Monsters of Mock: Three tribute bands stir up a Jannus Landing crowd

“We’re far too old to be having this much fun, but we’re very grateful for it,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “I want people to come out there and say ‘You know what? I’ve had a really good night. What a great band.’”

The fans in St. Petersburg wanted a steady stream of non-stop hits, and that’s what they heard. In fact, it’s pretty much all they heard: The only original music performed that night was by openers Hangman Jury, who weren’t born when most of the evening’s tunes were written. The 15-year-olds played an energetic set that was well-received by the sparse gathering of early concertgoers.

But eventually the crowd arrived and it was time for the tribute acts. Jamie Gilroy isn’t really Ozzy Osbourne, but he certainly resembles the man — or at least Osbourne’s late-'80s persona. Taking the stage with a crazed look and a generous amount of mascara, Gilroy clapped his hands, encouraged the audience and belted out a set of the British singer’s best-known solo work, including “No More Tears” and “Crazy Train.”

He even threw in an impromptu version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” that had the band scrambling before eventually tearing through the song to great applause. It turned out to be a satisfying experience for both crowd and performer.

“I love it. The people are fuckiing great,” said Gilroy, who pays frequent tribute to Osbourne’s trademark swearing as well. Off stage, the native New Yorker explained that the acts managed under Maximum Bands Entertainment, which handles a number of tribute acts, are good friends and support each other.

That support was evident during Carnival of Crue’s set, which was filled with staples like “Home Sweet Home” and “Looks That Kill” performed by musicians that genuinely resembled guitarist Mick Mars, bassist Nikki Sixx and singer Vince Neil. Gilroy and Jenkins were front and center, cheering the band with the rest of the fans. “We’re like a family,” Gilroy explained.

Sometimes the performers are family — literally. During Highway to Hell’s set, the drummer surrendered his sticks so Jenkins’ 9-year-old son could sit behind the kit for a song. The youngster kept perfect time while anchoring the band through the tune and received a rousing ovation after his performance.

But the family jam didn’t slow down the head-banging, and the crowd sang along with Highway to Hell as they played many of AC/DC’s classics — “Thunderstruck,” “Shoot to Thrill,” and “Hell’s Bells” among them.

The real AC/DC brings a mammoth stage show, giant screens and a long catwalk when they come to town. Highway to Hell, on the other hand, brings a large banner, energy and a fan’s perspective that Jenkins said is a key to the tribute band’s success.

“You’ve got five guys in this band who are rabid AC/DC fans, so our attention to detail is there — from wearing the right clothes to hitting the right vocals and all the backing vocals. All our instruments are the same as AC/DC’s,” he explained.

And the audiences are responding. Tribute bands are in demand, and Highway to Hell rarely performs at bars, opting instead for festivals and special events (like Gasparilla) with thousands in attendance. Several acts in the Maximum Bands stable are also slated for dates at the Largo Cultural Center this August.

Gilroy said that while the fans know what (and who) they’re coming to see, they lose any hint of cynicism when the opening notes are played and they start cheering to their favorite classics. “They forget that it’s a tribute band,” he said.

The crowd cheers as a tattooed man with shaggy hair and a British accent belts out Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tunes. An hour later, a blonde singer tears through a set of Motley Crue classics while his bandmates pound their instruments into submission. An hour after that, a grown man in a schoolboy outfit duck-walks across the stage and his cohort growls from under his cap while AC/DC riffs blast through the speakers.

Is this a dream team concert lineup of rock 'n' roll legends? Not quite, but the crowd is enthusiastic and it sounds pretty close to the real thing. In fact, the only part that’s completely unrealistic is the price, since admission to see all the bands ($10) cost less than parking at major rock concerts.

On June 30, three tribute acts performed at Jannus Landing at the Monsters of Mock show while fans sang along to the familiar sights and sounds. It’s not the real thing, but according to Martyn Jenkins, frontman for AC/DC tribute act Highway to Hell (and the evening’s headliners), the next best thing is pretty satisfying in its own right

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