Saturday, December 12, 2009

Concert #108

Kiss/The Dead Girls (Thursday, December 10, 2009--Sprint Center) Ticket price: $27.50

“Kiss The Dead Girls?”  Ewwww…

Thirty years, two months and ten days after I attended my first Kiss concert (on the Dynasty tour), I attended my 16th Kiss concert on Thursday night at the Sprint Center, a mere four blocks east on 13th Street from where I saw the band that first time at Municipal Auditorium.  I’ve had more than one friend question my motives for seeing the band so many times (you know who you are, Tom, John and Dr. S!), and my response would be to quote Lynyrd Skynyrd:  “I’ve tried everything in my life—the things I like, I try ‘em twice!”  More succinctly, in one of his more lucid commentaries, K.C. Star music critic Timothy Finn noted in his review of this concert:

“About 10,000 fans came to the Sprint Center on Thursday night for Kiss Alive 35, the latest name for the band's never-ending tour.  It's safe to say that more than half the fans in the place had seen the band at least once; some of us were seeing Kiss for the fourth time in 10 years or so.  But at some point repetition becomes something more rewarding, like ritual or tradition; that's why some of us still watch A Christmas Story three times a year, every year.  Likewise, a Kiss concert is all about knowing exactly what you're going to get and enjoying it anyway.”

And when you factor in the strife I experienced the previous night when some douche-bag broke into my car during my ever-so-brief library stop and stole my tote bag that contained my checkbook, along with a project I’d been working on and numerous personal items that were totally worthless to everyone but myself, a Kiss concert really hit the spot.  After 24 hours of stressing out and feeling pissed-off, there was nothing like a Kiss show to “get me back on my feet again,” as “Cold Gin” goes.  This was also my first big indoor arena concert in quite a while—the previous ten concerts I had attended were either outdoors or in small venues—and it was refreshing to see that "Arena Love" (a phrase coined by music critic Robert Duncan) was alive and well and living at the Sprint Center!

Even though you pretty much know what to expect at a Kiss gig, you have to give the band credit for adding some new twists and keeping the show fresh.  This time ‘round, they employed a much more open stage and jettisoned the superfluous staircases that once flanked the drums.  A huge video screen stretched nearly the entire width of the stage, and numerous other video squares featuring other visual effects dotted the rest of the set.  With the main video screen being so huge, it displaced the trademark light-up Kiss logos on-high, which they reduced to a larger single logo relocated to stage level below Eric Singer’s drums, which created a rather neat background effect on the video screen whenever the guys stood in front of it at center stage.  In addition to elevating up and down, Singer’s drum riser also rotated 360ยบ during his solo, as did the mini-stage Paul Stanley “flies” out to during “Love Gun”.  They also added a dash of color to the pyro, with the rising flames behind the stage tinged in red, green and orange, in addition to the natural yellow/gold hues.  The costumes are all-new this time as well, with each one being a bit of an amalgam of all the previous stage outfits worn by the original four Kiss members over the years, and in a bit of a throwback, Paul Stanley switched back to his Flying V guitars from the early days in place of his shattered-mirror models of recent years.

The set list was heavily-weighted toward the early days as well, and only included two ‘80s songs (“I Love It Loud” and “Lick It Up”) and two from the new album Sonic Boom, “Modern Day Delilah” and “Say Yeah”—the two I liked the least, naturally, although “Say Yeah” sounded better live than on the CD, mostly because it was punctuated with lots of boom-booms.  Everything else they played was of ’70s vintage, as they kicked things off with the opening combo from Alive!, “Deuce” and “Strutter”.  To my delight, the Hotter Than Hell album got a pretty fair shake this go-round, including three of my all-time Kiss faves, “Let Me Go, Rock ’N’ Roll”, “Parasite”, and (for the first time in the 16 Kiss shows I’ve attended) the title track.  In a minor surprise, Gene and Paul turned the microphone over to guitarist Tommy Thayer on Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me”—nice to see they haven’t blown Ace off altogether.  Of course, there was no hope in hell they’d honor Peter Criss by doing “Beth”, but that’s another can of worms.  In another slight format change, the set ended kinda early with “Black Diamond” and “Rock And Roll All Nite”, the latter of which included a white confetti storm that made the stage eerily resemble my back yard at the moment.  An extended encore ensued that featured "Shout It Out Loud", "Lick It Up" (which lurched briefly into the middle section of The Who's “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), “Love Gun” and “Detroit Rock City”, which makes almost as dandy a concert closer as it does an opener.

Paul Stanley’s between-song patter can be alternately predictable and extremely entertaining.  While I could’ve done without his routine half-singing/half-speaking plea to not drink and drive prior to "Cold Gin" and his plug urging those who hadn't already done so to buy Sonic Boom at Walmart ("Hell, I'm not proud", he proclaimed), I loved his prescient commentary about politically-motivated Rock musicians:  “If you came here tonight to hear some Rock band tell you how to save the world from Global Warming, two things—You're out of your damn mind and you came to the wrong place!  They're just a Rock band, anyway...”  So there—take that Sting, Bono, Don Henley, et al.  Paul accurately pointed out that there’s nothing wrong with trying to save the world, but we ain’t gonna accomplish it all in one night anyway, thus he brightly suggested, “Let‘s take tonight off…”  I don't attend concerts to hear political folderol anyway—I want to be Rocked!

This was also my first Sprint Center concert, and in a touch of irony, I took in the show from the arena’s uppermost back row, just as my friend Tom and I did at our first Kiss concert in 1979 at Municipal—although then it wasn't by choice.  My assigned seat this time was in the second row of the upper deck, toward the back of the arena, but I decided to stake out my own space in a sparsely-filled section near the edge of stage right (Gene Simmons’ side) in the back row, and it was quite a view, in spite of the severe angle.  No sooner had I sat down, then did this elderly four-foot-nothing usher woman come up to me and try to check my ticket.  I shit you not, this gal stood eye-level with my chest—yeah, I can just see her trying to break up a brawl in the stands!  Anyway, when she saw I was downgrading my seat location, she left me alone.  Up until now, I had not heard a lot of good things about our fancy new arena’s acoustics, but I thought the sound was outstanding throughout this show.  I understood every word Paul Stanley spoke between songs, and the guitars sounded crisp and clear.  The bass could’ve been a bit louder and the overall volume could’ve been bumped up a skosh, but I was quite pleased with the audio in the building—a major upgrade over Kemper Arena.  I never thought I'd say this, but I did miss one aspect of the Kemper Corral—the parking!  It took me forever and a day to escape the bowels of the Power & Light District parking garage I paid ten bucks to park my car in, whereas the gravel Kemper lots were usually a snap to get out of.  Oh well, at least no one stole anything out of my vehicle here...

Opening the night's festivities were a local band called the Dead Girls, who won some radio station contest to open the show in place of the originally-slated Chuck Berry—er uh—Buckcherry.  While neither deceased nor female, the Dead Girls weren’t terribly impressive—just another bland slacker group.  In the classic penthouse-to-outhouse scenario, they followed this triumphant gig the next night at a hole-in-the-wall toilet of a place called the Brick.

When I last did a Kiss concert in Ames, Iowa in 2000 on the “Farewell” Tour, I truly thought it was indeed my final Kiss show.  As the '00s progressed, I bristled at the fact that Frehley and Criss were no longer with the band, and I refused to attend subsequent K.C. Kiss concerts because they seemed more like a Kiss tribute band than the real deal.  But as with Michael Corleone, just when I thought I was out, Kiss pulled me back in!  In retrospect, maybe it’s just as well Ace and Peter did leave—neither of their hearts have been in this thing for a long time anyway.  Meanwhile, it’s amazing that at their advance ages, Simmons (60) and Stanley (who turns 58 next month) can still perform at such a high level, and Kiss is a much tighter unit on-stage with the more youthful Thayer and Singer rejuvenating the band in place of Frehley and Criss.  Even after 30 years and 16 concerts, this never gets old!  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Kiss show #17 is in the offing somewhere down the road…

SET LIST:  Deuce/Strutter/Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll/Hotter Than Hell/Shock Me/Calling Dr. Love/Modern Day Delilah/Cold Gin/Parasite/Say Yeah/100,000 Years/I Love It Loud/Black Diamond/Rock And Roll All Nite  ENCORE:  Shout It Out Loud/Lick It Up/Love Gun/Detroit Rock City

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Life In The Kiss Cult, Part C, Section 4

Before I finish the countdown, a little housecleaning first:

—A belated Happy Blogiversary to me, as Da Comet turned three on Sunday.  Hope it’s been as fun for you to read as it’s been for me to write.  Muchos gracias to all my faithful followers and readers.  Unlike other bloggers, I have no intention of cutting back on this activity or dropping it altogether—it’ll take a lot more than Facebook to kill this blog!

—I forgot to mention in the Revenge review in Section 3 that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley decided to let bygones be bygones and throw Vinnie Vincent a bone or two (since his solo career didn’t pan out quite so well) by collaborating on a few tunes for the album, including “Unholy” and “I Just Wanna”.  Alas, being the megalomaniac that young Vincenzo is, he took the words to “War Machine” to heart (“Gonna bite the hand that feeds me”)and sued the other two again for this, that and the other.  Ol’ Ankh Head is a VERY talented songwriter, but he’s stepped on his own dick (while wearing spiked golf shoes) more than anyone in Rock history this side of maybe Axl Rose.

Creatures Of The Night was noteworthy for being the first Kiss album to include printed lyrics to all the songs contained within.  Destroyer did indeed have the lyrics to “Detroit Rock City” in it, but I guess they figured we were on own for deciphering the rest of the album’s words.  Now I remember why I bought all the Kiss sheet music books back in the day (never mind that I can’t read sheet music to save my soul)—they had all the lyrics in them!  COTN was also the final Kiss album released under the Casablanca imprint, as the once-mighty Casablanca Record & Filmworks empire was on its last legs by 1982, and put to bed for good with the untimely passing of founder and president Neil Bogart, who sadly died of cancer that year.  Here’s lookin’ at you, Neil…

—Here’s a little countdown within a countdown:

10) Kiss
9) Hot In The Shade
8) Alive!
7) All four solo albums
6) Dressed To Kill
5) Hotter Than Hell

4) Creatures Of The Night (original cool make-up cover)
3) Love Gun
2) Rock And Roll Over
1) Destroyer

5) Creatures Of The Night (unnecessary bogus non-make-up cover w/Bruce Kulick on it)
4) Animalize
3) Revenge
2) Asylum
1) Dynasty

Alright, enough B.S.—I now give you the Final Four:

4) Rock And Roll Over (1976)  A review I read at the time (in Creem I want to say) said something to the effect of “This album can cut it without the make-up, which is something I’m sure they’re just itching to try!”  That’s a pretty accurate statement, too, as RARO was one of the most consistent and hardest-rocking Kiss albums ever.  With producer Eddie Kramer back at the helm, Kiss hired out the Nanuet Star Theater in downstate New York—a theater-in-the-round type place—instead of a proper recording studio in an effort to re-create their live sound without a live audience, and it worked, for the most part.  If only those first three albums had been recorded in this manner, but that’s another story.  All ten tracks are quite good here, although for whatever reason, none of them were penned by one Paul Daniel Frehley* for the second straight album.  No matter, this one cooks from start-to-finish.  Rock was Paul Stanley’s finest hour, to date, with his classic “I Want You” kicking off the proceedings.  Track two, the vastly underrated “Take Me”, was even better, as was the album’s closer, “Makin’ Love”.  Only problem is those songs never came off well live because of the high backing vocals on “Take Me” and the echo effect on “Makin’ Love”, so in a way, Kiss got a little too cute here, but we’ll take it anyway.  G. Simmons brought another strong batch of tunes with him this time, especially “Ladies Room”, “See You In Your Dreams” and the hit single, “Calling Dr. Love”, which remains firmly ensconced in the Kiss live set to this day.  And for the first time since Hotter Than Hell, Peter Criss gets two lead vocals on a Kiss record, having earned his stripes, so to speak, with the unprecedented success of “Beth” earlier in the year.  Pete does his best Rod Stewart impression on Stanley’s “Hard Luck Woman” and his best Joe Tex impression on his own composition “Baby Driver”.  “Mr. Speed” and “Love ‘Em And Leave ‘Em” didn’t suck, either.  Rock And Roll Over was a very solid effort that came along while Kiss was still on the upswing at the end of the Bicentennial, and it’s a classic.  Second-coolest album cover in Kisstory, too—I recall many’s the hour I spent in Junior High tracing that cover in pencil, then coloring it in and affixing it to my various school books.

*=I’ve also seen Ace’s middle name listed as David in some sources, but haven’t confirmed which one is correct yet.

3) Ace Frehley (1978)  This album would’ve done Gomer Pyle proud:  “Surprahz! Surprahz! Surprahz!”  Seemingly everyone—including his own bandmates—were convinced that Brother Frehley’s solo album would be a pile of steaming yak excrement, but boy, did Planet Jendell’s favorite son prove them wrong!  Unquestionably the best of the four solo albums—this dude had been holding out on us all that time leading up to it, because we finally got to see what the Space Ace was capable of when properly motivated and/or allowed free reign.  Great songs, sizzling solos, crunchy riffs and even some fairly decent vocals (Ace’s weakest link) all added up to an excellent record.  Lots of good stuff to chew on here, like “Rip It Out”, “Speedin’ Back To My Baby”, “Ozone” and “What’s On Your Mind?”.  Ace picks up where he left off in “Cold Gin” about his preoccupation with getting fucked-up on tunes like “Wiped-Out” and “Snow Blind” (not to be confused with the Styx song of the same name) and closes the album with “Fractured Mirror”, the first of a series of “Fractured” instrumentals featured on his future solo efforts.  Ironically, what was probably the weakest track on the ’78 album, Ace’s remake of Russ Ballard’s “New York Groove”, wound up charting the highest of all singles from the solo albums (reaching #14 in Billboard).  So much for all of Gene’s delusions of grandeur in having all those hit singles, hmmm?  Gold Star for Mr. Frehley this time.  Pity he hasn’t come close to equaling this album since…

2) Destroyer (1976)  It’s amazing to think back now how Kiss’ supreme recorded achievement (in the studio) faced a very severe backlash upon its release in the spring of ’76 from both critics and fans alike.  I loved it from the get-go, but many fans were initially repulsed by the slick sound and special effects found on Destroyer, not to mention not one, but TWO ballads!  And then there was the scathing review by critic Robert Duncan in Circus magazine, where he pretty much ripped the album to shreds, then suffered some backlash himself from those Kiss fans who'd seen the light and realized what a gem of an album we had on our hands.  Duncan later praised the band no-end in the biography book he penned and reaped profits from about a year later—douche-bag!  In case you haven't noticed, I loathe music critics in general, but I digress.  Producer Bob Ezrin certainly took this band by the balls and showed them how to really make a record, to the point of alienating Ace Frehley (already an alien anyway).  I have to admit that even I recoiled a bit when I first heard “Beth”, but that one didn’t throw me half as much as hearing my new idol at the time, the great Demon himself, singing a wimpy ballad like “Great Expectations”, which made me do the Tim Allen caveman “HUH?!?” thing upon first listen.  I warmed up to “GE” over the years, and it was a mere blip on the radar in comparison to the rest of the album, which was absolutely stellar.  “Detroit Rock City” is far and away my favorite lead-off track on ANY album, and my favorite Kiss song, period.  I just love the way it shoots out of the gate and keeps you glued to your seat throughout even though the lyric invites its listeners to leave their seats.  "DRC" also includes one of my all-time favorite guitar solos.  I always assumed it was Gene Simmons doing his Kent Brockman/Tom Tucker impersonation delivering the evening news in the bit leading up to the intro, but I later read that it was Mr. Ezrin doing the honors.  A bitchin’ car crash ensues at the end and Ace’s long sustained note leads right into the sequel, “King Of The Nighttime World”, another classic.  Most people (me included) assumed that Gene Simmons wrote “God of Thunder”, being’s how he sang it and how it makes him sound all high and mighty, but Mr. Stanley Harvey Eisen authored this one, and was kinda peeved at first when Ezrin gave it to Simmons, but the Starchild realized eventually that it was the right move.  Paul sounded so much better anyway on Side 2’s opening track, the majestic-sounding “Flaming Youth”, which is an underrated Kiss classic, even though it has a calliope in it.  Gene’s “Sweet Pain”—also quite underrated—is another fave of mine, as he sounds eerily close to Cheech & Chong’s Alice Bowie character in places.  And then comes my #3 favorite Kiss song of all-time (“Deuce” is—fittingly—#2), “Shout It Out Loud”.  Featuring some Spector-esque Wall of Sound sound, "SIOL" is 2:45 of pure bliss, complete with excellent call-and-response vocals (a technique I really like), and I’ve always thought “Shout” was a far superior anthem to “Rock And Roll All Nite”.  Stanley closes this qualified masterpiece with “Do You Love Me?”, a song that gets better and better as the years go on.  What I’ve never understood is why Ezrin chose to lop off the nifty coda to the song that you hear in live concert versions of "DYLM" in favor of that lame coda loop of Paul exclaiming “…looks like we got ourselves a Rock ‘N’ Roll party!” ad nauseam.  Still, there’s no question that this was Kiss’ finest hour in the studio—I’d put Destroyer up against Zeppelin's or Aerosmith's best any day!

1) Alive! (1975)  Well, what other album were you expecting to land here?  I spent practically the entire summer of ’76 listening to this behemoth front and back.  Since I’ve already praised it profusely on this blog, I hereby direct you to my Best Live Albums post from earlier this year—Alive! finished # 1 there too.  Yes, I know it’s not all live, but it ain’t like Kiss is the only band who’s doctored up their live records—Cheap Trick, W.A.S.P., et al, atten-SHUN!  No one seems to have a problem when a woman wears hair extensions and has breast implants and a facelift—none of that stops you from looking at her, right?—therefore, even though I know Alive! has been tweaked here and there, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying it today.  It’s one of my top three albums of all-time, period, along with Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and The Who’s Who’s Next.

Coming soon to a blog near you: My all-time favorite Who album countdown—even though I think I just gave away what #1 is!