Flash Metal Suicide: Bang Tango

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Bang Tango was basically The Cult for average dopes. I don’t think anybody would argue that point, not even Bang Tango. They formed in 1987 from the ashes of go-nowhere Hollywood glamsters City Slick when singer Joe Leste moved to LA from San Diego and taught the other dudes how to wear open-chested flower-printed blouses and medallions and then played them a couple of Southern Death Cult records. Leste even kinda looked like Ian Astbury if you squinted a little, and unlike the actual Cult, they were unencumbered by French symbolist poetry or Salvador Dali’s lobster telephone or whatever the fuck Astbury was always prattling on about. They wrote songs about chicks, they dyed their hair black, their bass player thought he was in a funk band. Boom. Another alt-metal band is born. They played their obligatory dues at the usual dives, entertained a minor bidding war, signed to a major label a year or two too late, and released one of the most over the top flash metal records of the era, 1989’s Psycho Cafe. It sorta tanked, at least in comparison to a lot of their spandex-clad peers. But did it deserve to? Absolutely. And also definitely not.

If you haven’t heard Psycho Cafe since the 80’s, prepare yourself. Gird your loins. Batten the fucking hatches. At first you’ll cringe. You’ve probably forgotten Leste’s crazy vocals, a sort of high-pitched caterwaul/gravelly sex-growl combo that out-Keifers Cinderella and very nearly topples Ronnie Keel in alarming, upper-register screech. Anybody under forty is gonna bail within 30 seconds when they hear Bang Tango for the first time. It’s just all too much, the vocals, the bull in a China shop guitars, the tin can production. The latter was the work of Howard Benson, the go to knob-botherer for lower-shelf glam-slammers at the time. He also wrecked records for Pretty Boy Floyd, Tuff, Tainted Angel, Kingofthehill, basically anybody who opened for the Crue a few times and were still bitter about it. Benson had a style. I would label that style “shockingly amateur”. He makes Bang Tango sound like a ramshackle garage band on this record. I don’t think they spent their production money on cocaine, but if they did, they would at least have an awesome excuse. Instead, they just got, you know, “Benson-ed”. But whatever. This is not a Steely Dan record anyway.

Psycho opens with a positive jam, like all records should. It’s called Attack of Life. The awkward grammar of the title still bugs me, but what a jam, all punk-fueled bluster and youthful bravado. It’s followed by their semi-hit Someone Like You, a swirling, twirling orgy of biker-metal swagger and glittery hooks. It’s like Zodiac Mindwarp with zero irony and higher cheek bones. Things get weird from there, with the band wading balls-deep into wobbly blues rock (Wrap My Wings) and bass-popping funk metal (Shotgun Man, Do What You’re Told). They also hacksaw an obligatory ballad (Just For You) into bloody chunks along the way. At times, you wonder how any of this actually got made. At least half of Psycho Cafe actually sounds like a ham-fisted satire of the other half. What loony record executive would give the thumbs up to Leste’s off-key shrieks or that ridiculous disco bass? It’s madness. But that’s also what makes it so great. Listening to Psycho Cafe, you get the feeling that anything can happen, like maybe rock n’ roll – and in extension, life – is a rubber reality of infinite possibilities. There is another world out there, once clearly a lot ballsier than this one, where Ian Astbury joined Funkadelic, not the Doors. And it worked out fine. In that world, Psycho Cafe outsold Abbey Road. Unfortunately for Bang Tango, we don’t live there.

Two grueling years after the release of Psycho Cafe, The Tang returned with Dancin’ On Coals. I never heard it. 99% of the world never heard it. If you were into Bang Tango in ‘89, there’s very little chance you’d still be into them in 1991. Victims of the ol’ sparkle and fade. The world had already changed, moved on. Shredding and dangling earrings were over. Everybody was into heroin and rain puddles, and that stringy-haired dick from Dinosaur Jr. was the new guitar god. Bang Tango was fucked. But anyway, for the sake of everybody’s feelings, let’s just assume Dancin’ On Coals is a dynamite record that suffered from bad timing. Bang Tango limped along for another few years before sputtering and dying in the mid 90’s. A couple years later Leste formed a (ahem) supergroup called Beautiful Creatures with the guitarist from the BulletBoys and the drummer from Tia Carrera’s band in the Wayne’s World movie. Seriously, that’s what happened. They were alright. He’s also revived Tango a few times over the years and just like Ratt, warring Tangos have hit the road with various ex-members. The usual tragi-comic bullshit. Leste continues to gig hard and dream big dreams a hundred or years after Psycho Cafe. I’ve heard the singer refer to himself as a “blue collar worker” a few times in interviews over the years, and I admire that. In fact, I like this dude more and more as the years roll on. I met him once, briefly, backstage at Rocklahoma. He was beer-buzzing, bird-dogging, and doing a dead-on Paul Stanley impression. He was a fun guy who obviously had a long history of misadventure stuffed into the back pocket of his leather pants. I was rooting for him. Still am. It’s still pretty impossible to convince anyone that Psycho Cafe is anything more than a bunch of horny adolescent screeching and funky bass popping, but for one brief moment in 1989, that was all we needed, man. And it was fuckin’ beautiful.

PS: There’s a Bang Tango documentary on the way. Why not?