Why? Because there aren’t a lot of documentaries about bands that only sort of did well. Especially when they’re still out there slugging away in one form or another.
Full disclosure: I was/am a Bang Tango fan. Saw them play at least a couple times both on the way up and the way down. Their first two albums still get regular rotation in my collection. But I honest wasn’t familiar with their later stuff. Thank goodness for Spotify and YouTube.
One very vivid wake up call in my own career was seeing Bang Tango play the Quarter Note in Sunnyvale, CA. This may have been 1999 or so. Not only was/is the Quarter Note a shit hole. It’s the shit hole that my band played every other month or so. It was an education to see one of my favorite bands dumped to the level of playing the same place we slugged it out. And it wasn’t even crowded.
There’s an interesting statistic at the beginning of the film. Brace yourself, musicians… “At the time (late 1980’s) over 400 bands were signed to major labels around the country. Only 3% of those bands were successful.”
If you’re doing the math, that’s 12 bands. Now, that’s depressing. But the definition of success is pretty flexible too. Those 12 bands were the ones selling out arenas and such. Motley Crue, Poison, Scorpions, and such.
Then you had the bands playing the 200-1000 capacity clubs. In my area that was the Cactus Club and, my home away from home, One Step Beyond. Some made it out. Most didn’t.
The great thing about this documentary is that it isn’t really about Bang Tango. It’s about all those other bands. Faster Pussycat, Danger Danger, Steelheart, Junkyard, South Gang. And it wasn’t just the 80’s. For every Pearl Jam and Nirvana there was a Sponge and a Crash Test Dummies. And that continues to this day. For every successful band there are 300 others that either give up or just keep making music regardless of if anyone is paying attention.
And that’s the real lesson in this movie. Whether you’re a musician, a comedian, and actor, or any other kind of performer, the odds of “making it” are astronomically against you. So, work for it. Build your audience one person at a time if you have to. Push yourself to be a better performer and writer. Bare your soul.
But do it because you love the art. Fame and money aren’t in the cards. They might be. They can be. But they probably won’t be. There are easier ways to make money. You do it because you’ve got something to say and you want people to hear it. Do it for that.
You can watch the whole Bang Tango documentary below…
And if I can just geek out on Bang Tango for a second….
- Yes, definitely go listen to those first two records, Psycho Cafe and Dancing on Coals. They’re uniquely late 80’s but also something else altogether. And they really do hold up pretty well.
- The soul of that band was Kyle Kyle on bass. No other bass player could touch him at that time.
- I always wanted Joe Leste to be a better singer. But then he might not have been as unique.
- Nobody in the doc seems to address this, but what knocked them out in the grunge onslaught was the overly sexualized name and the pretty boys looks. The looks they could have changed earlier. But the dumb 80’s band name… well, what are you going to do? Hindsight is 20-20 as they say. Having a name like that in 1994 was like playing a pointy guitar in 1994.
Ok, done geeking out. Now I have to go find a copy of Love After Death to listen to.