Cigarette Lighter Love Song
Freak of the Week
Always Something To Remind Me
I spent three days hanging out with fans, and old and new friends. The members of the aforementioned band SHAD (sans their drummer Kevin "k-Figg" Figueiredo, who is currently on tour with Extreme), flew in for the performances. Matt Spatial of dark wave band Now After Nothing was in the audience, as well as former Biters' frontman/current solo artist Tuk Smith, proving that Marvelous 3's power pop rock sound transcends trends and genres.
The Marvelous 3 may not have saved the world, but they did make it easier for me to connect with power pop rock lovers from all around the globe for the last 20+ years.
Lance Elias is an artist/musician who lives in Atlanta with his amazing wife and two small pups. He spends his days rescuing beat up guitars and giving them new life. You can see his growing guitar collection on Instagram. Lance is currently preparing for his review of the Tsar reunion shows and album...if that ever happens. (Someone call Dan Kern.)
BONUS MUSIC: 5 Of Lance’s Favorite Tsar Songs
“The first night, I wore my Tsar shirt which got an incredible amount of attention from fans.”
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