But in the end, I had it backwards. Motley Crue wiped the stage up with KISS’ fake wigs and rehashed costumes. I left the show with the final, incredible conclusion that KISS should hang up their boots and call it a day.
Let’s back up. First of all, Crue was not appropriate for my son at all. KISS after about 1978 has always been fairly ‘family friendly,’ with minimal swearing and pretty much the most offensive thing being Simmons waggling his codpiece and Stanley swaggering mid song about meeting him and Gene in the ladies room.
Crue dropped the f-bomb so many times in its set that I almost became immune to it. There were at least three semi-clad hotties grinding around onstage in various costumes for almost every song. Put it this way – the last thing we saw of Crue’s set was Tommy Lee at the front of the stage screaming “I say Motely, you say Crue; I say FUCK, and you say YOU.” Let’s just say that Mitt Romney probably won’t accidentally use a Crue song at a campaign rally next month…
But having said that, Crue’s stage and performance trumped KISS in every way. Crue’s set was like some kind of apocalyptic circus. It looked like something inspired by a meth-addled combination of Blade Runner, Alien and Barnum & Bailey. Random steel out-croppings, huge guns mounted on turrets that shot water into the crowd, four giant slowly spinning industrial fans on stage left, where amps would usually be, chains hanging from the light truss, lights, lasers, fire, smoke, and then the mother of it all, which was Tommy Lee’s drums set. It sat at the bottom of a circular roller coaster track, and during Lee’s solo, the drums rolled all the way around it, 360 degrees.
And then there was the music. I am not a big Motely Crue fan, or wasn’t before coming to the show. But like when I saw ZZ Top, I came away from the show converted. Crue has a trove of great tunes, and they played them really well. I thought Vince Neil’s voice was solid. And Mick Mars – no idea how good he was on the guitar. The dude can really play. I was honestly very impressed with his skill and how unique of a style he has on the axe.
The band also pulled off the KISS-like challenge of making every band member equally interesting. They basically looked dirty. They looked like they came off of a really dusty construction site in Hell, strapped on their guitars and hit the stage, no time for a shower. But it worked with the overall stage motif. So when their set was done, I turned to my wife and said “OK! That was really good.” Rather, that was really FUCKING good, as Tommy Lee would have had me say.
Then after an amazingly short set break, during which probably the hardest working stage crew in the business took down Crue’s set and assembled KISS’, the lights went down, the bass rumble thundered through the speakers, and then the familiar “allllll right, Portland. You wanted the best. You got the best. The hottest band in the world. KISSSSSS!”
Then strapped to wheelchairs, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons rolled out with their instruments. OK, not really. Actually, the opening was quite exciting. Simmons, Stanley and fake-Ace Tommy Thayer started off on a platform above the stage that slowly lowered until the three emerged stage level to the opening notes of Detroit Rock City, a killer show opener if there ever was one.
The stage was far more organized than Crue – it was cleaner and more streamlined. If Crue’s was a dusty, junkyard diesel from Blade Runner, KISS’ was a clean, gleaming Maserati. But it was too clean. There was nothing really mechanical or interesting about KISS’ stage. It was all video screens. A huge one behind the stage, and a series of screens back where the amps should be. And aside from close-ups of the band, all that ran on those screens was 3D animations or things like the band’s makeup icons, or fake fire. Honestly it looked third rate – it was the visual version of a really compressed MP3. It was supposed to look right but your eyes felt cheated.
So I was left to focus on the band. Detroit Rock City got my blood pumping for sure, but then Stanley took the mic. And his voice was GONE baby gone. They band had played the night before and that was probably a routing error on this tour. It was evident from that very first verse that he’d be struggling, and I immediately lost my KISS boner.
Because let’s be honest – the band replaced guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss a decade ago. Gene is a reality TV star who can’t remember the verses to his own songs and needs to drop about 30 pounds to not look laughable in his stage get-up. So it’s all about Stanley’s ability to own it. And for the first time ever after a KISS show, I felt like he was phoning it in.
I can forgive his voice being raggy but it’s been that way for years and it’s not going to get better. Gene had to step in and take over a verse here and there, and Stanley’s stage antics and mid-song banter (which despite his voice being ragged, he screamed through) were tired.
The most interesting and non-scripted moment of the night was the 10 minute guitar and drum solo interplay between Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. These are the young guys in the band who can really play and must be credited for pumping new life into KISS many years ago. But now they are propping up the band, and frankly the fact that they are not original members makes me not very interested in them at all.
My son was getting tired so we left a couple of songs early to beat the traffic. Yes, I left a KISS show early to beat traffic. That says it all right there. I am just glad I got to see the reunion tour in the 90s with the original guys since I was too young to see them in the 70s. I have supported every era of KISS and have always had a blast at their show. The 2009 tour will probably be my favorite of the recent version of KISS – now THAT was a KISS show. So, sad but true, I am hanging up the KISS hat and won’t see them again.
Crue? I’d see them again in a second.