HEAVEN ON EARTH AS FORMER ANGEL MEMBERS LEAD A NIGHT OF ROCK & ROLL FLASHBACKS
Date: August 24, 2018
Event: Rock N Pod Property
Venue: The Mercy Lounge
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Reviewer: John “Stoney” Cannon
Photos: John “Stoney” Cannon
For over forty years I have been chasing the rock and roll ghosts from a fateful winter day years ago that introduced me to the music of Angel via the presence of a snow covered neighbour walking with small tape recorder in hand blasting songs from the album White Hot. Since that day, the music of the band (and that album in particular) have followed me around the world, popping up most significantly during times when I needed something, anything, to push me on. Yeah, many albums have lifted me over the years but for some reason, White Hot shows up every time I seem to wanna throw in the towel followed by me diving into a marathon of Angel album spinning on my turntable. Oddly enough, the rock and roll Gods must have felt a need for an even bigger Angel appearance in my life as it seems that about the time I was pushing myself to finally dive into a whole new chapter after over a decade of sleepwalking through life, long-time musical exile Punky Meadows of rock band Angel fame announced live appearances and a new solo album. All I needed now was for Punky and his band to come within a few states of me and one of the biggest dreams of my youth would be realized — finally hearing the songs of Angel live and in full communal concert bliss. As you will soon read, it turned out to be that and so much more.
For the past year as I continued to pull myself from my own life exile and into a new unfamiliar world of learning to hope and dream again, I watched as dates for Punky were announced at venues far away and then if that wasn’t enough, he started recording songs with former Angel singer Frank DiMino for both of their solo albums. During this time I wrote a very emotional anniversary review of White Hot then again watched as dates for a Frank and Punky tour were announced also with none in the southeast United States. But one day while ironically listening to a Spotify mix of ’70s glam rock, an ad popped up for a tour date in Nashville and I ran through the house screaming for anyone who would listen, which as luck would have, was no one as my soon to be fiancé was not at home. Funny thing is the little devil got us tickets and what started as me pretty much giving up on the idea of seeing the tour live turned into a pilgrimage through four states to not only catch a killer rock and roll concert, but also kick-start a new songwriting career and tackle ghosts of my own family tree.
Heading out very early on Friday morning from Aiken, South Carolina for what would be nearly a 420 mile drive to Nashville, Tennessee, we had took what was planned as a long haul to see Frank and Punky live and morphed it into a weekend being introduced to songwriting circles in both Nashville and Memphis including stops by several recording studios and of course, a few rock and roll tourist spots followed by a pilgrimage on the way back through the place of my father’s childhood (and home of the blues) Mississippi. By the end of the first day of driving, my rock and roll dreams of experiencing the music of Angel in concert were not only realized, but emotionally tackled with all of the force my heart and soul could muster up.
After experiencing a nostalgic meal at a Shoney’s in Franklin, Tennessee, my fiancé Leslie and I changed into our rock and roll gear and made the short drive from our hotel to The Mercy Lounge in Nashville arriving just in time to be up front in line but also just minutes before the doors opened. If you’ve never been to the Mercy Lounge, I highly recommend it for catching a show. The staff was great and the venue fully knew how to handle a show. The small room somehow holds 500 people standing and the sound is on par to any other rock venue I’ve seen to shows at. After grabbing a couple of beers from the bar, we settled in at our spot right in front of where Punky would be and hunkered down mere fingertips from the monitors and pedalboards. Seriously, you can’t get any closer and while the opening acts might have not crept too close to the edge, later it would turn out that despite being gone for so long, Punky had no fear of being inches away from the fans in the front row.
These days. former Steeler / Keel frontman Ron Keel refers to himself as “The Metal Cowboy” and with good reason, his performances now are an acoustic blend of songs from his old band and his take on modern country which if you ask many folks, is just a mild rip off of ’80s power ballads. Not being a fan of modern country, I personally think Ron Keel’s “country” songs are more akin to say, solo Bret Michaels stuff but maybe a good bit better. Songs like “Wild Forever” and “Just Like Tennessee” may be the ex-Keel founder’s idea of country but on an album and acoustic format fit the four-chord, hook-filled, sing-a-long formula of ’80s hair metal. Intertwined with Keel favorites mainly from The Final Frontier like “Tears Of Fire” and “Because The Night”, the tunes made for a great but albeit too short opening set. After seeing Keel perform unplugged now twice, at the Atlanta KISS Expo in January and this night, I can honestly say that on a night filled with strong vocal performances, Ron Keel stood toe to toe with his voice stronger than ever. As a fan of Keel and The Final Frontier in the ’80s I was pleased with such an uplifting start to the night. It’s obvious that Ron Keel is not only a dedicated performer still, but as much a fan of rock and roll as ever.
Greg Mangus All-Stars:
Now I have to admit to being clueless to who Greg Mangus is and actually kind of assumed that with a band name like Greg Mangus All-Stars, that maybe he was from a more obscure ’80s band but turns out that while he isn’t, what he is though, is a big deal in the Nashville area. Not only can the guy sing some mighty fine rock and roll, rumour has it that Mangus, who fronts an AC/DC tribute band, was in consideration to replace Brian Johnson in the real AC/DC. True or not, the guy is a bonafide fan of rock and roll donning not only a cool Angel t-shirt on stage, but also one of the best rock and roll cover sets I have been privileged to rock through in a long time. No overplayed “Man In The Box” / ”Enter Sandman” stuff but a rocking set filled with a mix of tunes from AC/DC and Aerosmith but also lesser covered tracks by the likes of the Stones, Cheap Trick and Badfinger. The only bummer of the night was the omission of Starz power pop gem “Cherry Baby” due to a no-show special guest. Aside from the headliner, this was maybe my favorite set of the night. As a huge fan of power pop, glam, and just straight up anthem rock and roll, I would pay good money to see a full on Greg Mangus All-Stars set. It reminded me of the cooler circuit cover bands I would go see in clubs back in the day — fun, loud, and uplifting. Maybe the funnest part was having the opportunity to make rock faces back and forth with guitarist Tony Higbee whose regular gig is with awesome rockers The East Side Gamblers and who has occupied the lead guitar spot for Tom Keifer and Damon Johnson. It’s always funnest when the guys on stage are as big a fans as us fanboys in the audience.
Greg Mangus All-Stars’ setlist:
01. Highway To Hell (AC/DC cover)
02. Toys In The Attic (Aerosmith cover)
03. Black Dog (Led Zeppelin cover)
04. American Horse (The Cult cover)
05. Starfucker (Rolling Stones cover)
06. California Man (Cheap Trick cover)
07. No Matter What (Badfinger cover)
08. Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover)
Now, I had seen southeast rockers Tora Tora years ago when they were dragging the band van around trying to get anyone and everyone to listen to their cranked up hard rock boogie but even so, I can’t even claim to be a fan. Outside of a couple of early studio singles in the late ’80s / early ’90s, I really couldn’t really tell anyone anything about the band BUT… based on those couple of songs, I was interested in seeing what everyone in the venue obvious thought was a big deal. Yeah, it was a no brainer that the band is something of a big deal in Tennessee, which perhaps was why they were on this bill. It never hurts to have support acts that can draw in extra folks and it seemed that Tora Tora did just that. But I also gotta admit that despite sounding great, about three songs in, I started getting a bit impatient with what sounded like the same way too long song over and over. By this time, I had driven over 400 miles and been standing for about three or so hours and to top it off, I’d been waiting like 40 years to hear Angel songs so needless to say, sitting through a romping boogie woogie band for six long songs with six more still to come (as written on their setlist) was starting to wear thin on me. However, as if they somehow had ESP, the band changed things up. Starting with crowd sing-a-long “Nowhere To Go But Down”, Tora Tora mixed in some slower grooves and acoustic blues a la “Phantom Rider” and finished up with MTV staple “Walking Shoes” changing my opinion of the band instantly. But to be honest, it’s not that the band wasn’t already kicking ass, it’s just that sometimes old, tired farts like me can get impatient and cranky. In the end, Tora Tora won me over.
Tora Tora’s setlist:
01. Love’s A Bitch
02. 28 Days
04. Giants Fall
05. Cold Fever
07. Lay Your Money Down
08. Nowhere To Go But Down
09. Song Of Zebedee
10. Phantom Rider
11. Walking Shoes
Frank DiMino and Punky Meadows of Angel:
Now when you’re an out and out obsessed rock and roll junkie like I am, it is hard not to get antsy waiting to see a band and when that band is a band playing songs you have been waiting like 40 years to hear in concert and actually thought you would never hear in concert, it’s normal to get jumpy legs, goose bumps, etc. Oh yeah! I was almost like a teenage girl in the ’70s at a Shaun Cassidy concert. Maybe some of you will get the reference but let’s just say by the time Frank DiMino, Punky Meadows, and band were set to take the stage, I was a life-long emotional wreck! Luckily, the stage people were amazing and in no time, Punky Meadows was standing inches away from me with Frank DiMino just to his left flanked by a kick ass band. Seriously, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I mean I could have literally played Punky’s guitar I was so close. And talk about surreal, does anyone remember that odd feeling you’d get back in the day when you went to concerts as a teenager? That one where the day after you remember the show but not EXACTLY? Well after this show, I finally proved to myself that it was more than just a contact buzz. There is a such thing as being overcome by the might and magic of rock and roll and I was there before the first note of Angel’s “On the Rocks” hit and well after I laid down in my hotel bed hours later.
To be honest, as a singer/songwriter I have found as of late more enjoyment in sit down listening room shows but on this night, I was thirteen all over again. Despite hours standing, during a set of mainly Angel songs mixed with a few tunes from Frank and Punky’s recent solo releases and a couple choice covers, I jumped, screamed, sang, and danced like I haven’t in maybe decades. Yeah, I do manage to throw down on stage with my own rock band but usually not when I am in the audience but there is just something about when that fan switch gets turned on, and during this set (and the Mangus All-Stars set), I went nuts.
Now needless to say, I had to warn myself that I could get emotional and boy was I right. During “Wild And Hot”, I closed my eyes and remembered so many great things that I had to open them just to let the mist out and more tears swapped places with smiles especially during the songs from the White Hot album, which holds a very special place in my life. Maybe the most emotional I got was during classic “All The Young Dudes” — a Mott The Hoople song written by David Bowie — that ties me to my first tastes of rock and roll in the early ’70s courtesy of a late uncle. As I sang along with eyes closed, all I could think about was sitting in his living room listening to records by Mott, Bowie, Deep Purple, Sweet and more. Just a few short years later, Angel would be on the scene and I would be head over heels in love with ’70s glam rock, power pop, bubblegum, punk, and everything else a kid was obsessed with back then like Star Wars and banana seat bicycles and for a short while, I was there again. Back in time thanks to not only Frank and Punky and Mangus but also Tora Tora, Ron Keel and a room full of fans many also time traveling. One even blurted out “I waited 40 years for this” and you could tell.
Lack of a hair line and the addition of a larger waistline didn’t keep this dude from reliving what made him love the music in the first place. Heck, some of the biggest time travelers of the night were on stage. That night, rockers like Mangus and guitarist Danny Farrow along with a bunch of us in the audience time traveled and in my opinion, it’s something everyone who grows up and gets jaded by life should do occasionally if for nothing else but to keep from jumping off of a cliff. Rock and roll is more than just noise, it’s life and for many that fades too quickly leaving songs as a weight more than wings. It wasn’t meant to be that way. Watching Punky play as only he can fingertips away while Frank led an audience of aging Angel fans singing along to anthems from their youth was like watching something from a fantasy movie. I fear that kids today will not have that same experience in forty years when they hear their favorite songs from 2018. It’s sad to think that this generation missed out on their own version of young dudes and rock and rollers. And even sadder to imagine that there will not be a modern day Punky or Frank to unexpectedly come back to take everyone back in time on a rock and roll spaceship and make ’em feel wild and hot one more time. But anyway, before I get too far off track…
Not only was the set filled with a great bunch of songs but man, the band was fierce! Punky played like he had never left the stage and Frank, man, how that big of a voice comes out of that tiny of a man, I will never know. Neither ex-Angel member looked even close to their age, and the band surrounding them is as good as any I’ve seen. Guitarist Danny Farrow is not only obviously in hog heaven on stage with Frank and Punky, he holds his own on guitar and seemingly in keeping things in order on stage. While the band from this tour is pretty much Punky’s solo band minus vocalist Chandler Mogel, with DiMino, the band feels like a unit. This is a great band and one worth checking out and actually, all of the acts are worth checking out if you ever get the chance. Whether it be Ron Keel (with or without a backing band), any of Greg Mangus’ cover or tribute bands, Tora Tora, and of course Punky and Frank, you are sure to get an old school night of rock and roll time travel.
And sometimes rock and rollers need close encounters of the rockin’ kind…
Frank DiMino and Punky Meadows of Angel’s setlist:
01. On The Rocks
02. Can You Feel It
03. Wild And Hot
04. Rocking The City
05. Straight Shooter
06. Cast The First Stone
07. The Fortune
08. Bad Time
09. Lost And Lonely
10. Don’t Leave Me Lonely
11. Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
12. All The Young Dudes
13. Never Again
14. Any Way You Want It
15. Got Love If You Want It
16. Feelin’ Right
17. Rock And Rollers
18. The Tower