Tag Archives: Kiss

Summer 2016 Concert Round Up-Janes Dead Guns Bad Beatles Sabbath Ween n’ More…Around the World in Eighty Daze.

“My magnificent octopus” – S. Baldrick

As the Zombies almost once said, summers are the time of the season for concerts. From sheds to stadiums, folks pile into their vehicles to head out road trippin’ and space truckin’ for some full on outdoor Dionysian rituals. Some choose to make the parking lot their tailgating blow out (occasionally failing to even enter the show), others wait patiently in line to get into the venue early to drop $40 bucks on a shirt and absorb multiple beers at $11 a whack. But the gamut of summer concert behavior makes up one of the best seasons to see rock n roll in person– outside and under the stars. This summer was no exception. Below is a chronicle of the Carwreck adventures on the road from June to August this year.

   June 9-Joe Walsh and Bad Company

Joe Walsh and Bad Company, opening night for the summer season. I’d almost given this one a miss, even though I had tix in hand already. It was a weeknight, I was beyond tired. At the last second though I jumped in the car and flew to Great Woods (sorry, corporate logos change so quickly at these joints that we need to stick with the real names: The Meadows in Hartford, Worcester Centrum, Providence Civic Center, Boston Garden, Great Woods etc, who can keep track of which joint is the Xfinity Center anymore? And by next year it’ll be something different, you can TD bank on that). Aptly named the One Hell of a Night tour, this was one of the best shows of the summer. Going in, my expectations were low, but was I in for an eye opener. Joe Walsh is a pretty funny guy. If you’ve never heard him talk, you’d swear he was blasted out of his mind (which he was from the sixties until 1994)  Here is a pretty good example of him, courtesy of David Letterman in the late 1980’s:

Joe was in fine form at this show, introducing Life’s Been Good with the slurred quote “If I’da known I’d be playin’ this song for the rest of my life, I’da written a better song. But this is what we got, we’re stuck with it,  so let’s make the best of it…”. Long term band mate Joe Vitale gave the outfit a 70’s era Barnstorm feel. Walsh’s unit opened the show but easily could have headlined-Walsh’s distinct guitar lines warping reality like the James Gang used to.

Next up was Bad Company. Often thought of as the poor man’s Led Zeppelin, they were crisp on a pared down stage, serious and powerful. With Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from the original band (bassist Boz Burrell passed away in 2006 and guitarist Mick Ralphs declined to do this US tour due to health reasons) they were fleshed out by long term second guitar Howard Leese of Heart fame and a temporary stint from Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes. Lean and mean, Paul Rodgers stalked the stage as the band delivered some of their tightest playing of their career. Notes I took at the show included the question “How the fuck can Paul Rodgers still be this good?” How the fuck indeed-Rodgers had started to really tear up venues with Free in 1969, and 47 years later hadn’t lost a step. I’d seen Robert Plant a few times over the last few years, and Roger Daltrey a dozen or so times in the last decade. Both are still vocal legends, but neither could hold a candle to what Paul Rodgers can still pull off in 2016. Hard to believe, but Paul Rodgers is the last man standing, the most powerful 70’s era vocalist in rock n roll today. Had there been a roof, Bad Co.would have blown it off.

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Yep, still got it

July 15 Fenway Park-Dead and Company

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Is that really made from a tablecloth?

Next up was Dead and Company. I had seen them in 2015 early in their tour and was decidedly underwhelmed, as noted here.

I’d been wary of this band since the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary last show ever ‘we swear we are done’ in Chicago was quickly followed by a fall tour announcement with Oteil replacing Phil Lesh, and John Mayer as ‘Jerry’. I wasn’t the only long term Deadhead to be a bit skeptical of a cash grab, as brilliantly portrayed here.

I was dragged nearly kicking and screaming to the show and protested heavily that I didn’t really want to go. But an outdoor show at Fenway seemed like it could overcome John Mayer being the focus of attention in the Dead, but still had very low hopes of them being close to good. . But like Fonzie once famously said, I was wrrrrowrrr..

I thought Dead and Company were a pale imitation of the real thing, and that there was no way they could even come close to the Grateful Dead’s power.(I was wrong). The band started out the night with a jam that took a while to lead into Jack Straw. Jams to start a show? This was new. Donna Godchaux, a polarizing vocalist from the Grateful Dead from 1972-1978 showed up for a rare appearance, and brought a decent mid 70’s vibe to the setlist that drew heavily on her era of studio work. The first set finished with Help On the Way->Slipknot->Franklin’s Tower, something usually held out as a second set centerpiece. I wondered if this was going to be a long single set show and we had strayed into the second half. Nope. Second set started with St. Stephen->Dark Star. This was a mind bending way to begin a set. Combine that with the follow up of TerrapinStation/Drums/Space/Terrapin/Morning Dew–this  would have sizzled synapses and popped craniums had it been played in the 80’s or 90’s, leaving many Deadheads quite different people than they are today. But make no mistake-this sounded VERY much like classic Grateful Dead of the late 80’s early 90’s. Mayer popped a couple of song choices over Bob Weir’s strummed introductions to something different. Mayer overruled Weir? Twice? What was going on? With a Casey Jones that sped up each successive pass through the chorus, the Dead finished with a lighting fast version that sounded like they’d been injected with some of Heisenberg’s finest blue.(read up on Phil Lesh allegedly inventing cocaine suppositories for the band in the 80’s so they didn’t have to stop to blow lines in between songs when you get a chance).  Weir in particular threw Mayer slightly worried glances as they sped up to a tempo never heard before in any era of the Dead canon. As they approached light speed, Weir and the drummers eyes bulged at the exertion and looked as if all three might pass away right in front of us while Mayer hopped up and down gleefully strumming full speed.

A rare double encore to finish what has been said to be the best show this unit has ever played? Sublime. Though never a Donna fan, her addition combined with some pretty inspired playing from Mayer made this so close to the Dead that I have fooled several knowledgeable people playing them the soundboard from this show. (highly recommended for purchase while you can). Oteil deserves a mention for finally figuring out how to get genuine dinosaur-like Phil Lesh bass  runs pounding underneath. Great show, and I’d go again in a heartbeat. These guys are becoming musically dangerous on stage, and though it pains me to say this,  John Mayer might consider dropping his career to do this full time.

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July 17 Fenway Park-Paul McCartney

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Uh oh,  I see a drunk guy headed for the stage

Found some cheap tickets to McCartney on StubHub and jumped in the car once again. I’d seen the giants of the 60’s bands: Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, the Animals, Traffic…but never seen an actual Beatle.  Once again the rockers on their 50th or more anniversary tour fill up the stadiums. McCartney looked ageless (he’s actually 75), and has overcome some vocal problems that have plagued his recent tours to deliver a 38 song set that covered his whole career. The show started with a surprise for Sir Paul. Everyone had a card under their seat with instructions. Which resulted in this:

Crowd members held up cards welcoming Paul McCartney to Fenway Park Sunday.

From the opener Hard Day’s Night the band was off and running. Pretty much every Beatles song you’d ever want to hear combined with some excellent Wings era material made for a show that seemed short even though it pushed nearly three hours. Tributes to George Martin and George Harrison and stories about meeting a Russian defense minister who told him that his first album was an illegal  Beatles album, and that the Beatles had nicked For the Benefit of Mr. Kite off a Victorian era circus poster nearly word for word made McCartney seem very reachable and real. Another highlight was Bob Weir-still in town from his two day stint with the Dead at Fenway the previous night- coming onstage to join McCartney for Hi Hi Hi (of course).

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We’re gonna get high high high…

Then during Helter Skelter, with Weir still on guitar, the stage was charged by a drunken Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots. As he mugged for the audience, Weir gave him a look like he wished Gronk would spontaneously burst into flames and burn to a crisp onstage. It would be nice if someone could emulate the Seinfeld episode where he goes to a heckler’s job to screw with them. A rocker should show up at a Pats game and start yelling signals at Gronk behind him to see if he’d get the point. Doubtful. Even hard core Pats fans were pretty dismayed at his embarrassing drunken roofie worthy stunt (He is likely immune to roofies though):

Other highlights were the fireworks laden Live and Let Die (the first of two I’d see this week) and a peek at the earliest work of McCartney and (mostly)Lennon-In Spite of All the Danger from the 1957 era pre-Beatles, the Quarrymen. A real cool night that ended with a blast.

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Live and Let Live? Live and Let Die!
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Green Monster with the real score

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July 21-Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr, Living Colour

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In a tent on the waterfront of Boston Harbor two days later, this triple threat of 90’s heavyweights lit up the night. I’d been a fan of Living Colour since day one-my Vernon Reid fan-dom even tracing back to his stint in jazzer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s highly demanding Decoding Society in 1984. Always hard to pin down, what exactly is their sound? Funk, jazz, metal and pop synthesize seamlessly into a literally unique sound. Hitting the stage early, the seats were only about 20% filled. But no matter, vocalist Corey Glover (sans Bodyglove wetsuit) played it like it was a full stadium. The band has become even tighter in the last twenty years-Vernon Reid crackling on guitar like a rampant electrical storm, Doug Wimbish moving air with devilishy complex bass runs, and the spectacular Will Calhoun pounding out poly-rhythms that made Dinosaur’s drummer Murph comment backstage: “he’s a monster!”. Not bad praise coming from a drum legend himself. During their major hit, Cult of Personality, Corey ventured deep into the crowd-running down empty rows back and forth until he settled directly behind me to sing the final notes “per-sunnnn-al-it-teeee!” all about a foot from me. Holy living fuck! I’d been lucky enough to have backstage passes for this one, and quickly shuttled to the backstage area. Jane’s Addiction were holed up with tattooed, pierced and needle scarred mini skirted hangers on, but both Living Colour and Dinosaur Jr were hanging in an outdoors area backstage entertaining the handful of hangers on. (this was a home game for Massachusetts based Dinosaur Jr). Living Colour stayed in the main open area backstage to chat with fans and take photos. I had a long conversation with Vernon Reid, reminding him that I’d seen him play at Newport Jazz Festival opening for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck in 1984. Took a bit for him to remember until a mention of the minuscule statured pianist Michael Petrucciani jogged his memory. He stayed and chatted for about a half hour, very affable and generous with his time. This set was one of the highest energy sets of the summer, with Vernon Reid spitting molten notes out on top of the most ferocious rhythm section I’ve seen all year. Breathtaking shit, really. I said to Vernon that they should be headling this bill. “you gonna have to talk to somebody else ’bout that I’m afraid…” was his wry observation.

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Dinosaur Jr came out pumping with Lung from their 1987 second album, and didn’t let off the gas pedal until the final notes of Just Like Heaven, a Cure cover also from their second album. Start Choppin’ from 1993’s  Where You Been got people up out of their seats and jumping around until the end of the set. I’d seen them several times over the years, and in 2016 the band is a well oiled machine. Murph’s drumming syncs with Lou Barlow’s bass to give a perfect platform for J Mascis’s unique wall of sound country inflected punk rock assault. Dinosaur Jr can be volume monsters in a smaller venue, but open air can tend to absorb much of this power. (As an aside, I’d seen J play in a Stooges tribute band recently, and his raw Les Paul through a Marshall was the best sound and soloing I’d ever heard from him in the twenty odd years I’ve seen them. ps-he was deafeningly loud. )

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Headliners Jane’s Addiction were what the crowd came for though. I’d seen them on the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991, but hadn’t seen any of the reunion shows until 2011. A sober-ish Perry Farrel (peripheral ya know) held down the madness, and guitarist Dave Navarro was a whirlwind of motion, spitting out blistering solos that simultaneously ripped large holes into songs and melodically stitched them back together again by the end of a run. Maybe the five years of touring has taken a little lustre off the silver spoon, but this show wasn’t quite as energized as the 2011 and 2013 tours. (in 2013 I witnessed Navarro nearly punch out his guitar tech right on stage when his acoustic guitar kept failing during Jane Says). Still, a so so Janes Addiction show is much better than 95% of the bands out there. 2013’s vintage stag films were replaced this year by something definitely more chilling. Girls hung and swung from the lighting rig like they had in the past. But when you looked closer, you could see they were fetish style hung from meathooks through their skin. You heard that right. I saw them backstage before the show, and they exuded a….ummmm….different vibe. A video below captures the painful action from the front row. (not for the squeamish)

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Overall it was an amazing triple bill. Living Colour, although on the undercard billing, took the night hands down. The nineties, updated and backdated-and fully syncopated. All three of the bands are headliners in their own right.

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July 22-Guns n Roses/Lenny Kravitz- Foxboro

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The next night it was in the car once again and off to Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots. Labeled the Not in This Lifetime Tour ( a reference to an interview Axl had done recently when asked about the chances of a reunion of the original lineup), this was an unexpected event. I definitely didn’t expect any sort of reunion of the original line up, especially Slash. (Technically, without main songwriter Izzy Stradlin or founding drummer Steven Adler, this isn’t the original line up). Knowing their proclivities for legendary train wrecks on tour, I waited to buy a ticket until the last minute, not convinced that this uneasy detente between Axl and Slash would actually hold. A reunion of Slash and Axl was certain to bring people out of  the woodwork, yet would they make it far enough through the tour to get here? Witness Axl breaking his foot on opening night and doing several full shows sitting in a huge throne. (Dave Grohl’s super throne actually). I had my doubts.

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Axl unexpectedly finds himself on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms

Fans scooped up the overpriced tickets quickly, perhaps too quickly. But the promoters made a large miscalculation in booking two nights in Boston and tickets on Stubhub plummeted in price. 75 dollar tickets slipped to 17 bucks a pop. When coming through the turnstile, I was directed towards another ticketing area for a “free mandatory upgrade”. Choices were simple: “Do you want floor seats or lower bowl 100 level loge seats?” My 24 dollar Stubhub ticket for a 64 dollar face value ‘cheap seat’ in the nosebleeds was now a 104 dollar loge seat. The upper bowl 300 level was roped off and empty. Half of the stadiums’ 200 level was likewise roped off, and the 100 level loge was only about 80% full. Someone took a large financial bath on this particular show. Although Billboard reported a 92% of capacity ticket sale for Foxboro, the numbers they reported don’t add up, as they used a 35,000 capacity figure for a stadium with a listed 69,000 seat concert capacity. This show didn’t have more than 25,000 people scattered thoughout the bowl and floor. (More GnR lies?)

Its about the music, not the money. Right?

Opener Lenny Kravitz kicked off the evening in style. I’d thought it an odd pairing until I found out that Slash and Kravitz had gone to high school together, and he had jammed together with GnR in 1992. A seven song set seemed short, but nobody was here for Lenny.

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One question many people had was ‘Will they go on before midnight?’ as Axl was notorious for coming onstage literally hours after showtime. There must have been a strongly worded clause in their contract involving forfeiting pay, because the band came onstage before 8:30 pm. Axl looked good, no longer the beanpole, sinuously serpentine, but also not the beer inflated parody he had begun to turn in to. (in comparison, Slash is starting to increasingly resemble Howard Stern circa 1995). He kept a leather cowboy hat on over his omnipresent bandana (to cover the bald spots). Strong in voice, he had definitely worked to get his end of things solid. It’s So Easy kicked off the night, and three of the first four songs included Mr. Brownstone and Welcome to the Jungle. Wedged in there early was Chinese Democracy from their latest incarnation, and Slash must have wondered why the fuck he was doing playing on something he not only hadn’t written, but actively  disapproved of. He wandered a bit aimlessly during this song. Further Chinese Democracy material combined with some questionable tracks from the Use Your Illusion albums to bog the proceedings down.But though this unit may not be a ‘real’ band, they are nothing but professional. Slash, resplendent in a ‘Mickey Mouse boning Minnie Mouse doggie style’ shirt kept mostly to himself. In fact, the stage was so huge, Slash and Axl could have actually not violated a restraining order and still played the show on the same stage they stayed so far away from each other all night.

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Mickey and Minnie
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Axl and Slash in separate zip codes yet performing together

There were some unexpected highlights. An instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and a cover of the Who’s the Seeker were a couple of ‘out of left field’ moments. Live and Let Die (my second in four days) has never lived up to McCartney’s version, but was still a highlight. My largest shock was a surprisingly fleshed out version of November Rain. Axl tapped timidly on the piano (Elton John is in no danger here) while the band rose up in a powerful crescendo. I was amazed that this fairly weak song was transformed into perhaps the highlight of the evening.

The grand finale, Paradise City brought everyone back to life as the whole end of the stadium literally exploded.(Axl either intentionally or accidentally sang over Slash’s iconic guitar solo introduction here. Puzzling)  We were ushered out into the wild before 11:15, a time usually reserved for their coming ON to the stage. In retrospect, though this was a nearly three hour show, it did illustrate the fact that this band doesn’t really have the material to sustain a show of this length. Sometimes less is actually more. But the band did defy predictions of imminent implosion and make it through the tour successfully without any fights onstage, prolonged hissy fits, three hour delays or crowd members being attacked by Axl  (hello St. Louis). I wasn’t blown away, but was very glad I went.

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Long stick goes boom

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August 21st  Ween Philadelphia

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Well, this one wasn’t a home game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was for Ween. But a Ween reunion isn’t something one needs to split hairs about. If they are playing and you can physically drive there in a reasonable less than six hours time? Go.

Ween had been off the road for a while. Gener’s meltdown in Vancouver in January 2011 signaled that-if not the end of the band, a long hiatus was needed.

The power of the Boognish is strong though, and when Ween announced three shows in Colorado for February, the tribe gathered once more. (Personally I’d wished they’d opened that run with Bumblebee part 2, but What Deaner Was Talking About Made a similar point)

A 90+ song setlist for the three days there showed zero repeats of a single tune, a difficult feat. But they had announced very few shows. Were these it? Soon we knew there would be a three night run in New York City at Terminal 5 in April 2016. They were impressive there, delivering another 100 songs over three nights. Spot dates were announced here and there for the summer, and the whole tour seemed very tentative, likely depending on how Gener’s new found sobriety held up. The idea of seeing them on the waterfront under the stars in Philadelphia was definitely appealing. So once more out on the road. What was less appealing was a forecast for torrential rains, 100% guaranteed. Somehow upon arrival, the sky cleared, and though the venue was a bit of a mudfest in spots, the rains abated for the whole evening.

Under a bridge downtown…

A setlist that delved heavily into Chocolate and Cheese (they had to play Freedom of 76 in Philadelphia, right?) combined with deeper cuts (the Thin Lizzy-ish Gabrielle) to make an incomparable 31 song set. Buenos Tardes Amigos closed out the evening in a large group sing a long. Seeing Ween in their home state? Pretty amazing experience.

Foolishly I decided to give their Boston show two nights later a miss. Deaner ended up posting online (something he doesn’t usually do) that the Boston show was the best one of the 2016 reunion and was one of the top 25 Ween shows ever. Fuck. A listen to readily available bootlegs of the show confirm they were pretty off the hook that night. I’d heard more recently that Lockn Festival crowds were questioning why Ween was on the bill, which makes one wonder about the state of jam band audiences these days, and a quick read of the comments on the Lockn forum shows some pretty calcified brains flickering towards flat lining. Sorry folks, there’s life beyond Phish (who actually love Ween). Or, as someone posted “I’m sorry, Umphrey’s fans opinions just don’t really count”. These people haven’t been even exposed to Frank Zappa or the Mothers of Invention, never mind the Tubes or 10cc or Sparks (all precursors of Ween’s ability to jump genres and parody social culture), so there’s a learning curve of musical literacy out there that many  have missed. I could go on a soapbox rant on the increasingly limited musical awareness populating the twenty somethings in the festival scene, but lets move onward to something far heavier…

August 25 Black Sabbath-Great Woods

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Four days after Ween, the concert-mobile trekked out once again. Back to the venue where this whole summer started, 80 days and a weighty daze later we’ve come full circle back to Great Woods.

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Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends?

Black Sabbath has declared this to be the final time on the road. With Tony Iommi battling lymphoma at age 66, the end of the ride has been more forced upon the band than any internal band decisions. I’d seen Sabbath twice on the “13” tour in 2013, and although the word uneven comes to mind, many of the strengths that made this band a legend already forty five years ago were still on display. That album hearkened (with obvious intention) back to the glory days of Master of Reality and Volume 4, and the new material in concert wasn’t half bad (even prompting Ozzy to say ‘hey I’m starting to LIKE that one”). Constant ice water baths over his head kept him conscious. He reminded me of grandpa at Thanksgiving  finding out there’s only one beer left in the fridge  as he scurried shuffling across the stage. This year the baths were minimal, and Ozzy seemed far more energetic and in better voice. (On the 2013 tour he was frequently out of key by the final two songs Dirty Women and Children of the Grave) With this the final tour, there was no time for newer material-it was full on retrospective time. Black Sabbath, Fairies Wear Boots, After Forever and Into the Void opened the show. I had received a coupon for $16 lawn seats for this show and grabbed em up. Deciding to keep on the  move and remain directly behind the arena seats, I had a great view of the whole show (and from every angle to boot). Here’s the start (cribbed from Omaha):

Iommi seemed to have lost a step or two in his trademark brittle cascading solos, but what the hell, he almost expired last year. Ozzy’s inexplicable improvement compensated for this small trifle nicely. Geezer Butler remains the thundering ball of rumbling bass energy that he has been for 47 years in the band. Former Ted Nugent and Rob Zombie drummer Tommy Clufetos held down the rhythm seat. His overly histrionic drum solos tend to detract from the overall feel, but I do understand that this band needs a dependable workhorse to let Butler and Iommi lay their magic on top of. I personally would love Bill Ward’s free flowing improvs underneath, but as Ozzy said: “I’m not going to be responsible for killing one of my best friends by making him tour!”

This is Your Captain Speaking, Your Captain Is Dead

There were a couple of shows I intentionally missed this summer. The first was Yes. They were continuing their album showcase. This time it was Drama and half of Tales From Topographic Oceans. Here’s where I had a problem: Drama was a vehicle for Chris Squire primarily in the wake of vocalist Jon Anderson’s departure in 1980. But with Chris Squire’s untimely death, Billy Sherwood stepped in and donned the long coat to give the impression that Squire’s ghost might still be flickering around. It isn’t. Another large part of that album is Alan White, who has dropped off the tour with a bad back. So let’s take attendance: Jon Anderson? No. Chris Squire? No. Rick Wakeman? No. Alan White? No. Steve Howe? Yes, the last one standing. With Tales From Topographic Oceans being such a creation of Jon Anderson collaborating with Steve Howe, and Ritual in particular being a vehicle for Squire’s legendary bass solo, I’d have to agree with the  many reviewers who have said that the band should have postponed the tour until Alan White healed up. Although people said it was a fun night, it is getting perilously close to being a tribute band. (In a current Steve Hoffman website poll, 88% of respondents pick Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman as the authentic Yes compared to 12% for the current Howe-led Yes). I didn’t want to tamper with the decades of awe inspiring Yes shows programmed in my brain with a severely diluted version. Squire is just too integral to not only the band, but these two albums in particular.

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Find the real Yes member in this photo

While on the topic of tribute bands, I also declined tickets to go see Kiss. Now this is a band that has crossed the line from rock n roll, to an actual stage play being put on with actors playing the part of Kiss. Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer don Peter Criss and Ace Frehley’s make up each night and pretend to be them. Sure, the Dead have John Mayer in as ‘Jerry’, but they don’t strap a pillow around his gut and slap a fake beard on him, do they? Sure it’s entertainment, but let’s be real-it’s a choreographed show with rehearsed dialogue, not a rock band anymore

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Don’t tell me this isn’t the real Ace and Peter

In conclusion, this was quite a parade of talent on view, and a highly recommended summer diversion. Get out there, highway star….

Cats on the bandstand, give ’em each a big hand
Anyone who sweats like that must be all right
No one wants sometimes, no black eye
Just another cat beneath the stars tonight

Cats down under the stars
Cats down under the stars

Final tally-Eleven bands, seven shows, five venues, 225 dollars total in tickets, 1585 miles traveled.

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Aerosmith Music Hall Boston 1978, Can You Arrest the Band AND the Audience? They Tried

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This week, a CD quietly slipped out, barely noticed by anyone.  I encountered it in a local Newbury Comics, and the subtitle Classic 1978 Radio Broadcast caught my attention and made me pick it up. Could it possibly be the legendary Boston Music Hall Show? The hands down best Aerosmith show ever delivered in their whole forty year history? The night the whole band and the audience seemed on the verge of getting arrested? The show that got them banned for life from the Music Hall? Oh yes, yes it is. And what a doozy this CD is.

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!978 saw the band on a real hot streak. Material from Draw the Line had been seamlessly integrated into their set, and Aerosmith were firing on all cylinders. Their personal lives were a blur of booze, coke and non stop touring. But this show captures the rare moments in a band’s career when full time partying gives the music a special edge-a careening out of control at any second white knuckle ride. On the rails? Off the rails? Who cares? This is the menacing and snarling heart of rock n roll, ready to change lives forever, perhaps not for the better. For about half a year, Aerosmith was able to muster this kind of danger nearly every night. (1978’s Texxas Jam and the Philadelphia show are two prime examples). I had seen Aerosmith two years previously at the Boston Garden (Tyler had pitched face first unconscious into the audience before the encore, leaving Joe Perry to sing Train Kept A Rollin on his own), so this revitalization in only 16 months was quite unexpected.

March 28th saw thousands pack into the Music Hall, a venue not known for rock n roll. With  roughly a 3,500 capacity, and Aerosmith easily able to sell out the 17,000 seat Garden meant competition for tickets was heavy. More than capacity managed to stuff themselves in to the arena, much to the consternation of the Fire Marshal, a known foe to all things rock n roll. ( His eyes had nearly popped from his head when in 1975 Kiss had their flamethrowers in front of the stage actually hit the ceiling,  and spread out in a sustained pool of fire on the ceiling decorations at the Orpheum. Kiss was banned from using flames in Boston forever).

WBCN broadcast the show live, and both DJs are in a near frenzy as they try to be heard over the pandemonium of a crowd on the edge of a riot. And that is before the show has even started. The lights drop, the music from the film Psycho tests the sonics of the PA to the limit, and they’re off! Rats in the Cellar leads off at impossibly high volume, single handedly one of the loudest concerts at any Boston venue ever(perhaps the Clash in Harvard Square 1979 or Motorhead at the Paradise in 1983 were louder, but not by much). The playing was precise and undefined at the same time, that careening out of control feeling one gets when going into a skid on a snow covered road-it’s beautiful and cool, but you know danger is around every corner and disaster is about to strike, and perhaps strike you. Very quickly the fire marshals stopped the show: too many folks dancing in the aisles (literally hanging from rafters to be truthful). Semi pleasant conversation with Tyler, Aerosmith management and the Fire Dept takes place side stage, and after a short break, the mayhem continues. Material was mostly drawn from Rocks and Draw the Line, and each song drove the overflowing hall into further paroxysms of anarchy. Seats moved, the PA roared at a deafening level, aisles refilled with sweaty, surging masses cramming towards the stage, seeking some unspoken sacrament that was evidently changing the atmosphere into one of barely contained chaos. The show stopped a second time and the Fire Marshal ordered house lights on. The crowd reacted predictably poorly to this decision, and Tyler announced that the show was about to stop if the crowd could not control themselves and sit down properly. Of course this went nowhere, and Aerosmith’s management pointed out to the Music Hall’s management the likely results to his theater if the  plug was pulled (Watts, Dresden, Atlanta after Sherman passed through…). Lights went down and the band continued to light up the night like they never had before. Volumes were pushed to impossibly high levels-Draw the Line, Same Old Story, Toys in the Attic-near bedlam ensued in both the crowd and onstage. The Fire Marshal begged the show be stopped, but this time, Tyler passed on the message, and said “Aw hell do whatever you want to” as the band flew into a seamless and uninterrupted headlong run to the end, knowing full well the muscle to physically remove the band from the stage was not present. Amps fed back, the band reluctantly left the stage.  Sweat literally dripped from the walls, and a deafening silence took over at the end as everyone checked to see what level of hearing was still available.

This CD is a fairly good document of that evening of madness, although perhaps a little clean for my liking.  If anyone is a bit more curious, seek out some of the bootlegs of this show that are out there, preferably those sourced from the original broadcast cassettes. That source captures a little bit better the utter sonic mayhem that night had wrought. My cassette of the evening is pushed to the red, overloading but still without distortion, a perfect storm captured on tape. But most importantly, one of the monuments of rock history is now available to all. Find it. And play it LOUD.

Gene Simmons and the Death of Kiss-From Thunder Lizard to Fraud of Thunder

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Before we begin, I need to state that I am a charter member of the Kiss Army (1976) and a long time die hard Kiss fan. In high school I had collaged my walls with photos from Creem, Circus, Hit Parader, Guitar Player- a wall of Kiss. But something has gone very wrong in the last years. Gene Simmons has been acting during interviews like he and Paul Stanley had created Kiss together, written all of the songs and deserve all of the credit. Luckily some long term fans have better memories than Simmons and Stanley, and know better. And we know that there is only one problem in Kiss-world, and that thing is Gene Simmons. He has done much to undo any bit of cool that Kiss had ever achieved, and much of that has to do with his treatment of founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, victims of his faulty memory skills.

Kiss had come from the ashes of the almost signed New York band, Wicked Lester. They had been signed to Epic, recorded an album, but the label refused to release the record. Glam was big, and New York was overflowing with glam aspirants. Weak songwriting was a problem. Stanley had some talents in writing lightweight pop tunes, but Simmons had no noticeable songwriting abilities. (See: Christine Sixteen and Plaster Caster for evidence). The arrival of Peter Criss brought some street cred from his stint in the Decca band Chelsea, and Ace Frehley brought a genuine rock personality into the fold, and someone who could deliver some solid riffing. (he also designed the famous Kiss logo). Suddenly Wicked Lester had transformed into Kiss

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Stars were born, and the slow climb through the first three albums led to the monster of all live albums, Kiss Alive! The success did not stop, and three more studio albums later the band delivered Kiss Alive 2, and were on top of the world. But fans started to wonder if something was wrong.

One thing was the band’s penchant for overmerchandising. Anything repeat anything was ripe for a slathering of the Kiss logo. Action figures were one thing, lunchboxes were du rigeur in the seventies. Comic books were a natural extension. But Colorforms sets for kindergarteners? Bingo and checkers sets for the elderly? Studded Kiss kondoms for the lame? Let’s not forget the ignominy of the Kiss coffin, and the Kiss funeral urn. Kiss cologne and shampoo? Kiss wine? Kiss lip balm? Kiss cooking apron? Kiss Mr Potato Head sets? Kissmas ornaments? Kiss rubiks cube? Kiss checkbook (to buy more Kiss stuff with)? Kiss golf club covers? Kiss Hello Kitty action figures? Kiss electric toothbrush (plays Rock n Roll All Night), Kiss nutcracker? Kiss monopoly?

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What the living fuck did this have to do with rock n roll? What the fuck did Gene Simmons think he was doing? (Eventually Simmons licensed over 3,000 different items to appear with the Kiss logo). Were they losing the thread? Hard core rockers started to have their doubts about this actually being a real band. This was the first sign that all was not well inside of the band, and some openly posited the idea that this was all a scam just to sell merchandise.

By 1979 Kiss was in a shambles. And by far the largest part of the problem was Gene Simmons. He had become an absentee landlord of the Kiss empire. 1979’s Dynasty featured Gene playing bass on only four of the nine songs (Stanley and Frehley stood in), and the atrocious Unmasked in 1980 had even fewer appearances from Gene. By 1981, Criss was out of the band (Frehley had been outvoted 2-1 in his firing), and with new drummer Eric Carr in tow, the band decided to show the growing legion of doubters that they were capable of producing some of the heaviest music they could. Rough tracks were cut at Frehley’s home studio, and things were in place to deliver the monster the fans were waiting for.  Except one piece: Gene was absent in Hollywood trying to start an acting career. With Stanley and producer Bob Ezrin at the helm, a decision was made to scrap the heavy album and do an ill advised progressive rock concept album based on a yet to be made film, The Elder (despite the fact that prog rock was a stone-cold corpse by 1980. Ever late to the food trough again, also see I Was Made for Loving You–too late for Disco and Carnival of Souls-too late for Grunge). This decision to postpone the heavy album enraged Frehley, and he quit the band in protest as he had watched them take far too many missteps from the true path of rock. (the heavy album project later surfaced as Creatures of the Night in 1982, sans Ace) With the departure of Frehley, the last genuine rock element in Kiss was gone. Seven drummers and guitarists later, the world had passed Kiss by. By the millenium, Kiss had degenerated into a Beatlemania-ish parody of what a Kiss show once was, and light years away from what a real functioning rock band actually is. Real fans had bailed long ago. New fans are few and far between.

What of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss and their self destructive drug and alcohol problems and addiction? Because this is what Gene continually points to when he (inaccurately) claims Ace Frehley was fired: continual lapses. Not one writer has pointed out that Simmons also has a debilitating addiction: S-E-X. His long term womanizing has caused just as many problems in the band as Frehley and Criss’ partying. Even Paul Stanley has bemoaned some of the problems Gene’s wizened and widely traveled member has caused the band. When Gene’s photo album of polaroids of every girl he had banged in the early days of the band was stolen from a hotel room, Gene reacted like an insecure teenager, ranting to get it back, bereaved like a coke freak who accidentally dropped two grams of Peruvian dancing powder down the toilet by mistake. He was inconsolable, and his remarks bore all the signs of a full blown clinical addiction. His pointing fingers at Ace and Peter’s problems as addictions are hypocritical in the extreme.

Yet Simmons and Stanley still rant against Frehley and Criss. Both warned Tom Snyder in 1979 not to engage a drunken Ace Frehley on the Tomorrow Show. Tom asked one queston, and Ace was off and running, clearly the only one with a sense of humor and personality. Simmons and Stanley visibly fumed as Ace hogged the mic. Snyder was delighted. Both Simmons and Stanley still mention this event decades later showing their lack of connection to the rock world as the rest of us know it. (In another example, Stanley tried to produce the first Guns n Roses lp, but was wisely rejected when Paul tried to apply the Kiss paint-by -numbers philosophy to them, much to their horror) Both Simmons and Stanley have begrudgingly admitted that Ace’s album was far superior to either of theirs in the simultaneous 1978 solo album release. Simmons album was savaged by most critics as a hodge podge of Hollywood namecheck dreck. (His dalliance with Cher still rankles most hard core Kiss fans). Those descriptions generally fail to capture the horror and depth of failure that album encapsulated. Gene was exposed as self absorbed buffoon, not the cartoon personality he was trying for.

 

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The coffee table book in 1995 was full of photos, but light on any credit for Ace and Peter. Books from Gene and Paul discount and disparaged their input as founding members, and began to rewrite history, leaving out large parts of the story to accentuate their importance, and downplay the input of the other pair of founding members. There is a repeating mantra of questioning Ace and Peter’s commitment to the band. Somehow large parts of the years of Gene’s absence from the fold and long lack of commitment are conveniently forgotten. Gene’s books in particular are mind numbingly dull, lacking details and passion. He pretty much comes out and says that the whole Kiss thing was a shuck to make bundles of cash and score women by the boatload, and that he was pretending to be interested in rock until he ‘made it’. Both of their books bring half truth to a new level, and are a detriment to the actual history of the band and should be avoided by real fans.

The embarrassment continues. The Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels reality show, even though cleverly edited, fails to disguise what a loathsome personality Gene has evolved into. One listen to his infamous NPR interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air in 2002 should be enough to send even the most hardcore Kiss fan straight to the local record store to immediately divest themselves of anything bearing the Kiss moniker.

 

Gene has also embarrassed himself several times recently. First there was a debacle over the appearance of Kiss at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. The Hall wanted the original Kiss to perform. Simmons and Stanley wanted the new puppet band to perform, with hired hands wearing Ace and Peter makeup and costumes. The impasse led to the original four onstage to accept the award, but no performance. Few were aware of the behind the scenes tantrums that Simmons had thrown trying to avoid appearing with Ace and Peter. That came on the heels of his support for Donald Sterling of the Clippers, which was greeted by more derision, and his support for Rick Perry for president engendered even more of the same. Then even more recently Simmons spoke out ill-advisedly in the wake of Robin Williams suicide to claim that folks who who are depressed should “just kill themselves and get it over with”. Radio stations banned Kiss music, and even a man so self absorbed and narcissistic that it is hard to believe that even light can escape his gravity had to backtrack somewhat. (More recently this pattern repeated itself with the untimely death of Prince). Now the recent news that the duo has purchased an arena football team caused a few groans, but full page ads in magazines this month indicate this event is a part of yet another reality series? Again the question-what the fuck does this have to do with rock n roll?

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This begs yet another question: “was Gene Simmons ever actually a rock n roller?” The pre Kiss band Wicked Lester featured Simmons and Stanley along with long time friend Steve Coronel. Coronel has stated that the only reason that Gene (Chaim Weitz) and Paul (Stanley Eisen) had gotten into music was to get laid, and escape the Jewish community center circuit trade they were unsuccessfully plying. His bass playing never really progressed past the skilled novice stage of Alive era, and I began to suspect about a decade ago that Gene had always gotten into the rock business to promote himself towards a huge financial reward, and was not someone with a strong affinity for the rock n roll vibe. Nothing he has done in the last three decades can dissuade one from this opinion.  The lack of any serious musical output in the last thirty years would seem to indicate that, despite claims to the otherwise,  Ace and Peter were a huge part of the band’s creativity. Poring over his quotes in interviews, he seems clear that he has no principles, integrity or values, gleefully admits it, and exists in an infantile state of development stuck on self gratification.

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So where does that leave us? I’d seen them in the glory days from Destroyer to Dynasty, then saw Accept dismantle them quickly on the Lick it Up tour and began to wonder what was wrong. The 80’s and 90’s found the band on auto-pilot, straddling the line between self-parody and fading relevance, with Gene more absent than present once again. The reunion tours with Ace and Peter were a godsend, but had a hint of ‘staged event’ more than concert. Follow up tours with Thayer and Singer, both able musicians who clearly have no input and have to play a part more akin to being in a character in a play than being in a band have brought the band to an uncomfortable crossroads.

So Gene and Paul soldier on with replacement parts wearing Ace and Peter’s make up. (Perhaps more accurately, Paul has soldiered on diligently to keep this cash cow afloat without much help from Gene). Kiss plays the same set year after year, Paul says the same things between songs he has been saying since ’76, and the real rock vibe has long since gone away to hide. While it takes some prodding to get Ace and Peter to get their dander up over their departures from the band they co-created, Gene will still take shots in print at Ace and Peter for events that took place in the 70’s and early 80’s, nigh on forty years ago, with a mantra of ‘drugs and alcohol ruined this band’. Nary a mention of Peter and Ace’s long term sobriety, nor any acknowledgement that these two were integral to 95% of the success this band has had. (Let’s face it, few Kiss fans from the 70’s made it past Lick it Up, and even Paul has noted the troughs in their album quality extended uncomfortably to more than a decade in length.) The superfans are still out there keeping the faith, but with the stubborn refusal of Gene to show any grasp of what Kiss really was-GenePaulPeterAce-one might ask “what is there currently about the band to actually keep the faith to?” If it is a tribute to the memory of past glory, that does make sense. But this implies that Kiss is no longer a band but a tribute band, a tribute to themselves. How did all the coolness of the band manage to ebb away into such a polyglot of phoniness? Did Ace and Peter really ruin the band as Gene claims? Paul’s aloof attitude towards Gene show that even he is aware that the problem lies much more with Simmons’ uncontrollable ego, and 40 odd years later, it isn’t likely to change.  Is there a solution?

In conclusion,  If Gene had committed suicide sometime before 1980, he would be revered as a rock god of immeasurable importance, instead of the fat, vapid, self aggrandizing hype machine he has turned into. Gene Simmons, you have forgotten what it means to play, live and breathe rock n roll. A bit of research indicates you likely never knew. You are guilty of immeasurable crimes against rock, Kiss and humanity. Rock n roll does not take well to phonies and frauds. Please turn yourself in at the nearest record store for processing, your time is up.

       rockstar_yearbook_photos_13 paulandgenepre19732Kiss-pictures-1973-CA-3454-007-l        cover_alive2_large_rear   images A&E NETWORK UPFRONTS 2006