IT WAS SUDDENLY 1990 ALL OVER AGAIN AT THE FISH HEAD CANTINA
Date: October 19, 2019
Venue: Fish Head Cantina
Location: Halethorpe, Maryland, USA
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato
When Slaughter rose up from the ashes of Vinnie Vincent Invasion in the early nineties, they quickly became a commercial success and instant fan favorite thanks in part to the frequent rotation of their “Up All Night” and “Fly to The Angels” videos on MTV. I can still recall seeing their “Up All Night” video debut and becoming enamored with the soaring vocals and shredding guitars that are a staple of Slaughter’s sound. At that age, I had no idea who Vinnie Vincent Invasion were yet or that two of the members of this new band that I was hearing had just been through the ringer with their former bandmate. In fact, it took me weeks after purchasing their debut album to decipher what the song “Burning Bridges” was all about. I knew that I liked their music and that they had a cool video. And any singer that leaped from the top of a pile of scrapped cars only to land in a summersault before taking the mic was cool in my adolescent opinion. That about summarizes my introduction to the band, which originally hailed from Las Vegas, Nevada.
I remained a Slaughter fan in the years that followed and ran out to pick up their second album, The Wild Life, on the day that it was released. They reached only a moderate level of success with that follow up, and the band began to face a series of trials and tribulations that would truly test their resilience. Following the lackluster sales of The Wild Life, Slaughter parted ways with Chrysalis Records prior to the release of their third disc, Fear No Evil. Determined to persevere, the band signed with independent label CMC Records, which then released the record after it had been delayed for some time. Despite critical acclaim, the album never matched the commercial success of Stick It to Ya or even the lukewarm sales figures of The Wild Life. In fairness to the band, by 1995, MTV wanted no part of rock n’ roll. Slaughter could have released Back In Black or Physical Graffiti at that point and MTV still wouldn’t have played their videos.
Following the release of their fourth studio album Revolution, the band was faced with a major personal and professional devastation with the tragic and untimely passing of their original guitarist and friend Tim Kelly. Their subsequent live release Eternal Live was dedicated to his memory. In an effort to carry on, Slaughter recruited Left For Dead guitarist Jeff Blando for the recording of their next and (as of this writing) final studio album, Back To Reality. It proved to be the continuation in a series of well-written and produced, driving hard rock records from the band. Back To Reality is full of heavy guitar riffs, catchy choruses and infectious material that fans have come to expect from the band. Alas, the fickle musical tastes of the music buying masses in America had mostly moved on to other things by that point in Slaughter’s career and Back To Reality flew mostly under the radar. The fair-weather followers don’t know what they were missing out on though. Slaughter’s last two albums contained some of their finest work. Just listen to the tracks “Revolution”, “Heaven It Cries”, “Tongue N’ Groove”, “On My Own”, “Take Me Away” or “Love Is Forever.” I could go on. Much of the music on these releases is easily on par with the band’s debut album and is even more admirable given that they were produced and released independently (and without major-label recording budgets).
While Mark Slaughter continues to release cool solo albums that fill the void for fans wanting to hear new music from Slaughter (the band), the members have stuck by their decision to focus solely on live appearances without current plans to record new music. It’s simply a matter of supply and demand, with the consensus being that fans only want to hear “the hits.” The members of Slaughter do stay busy with other musical projects too. Three quarters of Slaughter’s line-up continue to tour with Vince Neil, and original drummer Blas Elias plays drums in Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Not the best news for fans wanting new music from the band, but the positive side is that they still find time in their schedules to regroup for Slaughter shows. I still catch them in concert every chance that I get. Most recently it was at the Fish Head Cantina in Halethorpe, Maryland on October 19th with Rayne, Scarlet Angel and American Jetset in support.
Marking their return to the Baltimore area, American Jetset were surprisingly the first band to go on. With only about 30-35 minutes of stage time, they still managed to play ten songs though. If I were in one of the other opening bands on the bill, I wouldn’t have wanted to go on after them. After hitting the stage, they made it quickly apparent that they would be a hard act to follow and suffice it to say that Rayne and Scarlet Angel definitely had their work cut out for them. Screaming guitars are always a good way to kick off an evening of rock n’ roll, and American Jetset more than accommodated that request with their opening number “Go It Alone.” Lance Reeder is just phenomenal on the guitar, and that point was driven home when they played a few of their new tracks later in the show. I can tell you the four yet-to-be released songs that they played kick ass and do not disappoint. “Forgotten Tragedies” was up next and kicked in with that slow bass groove that keeps building as frontman Ian Kaine MacGregor delivers the cleverly written lyrics to the song. The recorded version has so many different rhythm patterns. It starts off slow but features heavier drum patterns toward the middle of the song. Somehow, the guys pull it off and it sounds just as good live as it does on their album.
Following “Live, Love, Die”, the band unveiled a trio of their new songs — “One More Time Around, “Getaway Car” and “Gold & Nines.” All three are expected to be included on the forthcoming One Thousand Ghosts EP. “One More Time Around” has a nice, heavy groove to it and I can see the song being played on rock radio stations everywhere. “Getaway Car” is a more bluesy, mid-tempo song with a twangy guitar solo that showcases tremendous musicianship. I thought “Gold & Nines” was also really catchy with a cool, gang vocal style. Usually, I like to hear the recorded version of a song a few times before forming an opinion on them. There’s so much going on at live shows that can make it difficult to capture all of the nuances in a song and really take it in.
All three of these songs sounded great though, and I think the band has worked their magic yet again for this upcoming release. Their cover mashup of the Black Crowes’ “Hard To Handle” and the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “Tuff Enuff” weren’t hard to handle at all. The pairing was a fun detour from the rest of the set and fit in perfectly alongside the band’s new material. If I had to pick an American Jetset song that is my favorite, it might just be their underdog anthem “This Ain’t Hollywood” which always takes me back to the days of watching Headbangers’ Ball on MTV and listening to 103.1 The Underground radio out of Annapolis, Maryland. It’s not on their album, but you can hear it on Spotify or download it. “1000 Ghosts” continued the audience’s introduction to the band’s new material. It opened with a frenzied guitar riff before spinning into a full-on ZZ Top-ish swamp boogie swagger. The band wrapped up its set with “Monsters.”
American Jetset have been making the rounds on both the East and West coast concert trails lately in support of their fantastic Live, Love, Die On Main debut. Though it technically came out in 2018, this is one of my favorite albums of 2019. The CD has actually taken up residency in my stereo since I picked it up last summer. It’s that good, and I recommend picking up a physical copy at one of their shows or from the band’s website while you can still get one. They blend all the elements of classic L.A. sleaze rock with modern sensibilities to create a sound that’s palatable to a whole new generation of rock n’ roll fans without being gimmicky. This only underscores the band’s ability to share bills with such a wide array of artists. Living Colour, The 69 Eyes, Faster Pussycat, Jimmy’s Chicken Shack and Tom Keifer are just a few of the acts that American Jetset have appeared with in recent months.
American Jetset just returned from a performance at Hollywood’s famed Whisky A Go-Go opening for Jack Russell’s Great White and are about to wrap up their 2019 touring to gear up for the release of their upcoming EP, One Thousand Ghosts. This is one of my most anticipated albums so far for 2020. They have at least one show left on their itinerary for 2019 though — a gig with L.A. Guns on November 8th. My advice? If you see that American Jetset are sharing the bill with another band that you might be headed out to see, get to the venue early with the rest of the monsters and don’t miss their show.
American Jetset’s setlist:
01. Go It Alone
02. Forgotten Tragedies
03. Live, Love, Die
04. One More Time Around
05. Getaway Car
06. Gold & Nines
07. Hard to Handle / Tuff Enuff
08. This Ain’t Hollywood
09. 1,000 Ghosts
Rayne followed American Jetset and had roughly the same amount of time onstage. This was my first time hearing them, but what I heard I liked well enough.I found their style to be more rootsy with elements of alternative and blues rock thrown in. Not typically what I would listen to, but they sounded good at what they do and the audience seemed to really enjoy their set. I do think that they were somewhat out of place going on before Scarlet Angel and Slaughter though. At times, I could hear traces of Staind, Nickleback and a few other bands in their sound and particularly on “Another Sad Song”, which to me had a Staind vibe (without the Aaron Lewis vocal resemblance). I liked their song “Broken” the most of what I heard. It had a lot of cool Les Paul riffs that made the track a standout for me. I could see Rayne sharing the stage with a band such as Soul Asylum, Better Than Ezra or Collective Soul. Those in attendance were rocking out to Rayne, so as the Rolling Stones say, “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll.”
Baltimore’s Scarlet Angel proved to be the true surprise of the night. They play metal in the vein of Dio, Black Sabbath and Doro. Founded by lead guitarist Michelle Armiger, they’ve been releasing albums since 2004 both here and abroad. This was my first time hearing the band, but I really liked what I heard. Their music conjured up great mental imagery as lead singer Abby Otradovec belted out song after song over the punishing rhythm section of bassist Barry Bergoffen and drummer Kim Yates. Fans may recognize drummer Kim from her annual Halloween haunt Kim’s Krypt. She’s an absolute maniac behind the drum kit, and seemingly doesn’t miss a beat while also delivering background vocals on many of their songs. A few of the standouts of their show were “Thieves”, “Chains of Rock”, “1812” and “Iron Clad Warriors.” If you’re into power metal bands like Demons & Wizards, give Scarlet Angel a listen!
Slaughter’s set consisted entirely of material from Stick It to Ya, The Wild Life and a medley of classic rock covers deemed the “cover jam.” After what seemed like a small eternity to get the stage ready, the packed house went wild as the lights dimmed and the intro to “The Wild Life” played overhead. The band was joined by drummer Will Hunt for this round of dates, and as they took the stage, a few women in the audience were going bananas as Mark Slaughter trailed behind them. The band began to play and he strutted up to the microphone at center stage. Honestly, I was not expecting the level of fandemonium that I witnessed. Suddenly, it was 1990 all over again at the Fish Head Cantina as the band kicked off their set with “The Wild Life.” The lyrics to the song made it the perfect opening number for a Saturday night show and I’m sure that was their intention. “Burnin’ Bridges” followed, and it’s still one of my favorite tracks from their first album. The sinister, tongue-in-cheek lyrics of the song are pointed for sure, but definitely insightful for fans.
From where I was standing, I could see the setlist taped to the floor of the stage. The excellent “Take Me Away” from Back To Reality, was supposed to be the third song that Slaughter played but they skipped over it and followed up “Burnin’ Bridges” with another Stick It to Ya number, “Spend My Life.” The song showcased the amazing lead guitar work of Jeff Blando. Jeff is actually a great singer as well. I wasn’t aware of this until I heard him sing lead vocals on Black Sabbath’s “Heaven & Hell” during Vince Neil’s performance at M3 back in May. Perhaps because I’m not a musician, I’m always in awe of anyone that can play guitar AND sing that well.
I was a bit surprised that the band chose to allot so much time to cover songs in their set that night. One, sure. Two…. ok. But four? Granted, their “cover jam” was actually just an extended medley of four cover songs. I still would have preferred that they stuck to one or two and played more of their original material instead like the absent “Take Me Away.” I don’t have anything against bands playing covers, but my preference would have been to hear more Slaughter songs and especially since I don’t get to see them in concert that often. Nonetheless, their sojourn into Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, “Whole Lotta Love” “Dazed And Confused” and “Stairway To Heaven” sounded phenomenal. Mark Slaughter hit all those high notes perfectly and his vocal delivery was spot on. Jeff Blando handled the lead vocals on “Dazed And Confused” and was awesome too. Led Zeppelin is not the band to cover if you don’t have the chops. Slaughter’s versions sounded great though.
Then it was time for the band to circle back around to their original material. When they got to “Mad About You”, it really was music to my ears until it segued into another sampling of cover songs. Rather than just performing “Mad About You” from start to finish, the band forayed into Foghat’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones. Mark Slaughter broke out an acoustic guitar immediately thereafter and performed a mostly solo version of “Days Gone By” from The Wild Life. I’ve always liked this song and thought this special arrangement really worked well for the song. It also showed off what a great guitarist Mark Slaughter is in his own right. Another of my favorite Slaughter songs, “Eye To Eye” followed and Mark Slaughter actually climbed over the barricade to go out into the audience to sing the song. Before the song was over, the band broke into a few verses of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”.
After escaping the flash mob and returning to the stage, Mark broke out the acoustic guitar once again and I initially thought they were going to play another well-known song of theirs… but not just yet. As he began to play the first few notes, it sounded to my ears like the opening of Stone Sour’s “Bother.” “No, it can’t be…. another cover?” I thought. That would have been my breaking point. It’s not that it’s a bad song. I wasn’t up for any more cover tunes by that point and especially Slaughter’s take on Stone Sour. As it turned out, it was actually the intro to “Real Love” which sounds quite similar to “Bother” when played on an acoustic guitar. I wish I had recorded it to play back for those in disbelief of the similarity between the two songs in that moment. Of course they played “Fly To the Angels”, which Mark dedicated to his Mom who had passed away exactly five years ago to the date as well as the men and women in the armed forces.
It was then, at one of the worst possible moments in the show, that the band began to experience sound problems from one of the club’s speakers on the backline. It was emitting a very loud humming sound that was so loud it was impossible to ignore. Thankfully, the issue was resolved quickly at the soundboard and the band just started the song over like true professionals. “Up All Night” rounded out the show with a few bars of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” thrown it at the end. It was a great show, and while their setlist might seem short with only ten songs, it really wasn’t. I have a very strong suspicion we’ll be seeing Slaughter again in the Baltimore area very soon.
01. The Wild Life
02. Burnin’ Bridges
03. Spend My Life
04. “Cover Jam” (Immigrant Song / Whole Lotta Love / Dazed And Confused / Stairway To Heaven)
05. Mad About You with snippets of I Just Want to Make Love to You / Jumpin’ Jack Flash
06. Days Gone By
07. Eye To Eye with snippets of We Will Rock You
08. Real Love
09. Fly To The Angels
10. Up All Night with snippets of Won’t Get Fooled Again
Trivia question: The model on the cover of Slaughter’s Stick It To Ya album was married to which musician? No cheating!