Review: KISS, Motley Crue bring rock 'n' roll excess to the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre in Tampa
Pairing KISS and Motley Crue for a co-headlining tour seems like a no-brainer. After all, the young Motley Crue looked like KISS with the sleaze factor cranked to 11. Both favor the “bigger is better, even bigger is even better” approach to concert staging. Most importantly, both still can put the fans in the seats, long after their new releases stopped seeing the chart’s upper reaches.
KISS and the Crue were loved by the kids and loathed by parents in the ‘70s and ‘80s, respectively. Time (or the collapse of civilization, depending on our viewpoint) has dulled the edge of outrage for both bands. The kids at Saturday’s Tampa stop on “The Tour” weren’t rebelling against their parents; Mom and Dad were shouting it out loud at the devil right beside them.
Heck, Crue bassist Nikki Sixx even brought an adorable little girl (in a KISS T-shirt) onstage for a minute just to show the Crue has heart.
Still, the Los Angeles quartet did its best to ensure their portion of the show wasn’t family entertainment.
It began with the Crue marching through the crowd in a procession resembling a Druid color guard. The setting sun was still frying the retinas of most of the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre crowd as the band launched into opening number Saints of Los Angeles.
Crue’s stage was dominated by a circular roller coaster track (more on that later). Stilt walkers made occasional appearances, while a pair of backup singers/dancers spelled Vince Neil on some of the vocals.
Crue’s set was packed with bells, whistles and pyro – lots of pyro. But the set struck a satisfying balance between visuals and hits.
Aside from the opening number and a new one titled – because subtlety isn’t their thing – Sex, the set list drew exclusively from the band’s first 10 years, what Crue called its “Decade of Decadence” on an early greatest-hits album.
Wild Side and Shout at the Devil made for a powerful one-two punch. The more melodic Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.) and Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) book ended new tune Sex.
Moving from his drum throne to a mirrored grand piano, Tommy Lee plucked out the opening chords of Home Sweet Home, the band’s massive 1985 MTV favorite.
Lee stayed in the spotlight for his drum solo, which consisted mostly of him playing along to prerecorded techno tracks. The fun part was watching him perform as his drum riser took a ride on the aforementioned track, at one point leaving him and his drums upside down at the track’s peak. A contest winner named Don was Lee’s passenger for the next go-around, spinning along to the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster.
Mick Mars may not be a shredder extraordinaire, but his rude riffs and whammy-bar torture on his distressed looking Stratocaster complemented the creepy carnival atmosphere.
Kickstart My Heart and an excessive-by-anyone’s-standards barrage of explosions closed Crue’s set.
Near the end of KISS’ set, singer-guitarist Paul Stanley reeled off a list of classics his band could have played if not for the gosh-darned curfew. The band likely could have played all those songs with time to spare if KISS had bothered to tighten up its set.
The impact of bassist Gene Simmons’ blood-drooling intro to God of Thunder was overlong, with Simmons milking the crowd for applause before finally being hoisted on cables to a platform at the top of the stage. Drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer – who have donned the makeup and costumes of original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, respectively – dominated the middle of the set with a lengthy jam. The real purpose seemed to be to let Simmons and Stanley, both in their 60s, take a break.
But the worst offender was Stanley, who seemed determined to turn each bit of between-song patter into a monologue. The set started strong with Detroit Rock City and Shout It Out Loud. But nearly every song afterward was preceded by Stanley’s momentum-killing gum-flapping. He used to know how to keep it short and sweet (“LOOKS LIKE WE GON’ HAVE AH-SELVES A ROCKNROLL PAWTY TONITE!” – Alive!, 1975) but Saturday he rambled interminably, pausing frequently for applause that rarely came. Did anyone really care to know that he had downloaded KISS’ new single, Hell or Hallelujah, from iTunes?
No complaints when the band actually was playing a song though. Stanley zip-lined to a platform in the middle of the amphitheater for Love Gun, with Simmons, Singer and Thayer providing powerful backing vocals. Thayer took over vocals for Frehley’s old spotlight number, Shock Me, even throwing in a bit of the original Kiss guitarist’s Parasite at the end. Lick It Up closed with Stanley and Thayer skillfully recreating the synthesizer riff from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again on guitars.
But the temptation to drag out intros and song conclusions proved too much. Stanley turned the introduction to Black Diamond into a mini-solo spot, while the conclusion of Rock and Roll All Nite went on so long as to blunt the impact of the song and the set-ending explosives display.
Three years before the Ramones, Kiss’ eponymous 1973 debut championed a return to tough, tight rock ‘n’ roll while its concerts were never-a-dull-moment thrill rides. Saturday’s show was poorly paced and full of dead spots.
Take some advice from the old radio slogan, Paul: less talk, more rock.
-- Curtis Ross, tbt*. Photos by Luis Santana, tbt*