[As of this week, I'll be on with my rock 'n' roll pal Kaedy Kiely at 97.1 The River every Wednesday at 6:50 and 7:50 a.m. to talk about the latest rock news. Tune in to see what's up!]
It’s another blandly named tour (see: Summer Music Festival) that is the antithesis of dull.
“The Tour” is Motley Crue and KISS, sharing a bill and seeing who can light up the stage with the most pyro and rattle your chest the hardest.
It’s a draw, really, between these two titans of tinnitus-causing rawk and if you’re a fan of both bands’ fist-thrusting, innuendo-filled pop-metal, then you couldn’t have left Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood disappointed Tuesday night.
The show setup has Motley Crue performing first (you think Gene Simmons will ever “open” for anyone again?) and there was something fundamentally wrong with watching the Crue perform at dusk.
This is a band that should only be heard in the dark, where their snaky rhythms and primal metal riffs thrive. Even Tommy Lee could feel something seemed flat, as he several times asked fans if they were feeling all right.
The Crue spared no expense on a wicked cool stage setup – sort of a burned out industrial warehouse decorated with metal fans, platforms for fire to settle for songs at a time and a roller coaster loop for Lee’s drum solo (more on that later) – and designed a light show that escalated in awesomeness with every song.
But considering this was only the fourth night of a tour that winds through the end of September, you couldn’t help but wonder how Vince Neil’s voice will hold up for almost 40 more shows.
The scruffy blond frontman huffed to catch his breath after the second song of the set, the visceral “Wild Side.” Then his voice shrieked painfully during “Shout at the Devil” and he half-yelped, half-spoke the words to “Dr. Feelgood,” a distraction that yanked away the enjoyment of the song’s sinewy groove.
Musically, though, the band sounded tight, especially the hulking rhythm section of Lee and bassist Nikki Sixx. Even Mick Mars, the scary-cartoon Crypt Keeper perched on spindly legs, ripped through solos with more velocity than he has in years, most noticeably on the punky rush of “Livewire” and the set-closing “Kickstart My Heart.”
The star of the show, though, as is often the case with Crue, was Lee. The toothpick-thin drummer – one of the most underrated in rock – trotted to the front of the stage to first spray the crowd with a bottle of champagne and then slide behind a mirrored grand piano for the inevitable “Home Sweet Home.”
Lee dedicated the song to his recently deceased mother, Mars added some mournful guitar to the opening melody and most of the 12,000-plus people in the amphitheater were whisked back to 1985, when the power ballad was MTV’s most requested video ever and we all wished we could have that pink scarf Neil sported in it.
Motley Crue is one of the rare bands where the drum solo is anticipated and Lee’s creativity and flair get high marks. After getting strapped in – as he always seems to be for his solos – Lee performed an array of drum patterns, many incorporating his affection for electronica, while his drum riser slowly spun around and upside down on the roller coaster track. He repeated the trick, playing along to “Love Rollercoaster,” with a fan on board.
It might be gimmicky, but no more so than singing about “Girls, Girls, Girls” (the Atlanta shoutout given special emphasis by Neil) or, for that matter, the entire career of KISS.
Tuesday’s crowd was stocked with members of the KISS Army, and for nearly 90 minutes, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer gave their best because the crowd wanted the best. Right?
KISS’ setup was the opposite of Motley Crue’s, all open spaces with stacks of amplifiers, some lighted stairs and the HD screen behind Singer’s raised drum kit offering frequent close-ups of the band.
And from the opening “Detroit Rock City” to the platform-boot-stomp of “Shout it Out Loud” and “I Love it Loud,” flash pots exploded with every cymbal crash and punctuated every song ending, sending fans into a devil horn-throwing frenzy.
Stanley, who looked as if he was wearing the remains of a black ostrich around his shoulders, and Simmons, who had a noticeable new accessory to his bat wings and frizzy topknot – a wedding band – appeared gleeful as they dug into their familiar bag of razzle-dazzle tricks.
Simmons grabbed his flaming sword and turned it into a whooshing fireball with one spit of accelerant during “Firehouse” and later dribbled blood during his bass solo/ “God of Thunder” routine – which of course never gets old if you love the band’s brand of theater rock.
KISS has always been more about entertainment than musicality – and relax, KISS fans, there’s nothing wrong with that – and at Tuesday’s show, Stanley was determined to either woo the crowd or talk them to death in his Edith Bunker honk.
“It’s good to be back in a city that knows how to rock.” “I remember when we played on Peachtree, in a place called the Electric Ballroom.” “I want to come out and see y’all in the back…I want to hear my name from here to Augusta.” “We have a new album coming out in October, called ‘Monster.’”
Being interactive with the crowd is commendable, but his constant chatter got a bit tiresome after about the sixth song.
Stanely did, in fact, go to see the people in the back, ziplining to a rotating makeshift stage for “Love Gun.” He also engaged in his patented sideways wiggle as Thayer and Singer handled the heavy lifting on “Shock Me” and ended the song with a lengthy whiz-bam jam.
At the turn of the century, KISS embarked on what they dubbed a “farewell” tour. Obviously, they changed their minds. And why not? As long as there are venues full of fans eager to fist-pump along to “Lick it Up” and “Rock and Roll All Nite” and the band looks and sounds this sharp, they might as well follow the money.