Thursday, September 9, 2010

Concert #109

Kiss/The Envy (Saturday, September 4, 2010—Minnesota State Fairgrounds Grandstand, St. Paul, MN) Ticket price: $70.00

I didn’t even know I would be attending this show before last week, since my weekend road trip to the Twin Cities was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing.  But when I was looking for something to do on a Saturday night in the Twin Cities and discovered that the Hottest Band In The World would be in town, I said “What the hey,” and snagged a ticket for my second Kiss concert in nine months and 17th in 31 years.  Yes, I admit it—I’m a Kiss junkie, but you know what?  I don’t give a monkey’s what other people think about what I do anymore, and as a certain Kiss lyric goes, “it ain’t a crime to be good to yourself.”  I like to think of it this way:  If you like BBQ ribs, you don’t just eat them once and never touch them again, right?  I know what I’m getting at a Kiss show, and I enjoy it.  And to their everlasting credit, Kiss is constantly updating their show by adding new effects and tweaking the set list, and in many ways, this was an even better show than I saw at Sprint Center here back in December, in spite of the crummy venue it was played in this time.

The Fairgrounds Grandstand is a former equestrian show/rodeo facility that was converted into a concert venue, and not a particularly good one.  While I certainly didn’t expect it to be the second coming of the Hollywood Bowl or Red Rocks, it still left a lot to be desired.  Overall, I was very unimpressed with the place—it’s poorly laid-out, the rinky-dink men’s restrooms actually had longer lines than the women’s, and the ushers were quite unhelpful.  The section my ticket was in was called the Porch, which was two rows of folding chairs that were unnumbered, so it was up to me (not the usher, evidently) to start at the end and count 13 chairs over to find my seat.  My seat had a great line of sight about eye-level with Gene Simmons at stage right—that is, when no one was walking/standing in the chasm-like walkway in front of me!  It would’ve been nice if TicketBastard had warned me this was an obstructed-view ticket I was purchasing.  I'm at about 1:00 above Gene Simmons' head near the white railing in this photo—I'm the one wearing black.  Anyway, I also began to wonder if they actually cleaned this place up before they retrofit it, because I kept getting a whiff of horsie-doody wafting in the air all night long—the place smelled like the Last Roundup!  While the Grandstand is still a cut above our abysmal Sandstone Amphitheater here, I won’t be in any big rush to do another concert there.

This show was noteworthy because it was the first time I took a camera to a Kiss concert.  Instead of being dickheads about it, Kiss doesn’t mind if you take pictures or videos, so long as you aren’t using professional-grade photo/video equipment.  They figure they can’t stop people from using their camera phones anyway, so why not cut the fans some slack?  If anything, they encourage it, based on all the fan-originated photos and videos they post on Facebook, thus, I made my first ersatz attempt at concert bootlegging.  The videos for "Cold Gin""Firehouse" and "Shout It Out Loud" that I've linked on here are mine and should give you a pretty good idea of how alternately good/shitty my seat was, too.  The remainder of the videos I'm linking below are from other fans on YouTube.  Hell, I can just about piece together the whole damn concert here!  This show was also noteworthy in that it’s the first time in ages that I drank no alcohol at a Rock show—it’s gotten too damn expensive!  Besides, I was out an extra $21 between the parking and cost of admission just to get into the Fair itself on top of the $70 bucks (plus “convenience” fee) I paid for the ticket, so I was into this show for over $100 already.  And you know what?  In spite of the good/bad view and inconveniences, I still managed to enjoy the show without drinking.  Sobriety—what a concept!

The band made their entrance on the new gizmo they added since last time I saw them, a moving platform that rises from behind the stage up and over drummer Eric Singer, delivering Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer safely to center stage during the intro to “Modern Day Delilah”.  In spite of the sucky-ness of the venue, the sound was phenomenal—easily the best-sounding Kiss concert I’ve ever attended.  The mix had just the right amount of bass and treble, everyone’s instruments and mics sounded crystal clear, although it could’ve stood to be just a skosh louder.  This was the third Kiss gig in three nights, as they played Milwaukee and Chicago before St. Paul, thus no doubt contributing to the raspiness in Stanley’s voice.  It seems only fitting that we were in a former horse venue, because Paul sounded very hoarse early on, especially while talking between songs.  I kept waiting for the Starchild to make some remark about the town being named after him, but he never did.

To my surprise, they added one more cut to the set list from the Sonic Boom CD, “I’m An Animal” but for some reason, they keep avoiding the really standout tunes from that album like “Hot And Cold”, “Never Enough”, “Stand” and “All For The Glory”.  The usual suspects were there, of course, like “Cold Gin”, “Firehouse” , “Love Gun”, "Deuce" , “I Love It Loud”, “Calling Dr. Love”, "Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll" and “100,000 Years” .  Another surprise addition was “Crazy Crazy Nights”, one of Kiss’ weaker hits from the ‘80s, IMHO, and they probably should’ve left it there.  The backing vocals during the choruses sounded awful as Gene, Eric and Tommy each sang in a different key and Paul struggled to hit his own high parts.  Young master Thayer seems to have gained some confidence in his singing since last time I saw Kiss, and he belted out Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me” with more oomph this time, almost as if he was channeling the Spaceman.  Thayer and young master Singer also did a nifty trade-off guitar and drum solo bit that was actually more entertaining than if they had performed separate solos.  Singer’s drum platform didn’t rotate around like last time, but did rise up and down several times throughout the show.

Stanley did his usual "flying" bit during "I Was Made For Lovin' You" out to the small rotating stage in the crowd that was only 20 yards or so to my right.  He also threw in the first verse of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” during the intro to “Black Diamond”.  There was a time when Kiss would play the exact same set list night after night during the Reunion and “Farewell” Tours when Frehley and Peter Criss were in the band, but this was a vastly different set list than the show I saw in December at Sprint Center.  Now I’m beginning to see Ace and Peter’s limitations as musicians, because Thayer and Singer are much more flexible and able to adapt to different material more easily, whereas Ace and Peter could only get through the same 18 songs every night, especially Peter.  When Kiss toured Japan in ’01 with Singer replacing Criss, it’s no small coincidence that they tried out some songs they hadn’t played in years like “Take Me” and “Mr. Speed”.

Kiss also flip-flopped the batting order a bit this time, with “Detroit Rock City” closing the show and “Rock And Roll All Nite” returning to its customary “clean-up” spot, so to speak, at the end of the encores where it belongs.  As with last time, the band played an extended six-song encore that included “Shout It Out Loud”, which also fits in much better toward the end than early on like they’ve done in recent years.  Before the encore, the band honored some local armed forces personnel and Paul even led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance before presenting a check to the military men for almost $350,000 for the charity Kiss sponsors called Wounded Warriors Care Fund, which goes toward helping wounded servicemen and women.  Right afterwards, someone down front threw a wad of cash that landed at Stanley’s feet, which I thought was rather cool.  And in another new wrinkle, Kiss dusted off Gene Simmons’ favorite song, “Beth” with Eric Singer on vocals and Stanley and Thayer on acoustic guitars.  This was the first time I’d ever actually seen them PLAY this song live in person all these years as opposed to Peter Criss singing along to the backing track—why in blue blazes couldn’t they have done it like this when Pete was in the band?  Oh well, Singer lived up to his surname and did a nice job.  By the time they got to “Rock And Roll All Nite”, Kiss had played 21 songs and well over two hours, but the fun wasn’t over yet.  The traditional confetti storm during RARAN transformed the Grandstand into a faux winter wonderland, although it wouldn’t surprise me if it really does snow in September around these parts!  Kiss finished up with their usual show-ending pyrotechnics, and as soon as their last bomb went off, more bombs started bursting in air behind the stage as a hellacious fireworks display got underway.  I’m not sure if this was Kiss’ doing or if it was part of the State Fair itself, but this thing went on for a good 20 minutes, and was most impressive, and the resulting mushroom cloud it left behind hovered over St. Paul and was visible for miles—I could actually see it from Bloomington on the way back to my hotel!

Opening act The Envy is a five-piece out of Toronto.  I arrived to hear the last four songs of their set, which was nothing terribly earth-shattering, but they didn't suck, either.  They sounded slightly U2-ish at times.

As I departed the venue following the rocket's red glare, I encountered this dude in the pic posing for photos with fans.  He wasn't the real Gene Simmons, but a damn good facsimilie of him.  I’m all set for Kiss concert #18 now, as this never gets old with me. Don’t know if Kiss plans any more K.C. dates any time soon, but to Gene and Paul and the boys I say, “Y’all come back now, y’hear?”

SET LIST:  Modern Day Delilah/Cold Gin/Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll/ Firehouse/Say Yeah/Deuce/Crazy Crazy Nights/Calling Dr. Love/Shock Me/I’m An Animal/100,000 Years/I Love It Loud/Love Gun/Black Diamond (w/excerpt from Whole Lotta Love)/Detroit Rock City  ENCORE:  Beth/Lick It Up/Shout It Out Loud/I Was Made For Lovin’ You/God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II/Rock And Roll All Nite

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Travelblog, Twin Cities

I went against my usual protocol of not traveling on a holiday weekend and headed to the hinterlands of Minnesota for a couple days over Labor Day.  This was my fourth visit in the last eight years to the place where Mary Tyler Moore tossed her hat, and it’s becoming a favorite road trip destination for me.  Lots to do and see up that way, it's very scenic in places, particularly along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.  The Twin Cities area is vastly underrated as a vacation spot, especially St. Paul, which like Oakland and Fort Worth, plays second-fiddle to its sexier neighbor that has all the bells and whistles.  And the weather was freakin’ gorgeous—it felt nice to actually need a windbreaker for a change!  Hell, if it weren’t for their brutal winters up that way, I would seriously consider relocating to Minnesota—I really like it up there.  Anyway, a little recap of my weekend for your entertainment pleasure...

A new feature has been added since my last visit to Clear Lake, Iowa to help folks find the Buddy Holly/Ritchie Valens/Big Bopper plane crash site a little more easily.  You just walk past Buddy’s trademark spectacles about a quarter of a mile west along the path (which has been widened a bit since I last visited) parallel to the barbed-wire fence where the wreckage of the plane came to rest on the Day The Music Died and you’ll find the homemade memorial there.  They have also added a steel marker honoring the pilot of the doomed plane, Roger Peterson, who up ‘till now had been overlooked.  This was my third visit to the site, and while I don’t consider it to be sacred ground or anything, it’s still a tangible piece of Rock ‘N’ Roll history and I enjoy the peacefulness of the place.  There’s still a purity about it too—it hasn’t been commercialized or anything and no one charges admission to see it or hawks “Remember Buddy Holly” t-shirts on the site.  I would also very much like to see the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash site in Mississippi someday too, but the property owners are more protective of it, and from what I hear, it’s not a particularly hospitable area to be in anyway—too swampy and too many critters around.  The Juhl family, the folks who own the farm in Iowa, don’t mind strangers traipsing across their cornfield to visit the site, so long as you’re respectful and don’t trash the place.

It’s also fascinating to compare the original scene with how it looks today and see how much has changed in 51 years.  I’ve posted them here before, but here are the directions again for getting the site:  Take I-35 (north or south) to Exit 197 and go west about half a mile and turn right when you reach the T in the road.  Go north about another half-mile and when the highway starts to bend to the left, you’ll come upon a gravel road on your right, which is 310th Street.  Turn right on 310th and go east until you come to the first street on your left, Gull Avenue, and turn left.  Go north up past the grain silos on the left side of the road and look for Buddy’s specs—you can’t possibly miss them!  By the way, if it’s been raining recently, don’t wear your good shoes—it can get pretty mucky along the path to the memorial!

Guy Fieri got this one right on “Drive-Ins, Diners & Dives”, a dandy burger joint called The Nook in St. Paul.  Their specialty is cooking the cheese inside the burger patty on the grill, and I enjoyed their Supreme Nook Burger, a whopper of a double cheeseburger that really hit the spot.  I also sampled the chicken tenders and they were quite good as well, although the French Fries were a bit gnarly.  The neighborhood The Nook resides in is rather nifty too, located not far from where Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz grew up.  Word to the wise—if you do visit Nookdom, avoid lunch and dinner hours, as the place is rather small and fills up quickly.  Jolly good eatin’, tho…

While I’m on the subject of the mall, since when did the hoodie become the major fashion accessory for young women?  I swear, every other female under the age of 40 that I saw at MOA was sporting the Bill Belichick look with a hooded sweatshirt.  Either that, or a tacky tank top with exposed bra straps.  This stuff makes me truly miss the ‘80s, an era when young women made an effort to look nice and actually gave a shit what they looked like.  Ladies, if you want to attract men, please lose the hoodies, will ya!

Speaking of clusterfucks of people, I found myself in another one Saturday night in St. Paul at the Minnesota State Fair.  It dawned on me once I arrived that in my 46.2 years on this planet, I’d never actually been to a State Fair before until now.  The Missouri State Fair is held about 70 miles east of here in Sedalia during the hottest week of the year every August, and even though I’ve thought about going numerous times, I can never get properly motivated to.  I wasn’t even planning to attend the Minnesota hoedown, either, except for the little matter of the Kiss concert therein on Saturday.  Evidently they take their State Fair-ing pretty seriously up north and this is a big annual hoop-de-do for Minnesotans (Minnesotites?)—from what I heard later, they set a single-day attendance record the night I was there.  Along with the usual carnival rides, food stands (I saw one featuring shrimp-on-a-stick!), arcades and attractions, the Minnesota fair is able to attract top-tier concert attractions like Kiss, Rush, Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw (the latter three all played there last week), while the Missouri State Fair always lives up to its name (fair) by alternating between C-List acts like Charlie Daniels Band, Willie Nelson and REO Speedwagon every year.  I did have issues with the Minnesota fair in one regard—not only did I have to pay 10 bucks to park, but they charged me 11 more bucks just to get in, on top of the overpriced concert ticket that I’d already paid for.  WTF?!?  I weren’t too impressed with the concert venue itself, either, which I’ll detail in my Kiss review in a subsequent blog post later this week.

I took advantage of the handy Hiawatha Line light-rail system to get from MOA to downtown Minneapolis, thus saving on parking and allowing me to drink alky-hol without worrying about driving afterwards.  For $1.75 each way, you can ride from Mall of America to Target Field downtown in about 30 minutes, and it’s a rather scenic ride, unlike St. Louis’ MetroLink system which takes you through that city’s "ripped backside", as Iggy Pop would call it.  The Minneapolis train passes by several parks and lakes, a military cemetery and runs under the airport as well.  It’d be nice if Kansas City would get its collective shit together and put up a light-rail line—they can be quite handy sometimes.

If you’re a sports fan or music fan and you’re in Minneapolis, you must pay a visit to the Dome Plus Souvenir shop across the road from the Metrodome to the north.  Even though the Minnesota Twins have moved across town to Target Field, the shop still operates, and it features a nifty free museum of Twins history, as well as backstage photos of The Beatles relaxing before their 1965 concert at Met Stadium.  The elderly gentleman that runs the place apparently has connections and gets his photo taken when numerous celebrities, and his autographed pictures adorn an entire side of the room.  Most of his pics are with Country and Western stars like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and Barbara Mandrell, but there’s an eclectic mix of other famous folk like George Carlin, Liberace, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, Don Rickles and Leif Garrett (?!?).  The place is a bit of a dump, but well worth the visit.

I reluctantly passed on the opportunity to visit the Twins’ new home, Target Field, during my trip.  The Twins were home all weekend, but the team was having a celebratory weekend with an old-timers game and a fathers-kids game.  Every game was virtually sold-out, and I balked at paying 22 bucks just to get a standing-room ticket.  Hell, I’m not crazy about paying 22 bucks for a seat ticket for a regular season baseball game, let alone having to stand the whole game.  I did roam around the grounds a bit on Sunday evening and was impressed with what I did see of the place—Target Field is every bit as pretty in person as is appears on TV.  The bronze statues of Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and the late Kirby Puckett in the plaza beyond right field were a nice touch, as well as the wall displaying the history of Twin Cities ball yards like Met Stadium and Nicollet Park, and even the dastardly Metrodome.  I didn’t see a game this time, but oh well, now I have an excuse to go back next summer.

Another new stadium I checked out was TCF Bank Stadium, the handsome new facility on the campus of the University of Minnesota that opened last fall.  It’s located a mere block away from where the Golden Gophers once played football at old Memorial Stadium, right next door to Williams Arena, the old barn still in use for U of M basketball. TCF looks like a dandy place to take in a football game from, and like Target Field for the Twins, it’s a major upgrade for the Gophers, who shared the Metrodome with the Vikings from ’82 through ‘08.  I still don’t see why the Vikings couldn’t move in with the Gophers for a couple years while they retrofit (Metrofit?) the Metrodome into a modern NFL facility capable of hosting the Final Four and such instead of spending zillions of dollars on a new stadium.  Meanwhile, the U of M campus itself is rather unique, as it’s split in two by the Mississippi River and very scenic, too—well-worth a look if you’re ever up that way.

Piece of sage advice for you:  NEVER visit the Mall of America on a Saturday afternoon on a holiday weekend!  Talk about a total clusterfuck of people—this was it.  If the Al Qaeda asswipes really want to create some major carnage and take out as many Americans as possible in one shot, all they gotta do is blow this place up on a weekend afternoon—and you know it’s crossed their evil minds a time or two.  Just like the World Trade Center, MOA is a monument (in the terrorists’ eyes) to crass American capitalism.  Anyway, because it was so crowded, I was forced to drive all the way to the top of the parking garage to find an empty spot, but it afforded me a nice photo op in the process, as you can see downtown Minneapolis way off in the distance in this pic I snapped.  Just below downtown in the photo is the Twin Cities' major aeroport, Wold Chamberlain Field, site of the infamous Sen. Larry "I'm Not Gay!" Craig foot-tapping incident in the men's room thereof.  The 
area below that in the foreground is where the old Met Center, home of the Minnesota North Stars, used to exist.  I believe that's still the original arena parking lot that also served as a major tailgating area for Minnesota Vikings games at old Met Stadium, where MOA now sits.  An IKEA store now occupies the arena site just off to the left out of camera range.
Bet you’d never guess what I did Sunday night in Minneapolis.  Better keep your smelling salts handy, folks.  Believe it or not, yours truly went drinking at a gay bar.  On purpose, too! Relax, friends, I didn’t switch sides and start pitching for the other team—trust me, I still like girls.  But, just for shits and hoots, I decided to check this place on in what’s called the Warehouse District near Target Field/Target Center called Gay ‘90s.  Hell, I admired their honesty in having the balls to call it that and not try to hide the fact that it’s a gay bar, so I wandered in, and like the Rush song “Nobody’s Hero” goes, it “only introduced me to a wider reality”.  And you can forget all those stereotypical pre-conceived notions about gay bars being dens of iniquity with orgies and sex going on all over the place.  Yes, there were guys sitting close together and getting touchy-feely with each other, but still, I've seen more physical contact by guys at some sports bars when they get drunk enough.  Beyond that, there were no blowjobs or fornicating going on whatsoever, nor did I see Larry Craig there, but to be quite honest, I found it all rather boring.

And you know what else?  I encountered the same indifference from the bartenders, wait-staff and bar patrons that I typically get at a Hooters!  Just as the Hooters girls do, the Gay '90s peeples politely served me, yes, but weren’t terribly chatty with me, either, which is about the norm when I’m out drinking alone, even though I was as friendly as I can be to them.  Meanwhile, just as with the Hooters girls, the Gay '90s peeples were yapping up a storm with the group of four across the way.  Essentially, what I’m saying is that apart from than the gay/lesbian clientele, the place was no different than any other bar/nightclub—the mixed drinks were watered-down, the beer was overpriced, and the ambience was just like a sports bar.  There was college football playing on one TV, ‘80s music videos (Z.Z. Top and The Cars, not just Culture Club and George Michael) playing on another TV and those ever-exciting “House” reruns on yet another.  By the way, could someone please explain to me the appeal of this “House” doctor guy?  I’ve watched that show three or four times now, and I don’t get him at all.  He looks like Ted Danson with a hangover, his character is a jaded bitter fuck who doesn’t get along with anyone and I’m supposed to like him?  He doesn’t even like himself—why should I like him?  But I digress.  Anyway, Gay ‘90s also had a nightclub loft that featured a drag queen show that was, for lack of a better word, a drag!  They were late getting it started, and I wasn’t all that impressed—just a bunch of Divine/RuPaul wanna-bes wearing weird outfits and lip-synching under a disco mirror ball.  For all the fuss that conservative pinheads make about places like these, I don’t get what their problem is with them.  If this place was typical of the gay/lesbian bar scene, it's extremely pedestrian and ordinary.

On the way home Monday, I stopped off in the town of Owatonna, Minnesota for some breakfast.  I was initially planning to hit the Perkins Restaurant along I-35 there, but they were crowded, so I doubled back to the Owataonna Family Restaurant and had a nice breakfast that was probably three bucks cheaper than I would’ve gotten at Perkins anyway.  What’s funny about it all is the “family” restaurant is located right next to the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore, a converted gas station that now houses a porno parlor and lingerie/fetish wear shop!  Oops…

There’s a ski slope along I-35 just south of Bloomington right next to the highway that has snow-making equipment.  Why on earth would you ever NEED to make snow in Minnesota?!?  That’s about as redundant as tanning salons in southern California…