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Concert review: KISS/Motley Crue Tampa 7/28

July 29, 2012

(Following are some random impressions of last night’s KISS/Motley Crue/The Treatment gig at Tampa’s 100-AX-GARY Amphitheatre. Wanna know the current state of geriatric metal? Ax Gary!)

The view from the Orlando Weekly corporate skybox.

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.)

Let's put the "X" in "sexegenarian."

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.

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  • Disappointed with your Review!

    Why don’t you tell us how you really feel! My mother always said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Maybe you should take that advice! Don’t be haten! Next time try to say something Nice! :-/

  • Disappointed with your Review!

    “a hillside’s worth of headbanging hicks” Steve Schneider you are an ASS!

  • Ace

    This concert could have been the best of all time and the author would have hated it. I didn’t realize concert snobs existed. Stay home next time.

  • Nuk

    As an Alzheimer patient, what was I saying? Oh yes……. I find Steve’s remarks about this fantastic, I mean horrible disease, rather tasteful…….less

  • longtimer

    Have seen Kiss every tour since 1976, and still think they are the best band to see live no matter what kind of music you are into. After seeing a stripped down show on the last tour, I swore that it would be my last one. Overpriced tix, and same songs, props, etc. for the past 10 years. The Reunion Tour was incredible but everything since has been like a movie know how it ends and know whats gonna happen next. But when it was announced Motley Crue was on the tour, I had to go just one more time! Yes, both bands are lyrically much weaker but for their ages and how long they have been playing loud rock n roll, it is bound to happen. It was a fun Rock n Roll show, no more no less. Kiss has become a Las Vegas act unfortunately but still are truly the band that many have copied. If they come out and say for the next tour they will play all of Alive 1, I am there, otherwise I may be calling it quits!

  • benny33

    just seen the show in indianapolis and they should have called it the Vince Neil Show. All he did was promote his strip club and Tommy lees drum thing took at least 20min., so while hes spinnining around in a circle on his drums, they should have been jamming. that’s the 5th time i’ve seen them since 89 and it was the worst. Just JAM!! no more talking to the crowd,vince and stop spinning your drums,Tommy. I went to jam, not see a circus act

  • Bruce

    I guess you are one of those reviewers that gets paid to be
    controversial no matter what you really think. The “hick” comment was
    uncalled for – you know nothing about those people. I guess your wife
    must be a “hick”. There is no way any band is going to do an all new
    show for every appearance. We went to be entertained by rock bands,
    not to experience a musical masterpiece from some philharmonic
    musicians. We were not disappointed. Grow up,