AMERICAN JETSET & CHARM CITY DEVILS BURN THE WINTER BLUES
Date: February 29, 2020
Venue: Blizzard Stage
Location: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Event: Frozen Harbor Music Festival
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato
One of the first rock n’ roll bands that I really got into during my teens was Baltimore, Maryland’s Child’s Play. I took great pride in the fact that they were from my area, a constant on the local club scene, and were in frequent rotation on Baltimore’s biggest rock radio station – 98 Rock. Their music was also a bit rawer and more aggressive than many of their contemporaries debuting at that time. Child’s Play also had the distinction of having two band members that sang lead, with both Brian Jack and drummer John Allen handling those duties (and sometimes trading off on verses within the same song). At the time of their original ascent to popularity, I was too young to get into the nightclubs that they played (Hammerjacks, Network, etc.) so I had to rely on radio play, Metal Edge magazine and Headbangers Ball to keep me up to date on the band’s activities and satiate my need to hear their music.
In 1990, they officially graduated to the big leagues with the release of their Howard Benson produced debut on Chrysalis records. Needless to say, I rushed right out and bought a copy of their Rat Race album (on cassette) as soon as it was released. An older friend of mine even went so far as to have it autographed for me at one of their Hammerjacks shows. I wish I still had that cassette! In the early nineties, Chrysalis was also the label home for up and coming acts like Slaughter and Chrissy Steele. As I type this, I can still recall the night that I waited up until 1:00 in the morning for the Headbangers Ball premiere of Child Play’s “Rat Race” video on MTV. I fought relentlessly to keep my eyes open that night and barely managed to stay awake for it. And when 1:00 a.m. finally rolled around, it didn’t air. Ugh… Thanks MTV! My dedication did pay off shortly thereafter though. It was announced that Child’s Play were going to be opening for Yngwie Malmsteen and Dio on the Baltimore date of the latter’s Lock Up The Wolves tour. Even better, it was an all-ages show. Score!
When sales for Rat Race debut failed to really build momentum, Child’s Play parted ways with Chrysalis Records (and original lead singer Brian Jack) after just one album. Jack went on to pursue a solo career, while the remaining members of the band regrouped. They resurfaced in 1993 with new vocalist Tommy McRae and a follow-up record; the independently released Long Way disc via Chryplus Records (yes, you read that correctly). Unfortunately, without major label marketing behind them, the album didn’t see much support from radio or MTV. Fans were also somewhat divided following the departure of original singer Brian Jack, who had a devout following of his own within the Baltimore music scene. Child’s Play fizzled out shortly thereafter, and this time it would be for good. Drummer (and co-lead vocalist) John Allen managed to stay active on the Baltimore music scene after the dissolving of the band though. He went on to play drums with another well-established (and successful) band from Baltimore, SR-71.
Fast forward to 2009, and the world of rock n’ roll was about to receive a new musical offering from John Allen and co. with the release of the debut album by his new outfit, Charm City Devils. But this time, John would be out from behind the drum kit and fronting the band — handling all lead vocals. Their debut album Let’s Rock-N-Roll was released by Eleven Seven Music, the label that was helmed by Nikki Sixx (who reportedly named the band as well). Not only did the Charm City Devils re-introduce the world to the musical talents of John Allen, but the band initially featured another Child’s Play alumni — guitarist Nicky Kay. It didn’t hurt that they once again had the big “promotional machine” in their corner, and they managed to land one of the coveted opening slots on Crüe-fest that year. Following a series of albums and tours in the years that followed, Charm City Devils went on hiatus while frontman John Allen focused on another musical endeavor, Stone Horses.
To the delight of their loyal fans, the Charm City Devils re-convened in 2019 to record and release a new EP titled 1904. Frontman John Allen is still joined by original drummer Jason Heiser in the band, which now features Rick Reynolds on bass and guitarist Teddy Merrill in the line-up too. Both Reynolds and Merrill are former members of Stone Horses. Following the release of the lead single “Skipping Stone” in September, the Charm City Devils have been hard at work re-establishing themselves on the concert circuit both locally and elsewhere on the map in support of their latest effort. I caught one of those performances — their Feb. 29th headlining show at Baltimore’s Frozen Harbor Music Festival at Power Plant Live! The enormous entertainment complex houses numerous nightclubs and eateries (PBR, Tin Roof, Howl At The Moon, Angel’s Rock Bar and Rams Head Live). That’s not even taking their outdoor stage area into account.
Frozen Harbor is shaping up to become an annual event in Baltimore, and another band generating a lot of buzz was also on the bill this year — American Jetset. They had a prime slot on night two of the festival (Saturday) and performed at the Tin Roof club. They were also celebrating a milestone of their own; the unveiling of their much-anticipated record Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop. The band has been hard at work in the studio over the past few months recording the new EP with producer / engineer Scott Spelbring. As a huge fan of their Live, Love, Die On Main debut EP, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this CD and hear what they’ve cooked up. Although it technically was released in late 2018, Live, Love, Die On Main was one of my most-listened to albums of 2019. They’ve been road testing a few of the new tracks from Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop live since last year. I first heard a handful of the new songs (“One More Time Around”, “Gold & Nines” and “1,000 Ghosts”) at their Leesburg, Virginia show back in August. Ironically, part of Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop was ultimately recorded in Leesburg at Spelbring Studios.
American Jetset‘s Frozen Harbor performance served as the official drop of the album and beginning of their promotional campaign in support of it. On their upcoming itinerary, American Jetset will share stages with the likes of Every Mother’s Nightmare, Enuff Z’Nuff, KIX and Jack Russell’s Great White. And that’s only the beginning. West coast fans will have an opportunity to catch their live show too; this July at the legendary Whisky A Go-Go with Pretty Boy Floyd. They opened up their Baltimore show with a short train ride (intro) into “Devil’s Canyon” before kicked things off with “Walking Contradiction”. which also happens to be the first single from the new album. It starts off with a snaking bass groove, courtesy of Kevin Harrington. The song is so infectious and will immediately pin that “whoa oh” melody into your psyche for days after hearing it. The same can be said of their next two songs, “Gold & Nines” and “One More Time Around.”
Not only were these the first three songs performed, they’re also the first three tracks on Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop. From there, it was back to familiar territory with a classic — the title track from Live, Love, Die On Main. As many times as I have heard these songs, they never get old for me. Hearing them live just brings a smile to my face and they’re so anthemic that I want to raise up my horns into the air. American Jetset’s live medley of “Hard To Handle / Tuff Enough” would surely make the Robinson brothers and Fabulous Thunderbirds proud. “1,000 Ghosts” was another (of four) new songs that made their way onto the evening’s setlist. It’s centered around a blustering rhythm and swamp-boogie style guitar riff that would make it a strong contender to open any show with. If this song doesn’t get an audience on their feet, they might just be incoherent. Their closing song “Monster” is another personal favorite of mine. My interpretation of the song is that it’s about a day-in-the-life of a working band and their connection to the fans through music. It’s a mantra, if you will. Lyrically speaking, their new ballad “Never Be Goodbye” has the same exact vibe. They didn’t play it at the Frozen Harbor show, but this is an end-of-summer anthem if ever I’ve heard one. With the right push, this sinewy singalong could be a huge hit for the band.
American Jetset have another winner on their hands with Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop. Fans of Live, Love, Die On Main are going to find a lot to love with this release too. At its core, the EP retains all the elements that made their debut such a gem; catchy/anthemic songs with elements of pop and hard rock interwoven, clever lyrics that’ll surely evoke debauchery, and stellar musicianship that sets the bar. Frontman Ian Kaine MacGregor’s vocal delivery hasn’t lost any attitude alongside the blistering fretwork of guitarist T. Lance Reeder. All propelled by one hell of a rhythm section — drummer Jeff Bradford and bassist Kevin Harrington truly give the songs their punch without ever losing the pulse. Where Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop differs from its predecessor is the incorporation of a more bluesy element that’s riding shotgun with American Jetset’s nasty, sleaze rock side. If hearing that has you worried, don’t be. American Jetset haven’t lost any of their edge. If you’re a fan of their debut, Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop is just a natural extension in their evolution. This is the work of a band that has reached the next level and are just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
American Jetset’s setlist:
01. Walking Contradiction
02. Gold & Nines
03. One More Time Around
04. Live, Love, Die
05. Hard to Handle / Tuff Enough
06. Go It Alone
07. This Ain’t Hollywood
08. 1,000 Ghosts
Charm City Devils:
The Charm City Devils are back! This was a night of triumphant returns and Charm City Devils sounded positively rejuvenated as well. Supporting their fantastic new EP, 1904, the band was phenomenal performing to a packed house of hometown fans. As the guys took the stage, you could feel the level of excitement in the room from fans clamoring to see their hometown heroes once again. Singer John Allen was last to take the stage following his bandmates, but immediately perched himself high atop a lighted riser to belt out “Spite” from their 2012 album Sins. Like many other Charm City Devil songs, this one has a theme of perseverance that resonates with me. Their trademark track “Let’s Rock N’ Roll” followed and was met with widespread enthusiasm from the audience. I never had the privilege of seeing the Charm City Devils with their original line-up, however the current configuration of the band is on point. In his early 20s, guitarist Teddy Merrill, can only be described as a wunderkind on the guitar. Several times throughout the show, Allen made way for Merrill to climb onto the riser for a solo, and his playing was simply amazing.
“Devil Is A Woman” and “True Love (Hell Yeah)” kept the party going as Allen would repeatedly reach his wireless microphone out into the audience to shout along. In between songs, he advised the audience that he hadn’t slept the night before the show. You wouldn’t have known that based on his vocal delivery or performance! From high atop the crowd, he would double-over often to belt out his vocals at full power. That’s the sign of a true professional.
From there, the band slowed things down and took a breather with their 2009 classic “Best of The Worst”, from Let’s Rock And Roll. Before the show, I wondered if I might spot a vintage Child’s Play t-shirt in the crowd, and surprisingly I did not. Leading up to their performance, I thought it would be cool for the band to cover an old Rat Race classic or two. Sure, John Allen’s voice isn’t all that similar to Brian Jack’s, but the band member lineage and location of the concert certainly warranted a cover of “My Bottle” or “Wind.” Alas, it wasn’t in the cards that evening. Maybe next time! I was happy to hear their new song “Skipping Stone” make it into the show. It’s another personal favorite of mine, as is “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Unfortunately, the band had to cut its set short by one song and close with its call-to-arms classic “Unstoppable”, which John dedicated to his mother and stepmother who both battled cancer. He also sent it out to a friend of the band who is also battling the disease. The song is one of empowerment and nonetheless was the perfect way for them to close out the show.
Baltimore’s Frozen Harbor Festival was a cool event showcasing many local and regional bands with Maryland / Virginia roots. It truly offered something for everyone, regardless of musical tastes. American Jetset and Charm City Devils were without question my personal favorites of the lot, but really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of sheer variety. Maryland and Virginia have infused the music world with a bounty of talent over the years. American Jetset and the Charm City Devils are but the latest in a long line of successors to have gotten their start in the area and are now poised to carve their names onto an elite list of well-renowned bands that achieved mainstream success.
Charm City Devils’ setlist:
02. Let’s Rock N’ Roll
03. Devil Is A Woman
04. True Love (Hell Yeah)
05. Best of The Worst
07. Skipping Stone
08. Man of Constant Sorrow
09. Broken Hearts Broken Bones