Friday, March 7, 2008

Concert Trek--Episode 8

Through the past darkly...on we go!

36) Elton John (Thursday, September 20, 1984—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $15.00

After Elton’s spectacular show two years before at Starlight, I was naturally pretty stoked about seeing Captain Fantastic in concert again, and while this show wasn’t quite as good as ’82, it was still pretty good stuff.  Once again, Elton toured with what I think is quite possibly the greatest backing band any musician ever hadguitarist Davey Johnstone, the late Dee Murray on bass and drummer Nigel Olssonalong with second guitarist Fred Mandel.  Why Elton ever broke that band up is total mystery to me.  This concert also marked the debut of my own little personal innovation at concerts—a handy notepad for to keep track of set lists on!

With no opening act, EJ played a longer set than in ’82, and there were quite a few changes to his set list on this tour, right from the opening numbers "Tiny Dancer" and "Levon", as well as adding "Philadelphia Freedom", "Candle In The Wind" and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me".  He also leaned rather heavily (too heavily for me, actually) on tracks from 1983’s Too Low For Zero, even more so than his new album Breaking Hearts.  Apart from thumpers like "I’m Still Standing" and "Li’l ‘Frigerator", Elton was getting a bit complacent and falling into a comfortable rut, as all his albums started sounding the same with fluff like "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" and "I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Flu—er uh—Blues", a trend that plagued him throughout the rest of the ‘80s.  There was one song from Breaking Hearts I was hoping he would perform called "In Neon", but he sadly omitted it, and "Rocket Man" was much shorter and not nearly as sonically trippy as the way they played it at Starlight, but overall it was still a great show.  To get a good taste of it, there are several clips from Elton's Wembley Stadium concert from that same tour included on the recent Elton At 60 DVD.  Here be a little taste of that show.  Hercules!  Hercules!  Hercules!

THE SET LIST:  Tiny Dancer/Levon/L'il Frigerator/Rocket Man/Daniel/ Restless/Candle In The Wind/Bitch Is Back/Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Who Wears These Shoes?/Sad Songs (Say So Much)/Bennie & The Jets/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word/Philadelphia Freedom/Blue Eyes/I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues/Kiss The Bride/Too Low For Zero/I'm Still Standing  ENCORES:  Your Song/Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road/Crocodile Rock/Medley: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On/I Saw Her Standing There/Twist And Shout

37) Iron Maiden/Twisted Sister (Monday, December 17, 1984—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: Free

I had no idea I would even be attending this concert until about two hours beforehand, when my friend Tom called to inform me that he’d somehow snagged some free tickets for it.  I was rather torn about attending at first because I had a final exam the next day, plus missing "Monday Night Football" on TV was sacrilege to me back then.  Also, I wasn’t terribly familiar with Iron Maiden’s material at that time, other than "Run To The Hills", thus I was suddenly put into the following quandary:  "Whadda you wanna DO with your night?!?"  But, since I really liked Twisted Sister, and since you can never beat free tickets, I said "I Wanna Rock!", and we attended.  Turned out to be a pretty good move, too.

In spite of being the opening act, Twisted Sister’s stage set was pretty much like what you saw in their video for "We're Not Gonna Take It" with the chain-link fence, etc.  The way they played, you’d have thought they were the headliners too, as Dee Snider and the boys were well-received by the relatively small crowd—about 6,000 as I recall.  Their set was great, but I did have issues near the end when Snider was trying to get the crowd all worked-up and make noise, etc., and he pointed out some guy in the crowd standing with his arms folded and Snider began berating him for being a wimp and not getting into the show.  I think it’s very uncool when performers try to bully their audience like that.  I myself was usually pretty passive and stoic during concerts, and preferred to just kick back and soak the whole show in, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t truly into it.  Sorry, Dee, but I’ll enjoy the show in my own way—I don’t need to be told what to do!  In spite of all that, I do like Dee Snider a lot, and TS played a damn good set that night.  Too bad that band didn’t have a longer shelf-life…

When Iron Maiden’s stage set was revealed, I was already impressed with them before they even played a note.  Their stage was an Egyptian-themed motif to match the cover of their new Powerslave album, and it seemed even more massive than a Kiss stage set.  And even though I was unfamiliar with most of the songs they played, I was impressed with their musicianship, especially bassist Steve Harris, who might well be the fastest bass player in the world.  Singer/screamer Bruce Dickinson was pretty good too, and I remember the standout songs that night were "2 Minutes 2 Midnight" off the new album, as well as "The Number Of The Beast" and the encore "Run To The Hills".  And then of course, there was IM’s ever-present 20-foot-high mascot Eddie, who dropped in during the middle of the act for a visit.  I was impressed enough that I picked up Powerslave shortly afterwards, and while to this day I have trouble getting into some of Iron Maiden’s mythical and/or gothic subject matter in their songs, I do like the testosterony-ness of their music.  Not a bad concert for free, either!

38) Kiss/Queensryche (Wednesday, December 26, 1984—Municipal Auditorium) Ticket price: $12.50

When Tom and I first saw Kiss in 1979, we had back row tickets at Municipal Auditorium.  The second time we saw them in ’83, we upgraded to the loge section about halfway between those back row seats and the stage.  For our third sojourn with The Hottest Band In The World, we upgraded all the way to the second fucking row at stage left—for a whopping $12.50 a ticket, no less!  Hell, $12.50 won’t even cover the damn convenience fee for second-row Kiss tickets today.  I was stunned to snag such phenomenal tickets after only waiting in line for about three hours at the old Love Records store in Midtown K.C. (remember them, friends?).  As we came to find out later, though, second-row seats aren’t necessarily what they’re cracked up to be because between sets during the inevitable rushing of the stage by the people behind us, our chairs got so scrambled around that I wound up standing parts of three different ones and sharing them with other people the rest of the night.  My ankles were killing me the next day, too.  By the way, is it just me, or does Paul Stanley look as if he's about to puke his guts out in the above photo?!?

In addition to Tom, for this concert I also had a new co-pilot, my first-ever girlfriend, Lisa #1 (there was a Lisa #2 a few years later, hence the distinction), to whom I had just lost my virginity two nights earlier on Christmas Eve.  We’d been seeing each other about three months, and being the good boyfriend that I was, I invited her to the concert even though she was more of a Country music fan, and didn’t know squat about Kiss.  If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have brought Lisa along, because she didn’t have a very good time, which I couldn’t really fault her for—second row at a Kiss concert with Gene Simmons and his tongue hovering over her was probably not the best way to break in a Rock concert rookie!  It also didn’t help that because of the stage-rushing chair scramblefest, she wound up about arm’s length from me and we never could get that close to each other until the show ended.  Truth to tell, Lisa and I didn’t have much of a relationship anyway, one that can be succinctly summed up by a classic Bob Seger lyric:  "I used her, she used me—but neither one cared."  Not real proud of that, but at least I'm being honest.  And I digress…

As for the show itself, it weren’t too shabby.  This was Kiss’ Animalize tour, but since they didn’t play here on the truncated Lick It Up tour with the dearly-departed Vinnie Vincent the year before, there was plenty of new stuff for them to play.  As was the case on the Creatures Of The Night tour, we got acquainted with yet another new lead guitar player for Kiss, and it wasn’t even the one we were expecting.  The late Mark St. John, who replaced Vincent for the Animalize LP, was unable to perform because of an arthritic condition called Reiter’s Syndrome, so Bruce Kulick was brought in to temporarily fill in for him. St. John’s condition never improved, and young master Kulick took over permanently.  While not very animated on stage, Bruce was/is a damn good guitar player, and he served this band well for the next 11 years.  Meantime, Eric Carr was really hitting his stride as a drummer by this point in his career, and his solo was even longer and more powerful than the last time, with his drum riser even going mobile toward the front edge of the stage.  Gene and Paul even threw "Little Caesar" a couple bones by letting him sing lead vocals on both "Young And Wasted" and "Black Diamond".

Oh yeah, there was this other new wrinkle, too—this was the first time we saw Kiss in concert without make-up, and while the look was definitely different, the show was still pure Kiss, and they were just as good without the white stuff as they ever were with it.  Minus the platform boots, the guys were much freer to romp around the stage, plus it was plenty loud, there was still plenty of pyro, and seeing them up close was a special thrill, in spite of being twisted like a pretzel while standing on the seats.  You could literally "feel my heat" during the chorus of "Heaven’s On Fire" when the flashpots lit up—it felt like my eyebrows had been singed!  We were even close enough that I could see the seam on the side of Gene’s leather pants was about to bust open at mid-thigh.  This was also the tour that Gene wore that blatantly-obvious wig (see "Young And Wasted" video) to conceal the haircut he’d gotten for his recent role in Tom Selleck’s action flick Runaway.  I never understood what he needed the wig for—it’s not like he got a crew cut or anything.  His hair wasn’t all that much shorter than it was during the Music From The Elder era three years earlier, and he didn’t have a problem performing live with that hair length.  By show’s end, Gene’s perspiration made that damn rug looked like a drowned rat! 

Speaking of show’s end, there was a rather curious occurrence before the encore as Paul Stanley thanked the crowd, when these two guys emerged onto the stage from the shadows—it was none other than Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick.  Paul whirled around and exclaimed, "Hey—it’s Cheap Trick!" and the pair came out and waved to the crowd while Gene mockingly sang, "Surrender—Surrender, but don’t give yourselves away…" then just like that, they disappeared into the night.  Don’t know what they were even doing there—Cheap Trick had no concerts in the area then that I was aware of—but damned if this wasn’t a great missed opportunity for a fun little jam session.  Just as well, I guess, I’ve read that Kiss were lousy jammers, Gene and Paul especially.  Anyway, if you want a real good taste of post-make-up live Kiss, I highly recommend the Animalize Live Uncensored video, which was taped about three weeks prior to this show.  It’s out on DVD now, and my copy even has Spanish subtitles—Viva el Beso!  It’s one of Kiss’ better live recordings, and Eric Carr’s drum solo here is phenomenal.

Queensryche opened the show with a fairly lackluster set.  This was long before they got big, and I’ve always had trouble getting in this band.  Although I liked parts of 1990’s Empire, I was pretty turned-off by all their pseudo-intellectual psychobabble—dudes, this is Heavy Metal, not Quantum Physics class!

THE SET LIST:  Detroit Rock City/Cold Gin/Creatures Of The Night/Fits Like A Glove/Heaven's On Fire/Under The Gun/War Machine/Young And Wasted/I Love It Loud/I Still Love You/Love Gun/Lick It Up/Black Diamond  ENCORE:  Rock And Roll All Nite

39) Deep Purple/Giuffria (Wednesday, February 13, 1985—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $13.50

One album that got a tad more than a few spins on my turntable during my Fall ‘84 semester at UMKC was Deep Purple’s reunion album Perfect Strangers.  This was one of those rare times when once-estranged members of a major band reunited and more or less picked up where they left off, and it was one of my favorite records of the year.  The subsequent concert tour was quite successful as well.

During the Winter ’85 semester, I had an evening class on Wednesdays, so we arrived just as the opening act Giuffria (a Gene Simmons discovery) was doing their encore, their one and only hit "Call To Your Heart", so I can’t really comment on their set.  I only recall that they had really really big hair!

Purple’s set was quite good, although not nearly as loud as their legend cracked them up to be.  The set list was about half new stuff and half old stuff, and both sets of stuff were very good.  The only one of the old songs I could’ve done without was the long and drawn-out "Child In Time", especially since singer Ian Gillan couldn’t scream it like he used to.  Beyond that, he was in great voice, and as I remember was fairly jovial with his between-song patter.  He even worked in a bit of an inside joke during one song with the line "I don’t want to drink your poison" from his role as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar several years earlier.  The new songs that really stood out were "Knockin' At Your Back Door" and "Nobody's Home", a personal DP favorite of mine.  Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had a much better night this time than he did with Rainbow at Arrowhead in ’82 (see "Concert Trek"—Episode 3), and much to my surprise, he was even willing to play "Smoke On The Water" which he’d developed a pretty healthy aversion to after playing it so many times over the years.  The other standout on this night was Jon Lord on the keyboards as he did his trademark rocking of his organ (no, not that organ!) back and forth, and his extended solo was accompanied by an animated rockin' Ludwig van Beethoven on the rear-projection screen.

I came away from this show with a pretty good impression of this band.  While it wasn’t quite Made In Japan-ish, it was a pretty good concert, anyway, and I still can’t fathom why these guys aren’t in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame.

40) Kiss/W.A.S.P. (Saturday, January 25, 1986—Municipal Auditorium) Ticket price: $14.00

After attending 39 concerts from June, 1979 to February, 1985, I’m a bit stumped as to why I went nearly an entire year without going to any.  I'm not sure if there just weren’t any good tours during that time, or if it was money or school or work or what.  One factor was quite possibly the 1985 Kansas City Royals, as I went to quite a few ballgames during that magical champeenship season, plus Tom and I took a pretty lengthy vacation in August too, which could at least partially account for the lack of concert-going on my part that year.  And of course, Animotion and A-ha never made it to town, either...d'oh!!

Anyway, it was back to the good ‘ol Aud again for yet another Kiss show.  After our slightly harrowing experience in the second row in ’84, Tom and I retreated back to the relative safety of the loge section for this one.  For the first time, we saw the same Kiss band lineup for two consecutive shows, as they toured in support of their new album, the underrated (even by the band itself) Asylum.  I was very disappointed that Kiss chose to only play two songs off the new album ("Tears Are Falling" and "Uh! All Night") when there were several good ones to choose from like "Any Way You Slice It" and "King Of The Mountain".  They also tried throwing in a cover version of The Who’s "Won’t Get Fooled Again" that came off rather flat.  The stage set was also not one of my favorites, featuring their new gargantuan light-up Kiss logo that had multi-colored lights within the framework of the letters.  [Memo to G. Simmons: Bigger isn’t necessarily better!]  The stage was also flanked by yellow staircases shaped like lightning bolts that extended out toward the audience on the sides, but the band hardly used them.  Bruce Kulick said later that he hated those stairs because he kept roughing up his knees on them.  Oh, and then there were those gawd-awful day-glo get-ups the guys wore on that tour.  Even Simmons admits total ignorance for his fashion faux-pas:  "I looked like a drag queen!"  At least his hair was real this time.  In spite of all that, it was a good show, but hardly a great one.

As I did when Motley Crue opened for Ozzy, I was very interested to see this latest outrageous opening act, W.A.S.P.  Their stage set-up was festooned with 3-D likenesses of the four band members’ heads on bloody stakes, but that’s about as outrageous as they got, as I’m sure Kiss politely asked them to water down their act for this tour.  Still, I was still fairly impressed with Blackie Lawless and the boys, who were kind of a cross between Motley Crue and Twisted Sister.  "L.O.V.E. Machine" and "Blind In Texas" were the highlights of their set, and Blackie scored a few points with the crowd (and me) when he said, "Come on, make some noise, Kansas City—you got the best fuckin’ baseball team now!"

One other aside—this was the only other concert besides Styx in ’81 that I can recall being physically ill at.  I felt okay to start with, but started coming down with something as the show wore on, and I was laid up with some kind of virus the next day during Super Bowl XX as the Bears pummeled the Patriots.  My fever finally broke the following Tuesday morning, right about the same time as the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  In other words, it was a rather eventful time...

THE SET LIST:  Detroit Rock City/Fits Like A Glove/Cold Gin/Uh! All Night/Young And Wasted/Heaven's On Fire/I Love It Loud/I Still Love You/War Machine/Love Gun/Lick It Up ENCORES:  Tears Are Falling/Won't Get Fooled Again/Rock And Roll All Nite

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