The Treatment -- Tonight’s support act hail from the UK, but trade in thoroughly generic American hard rock -- the kind that Atlantic Records would have signed in 1987 and then neglected to promote. The opening song sounds just like Motley’s “Live Wire”; the second song sounds exactly like the first. In a truly absurd attempt at ingratiation, the band beseech us to buy their record and their merch, so they can “make it to the next show.” What, do they need cab fare or something? That seems like pretty poor planning on their part. The closing song sounds just like “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”
Motley Crue -- For the first hour of their 90-minute set, it looks like the Crue are going to eat KISS’ lunch. They sound great -- at least from the lawn, which is what these shed gigs are all about. Their visual gags are an endless hoot, particularly the “roller coaster” drum setup that allows Tommy Lee (and one lucky contest winner!) to do a loop-the-loop above the stage floor. And they seem to be genuinely having a good time. (Mick Mars’ idea of “having a good time:” No major organs failed.) I’m particularly charmed by their affectionate between-song patter, which centers on the idea that we have all had inappropriate knowledge of our mothers yet somehow deserve to be commended for it.
Disappointingly, though, their last few numbers are a hodgepodge of familiar yet still undistinguished sludge, sucking the momentum out of their presentation and bucking a truth they had earlier exploited quite effectively: When you’re trying to win over a hillside’s worth of headbanging hicks, anything with an acoustic guitar and a half-tempo section in it is your friend.
As they leave the stage, I should be feeling impressed by their talent and commitment. Instead, I can’t stop thinking how much “Live Wire” sounds like that song by The Treatment.
KISS -- By my count, this is the 21st time I’ve seen KISS run through a show whose fundamentals have remained unchanged for four decades now. So I can’t decide which of us deserves more credit for managing to not seem bored rigid by it. (The verdict: me. I’m being paid slightly less to be there.)
Musically, the show is a bit stronger than those of the last few tours. Paul Stanley’s moderately successful throat surgery and an 11th-hour decision to tune the guitars down an extra half-step have resulted in fewer embarrassing voice cracks, although the audio crew struggles to adequately amplify harmonies that now rest in the key of Black Sabbath flat.
As stage presence goes, 60-somethings Stanley and Gene Simmons have perhaps inevitably become what they once decried: relatively static performers who have to throw up a lot of brouhaha around them to create excitement. At this stage, their job is largely to pull grotesque faces while stagehands haul their scaly/feathered carcasses up and over a huge stage that consists of rows upon rows of winking lights in garish, perpetually clashing hues. (Think the rooftop of a color-blind Clark Griswold.)
Signs of incipient Alzheimer’s aren’t hard to spot. In what has to be something of a personal best, Simmons manages to sing the second verse of “War Machine” twice and the second verse of “God of Thunder” three times in succession. At this point, his in-concert repertoire includes less lyrics than there are in “Surfin’ Bird.”
The true energy and drive come from newer members Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. (NOTE: In this context, “newer” means one of them was hired after the invention of email.) Their mid-set guitar/drums duet is the one element of the show that’s an improvement on the original formula. I try to imagine Ace Frehley and Peter Criss pulling off something similarly precise and rhythmically engaging, and the thought makes me shudder like Homer Simpson.
Vaudevillian pros to the end, the band haul out every crowd-control trick in the book, like ordering us to throw our hands in the air rather than waiting for us to hit on the idea ourselves. Stanley even cajoles us into proving we are indeed louder than the previous night’s West Palm audience (who I hope are all lying in their beds feeling well and duly chastened).
The show ends with the traditional “Rock and Roll All Nite” and the firing of every M-80 in the group’s possession, which is a lot. No Motley-style limping to the finish line for this bunch.
As soon as the last chord has dissipated, my wife surprises me by opining that KISS put on the superior showing: better paced, and with more personal charisma coming from the players themselves. That confirms my suspicion that the wisest strategy for approaching a KISS show these days is to bring a newbie who hasn’t yet had the chance to become jaded by their reliably redundant schtick. It’s one of those experiences that are best enjoyed when viewed through the eyes of another -- like treating your daughter to her first princess party, or buying your son his first lap dance. I guess those losers in West Palm just know nothing about family.