Tuesday night (7.24), THE TOUR featuring KISS and Motley Crüe made a stop in Atlanta, and I will write about the show in a bit, but first, some background information about why I made the trip to begin with.
Way back in August 1994, when America Online (AOL) more or less was the Internet, I found a message board mere minutes after becoming an AOL member. The message board was for KISS fans and it was called the KISS Army OnLine (KAOL). I was very ill in a hospital bed, and AOL became my lifeline (at like, $4.00 an hour, if you can believe that!). I quickly had a new group of friends who instantly understood my fandom. In this community, there were two people I chatted with every day without fail for months: Steve and Mimi. In fact, for a time, Mimi and I would talk on the phone for hours at a time.
In July 1995, KISS announced their KISS KONVENTION tour, that was more or less an all day meet and greet where the band signed autographs, did an acoustic show and took requests. When it was announced, it was determined the best location for Steve (who lived in Florida), Mimi (who was in Tennessee) and me to meet was Atlanta. Mimi bought the tickets and an epic road trip was planned where Mimi would pick me up in Richmond and then the two of us would go to Atlanta and meet Steve. I was finally healthy, and very stoked to finally be able to meet these two in person.
But then, real life got in the way.
Less than a week before the trip, Mimi had a relative fall ill, so she had to back out of the trip. Luckily, my dad agreed to drive to Atlanta (he saw a Braves game the night of the KISSKON), and I met Steve. We had a great time, and I even visited Steve the next year to see my first show of the KISS Reunion Tour…but Mimi and I never managed to meet in person.
Mimi disappeared from AOL and we lost touch around 1999. When I joined Facebook in 2008, Steve and I had the same question: Where’s Mimi? In 2011, Steve found Mimi on Facebook and we were back in touch again for the first time in over a decade.
When I saw KISS for two shows in 2010, I truly believed those were my last KISShows, and when plans for THE TOUR with Motley Crüe were announced in March, I wasn’t hyped or even really planning on attending a show. But then a conversation started with Mimi and she said, “Pick any show in the southeast and we’ll do it!” I immediately figured that by the time THE TOUR cranked up in July, I would be a resident of Atlanta. In fact, a week before KISS tickets went on sale, I was in Atlanta seeing Bruce Springsteen. So, even though the first two shows were in Virginia, Mimi and I chose Atlanta. We tried to get Steve to join in on the fun, but he had already made a commitment to see a show in Florida. While I’m not yet a resident of Atlanta, this trip back, this show and, most importantly meeting Mimi in person could not have arrived at a better, more necessary time.
Okay, that concludes the history lesson.
Tuesday afternoon, just after 1:00, Mimi knocked on my hotel room door, and after the hellos and hugs, it was instantly like we were simply resuming a conversation we started years ago. Some friends who knew I was meeting Mimi for the first time on this trip wondered aloud, “What if you two don’t get along? Won’t hat be awkward?” Truthfully that possibility never entered my mind. I knew we were gonna have a blast.
And I was right!
After a long lunch of catching up and consuming mammoth hamburgers at The Vortex Bar & Grill, we chatted more at the hotel. As the clock moved past 6, Mimi said, “We should venture out…”
Oh yeah, there’s that show we wanted to see tonite!
Mapquest directions in hand, we headed toward the outdoor amphitheater, Aaron’s at Lakewood.
A more apt description would’ve been Aaron’s in the Middle of Nowhere Georgia!
Jesus, the drive in, via the Mapquest directions took us into what you might call “the bad part of town”, so bad in fact I thought we had the address wrong. No way there could be a concert venue…here?! We parked on sand and had to ask a parking attendant “Which way to the venue?” he pointed and said “Keep walkin’ down that road”.
So we walked. And walked. As we walked, the 2012 edition of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” unfolded before my eyes. Some guy had a mic and an amp in the bed of his pickup and shouted gems such as “Who here is gonna get DRUUUUUUUUNK?” I laughed and knew that was as close as we were gonna get to the stage rap intro for “Cold Gin”; and Mimi and I kept walking.
Tickets said a 7pm start, but on the first three shows of THE TOUR, Motley Crüe didn’t go on until the sun went down. That’s why it surprised us to hear the “no name uncredited opening band” wrapping up their set about 6:50. Could it be that the Crüe would go on earlier then 8?
Everyone still meandering in from the parking lot was in for a shock when “The Crüe Clock” appeared on a large screen at the back of the stage. It counted down from “7:30” to “7:57”, and the Crüe walked from the back of the covered seat section to the stage, escorted by a bevy of girls (who may very well have been actual escorts). Then the clock slowly “struck” 8:00…but in reality it was 7:42!
Okay, fair warning…if you want no show spoilers before you see THE TOUR in your city, stop reading now.
I won’t say much about Motley. They sounded good, but the sound mix was very muddy. I was going to blame the outdoor venue but the mix for KISS, while not great, was considerably improved. Vince was huffing and breathing heavy by song three, but he kept trying (something he did not do when I last saw them in 2006). The Crüe were a cohesive unit, and musically, Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars were spot on. As always, the vocals continue to be the glaring weakest link in the band. But, Vince Neil’s performance was an omen of what was to come.
One observation I noted: You know it is a completely different time and generation when the kids down front of the stage are too busy snapping pictures and video with their cell phones to bother raising their fists during “Shout at the Devil”!
A strange aspect of the “dual headliners” setup is that Motley Crüe performed almost their entire set while the sun was still up. One would think this would’ve caused Mick Mars to burst into flames but it did not.
A half hour after The Crüe finished, the droning bass note emitted from the hundreds of speakers, and that now almost laughable intro that’s been shouted since 1975 was heard: “You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world…KISS!”
Um, okay. Show me what you’ve got!
The band opened with my very favorite KISSong, “Detroit Rock City” and they literally descended from the rafters high above the stage, just like the band did in 2000 on their (wait for it!) Farewell Tour. It’s still a great entrance and a great way to begin a larger than life show.
But…something was off.
It’s well known that original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are long gone, and their personas are carried on by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, respectively. I’m okay with that. I don’t necessarily like it, but that won’t keep me from seeing a show. KISS now have a much bigger problem than a “Fake Ace” or “Fake Catman.”
They have a lead vocalist who can’t sing anymore.
For me, there is no better frontman in rock than Paul Stanley. At his best, he combined the outlandishness of Bowie, the mystique of Robert Plant and the swagger of Mick Jagger. Most importantly, on most nights, he could sing the songs reasonably close to how they sounded on vinyl. Tuesday night, on every song where Paul handled the lead vocal duties, the band tuned down the songs, playing them in a much lower key. This was such a drastic change, it caused the solo in “Detroit Rock City” to become an unrecognizable mess. One of my favorite moments on record was now reduced to this.
Thankfully (and I never thought I would say this), the set featured many songs sung by Gene and I didn’t notice any drastic down-tuning, so those songs were on par.
KISS’ set was similar to what they’ve brought on the road with them the last few tours, with a huge High-Definition screen to show the closeups. The screen also served as the KISS logo at times. Neat effect, but I missed seeing the actual lighted logo on stage instead of a video image of one. For a time on tours in 1998 and in the 2000s, the band had TWO logos onstage and now they were down to zero, save for a video image. It just didn’t seem right.
They did bring back a version of the drum riser art as seen on the KISS ALIVE II gatefold, only this time it was on a tapestry that hung from the top of the drum riser rather than part of the riser itself. It was a small, seemingly inconsequential thing, but it was very cool and well done.
Gene, Tommy and Eric carried the night while Paul struggled. I applaud them all for trying, but when your frontman has an off night, people notice. Maybe not everyone, but some do.
Had Mimi not been there, it would have been a very different mood, almost sad. Instead, it was more “Okay…that’s the best you’ve got in 2012? Noted and thank you.” I know I have said it before, but I truly believe THE TOUR will be THE (LAST) TOUR for Paul Stanley and therefore, KISS. Portions of the show (Lick It Up, Love Gun) were truly painful to listen to. Paul knows this, but he’s soldiering on, because that’s what the job calls for. I don’t think he’ll be back on the road once they release their new album “MONSTER” in October.
This was the first KISShow where I knew the band bit off more than they could chew. I wasn’t disappointed because this trip, this show was all about meeting Mimi; I did that, so anything else is a bonus. The show was still fun, but there was an air of desperation around it, because whether it was Vince Neil’s winded vocals or Paul Stanley’s painful wail, both were too obvious to cover up and hide. Confetti cannons and greasepaint couldn’t hide the flaws.
If you’re seeing THE TOUR this summer, I hope you see it on a night following a day off. I saw them after they had Monday off and this probably meant Vince’s voice held out longer than it would had they played the previous night. If you are seeing them on a third consecutive night, you may wish the singers were lip-syncing.
I’m 99.9% sure I’ve seen my last KISShow. I’m okay with that. I’ve seen (I think) sixteen shows since 1988 and the band, in all of its incarnations, has toured far longer than anyone thought it would.
Most importantly, this week I visited the city I will soon call home, and I finally met someone I’d been waiting to see for 17 years. No matter how lackluster the show was, this was one of the best KISS-themed experiences ever; proof that KISS is far more than just the band or the current tour.
But then, if you’re a KISS fan, you know this.
Set lists (from setlist.fm):
Saints of Los Angeles
Shout at the Devil
Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
Sex (New song)
Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Home Sweet Home
Girls, Girls, Girls
Kickstart My Heart
Detroit Rock City
Shout It Out Loud
I Love It Loud
Firehouse (Gene spits fire)
Love Gun (Paul flies)
Hell or Hallelujah (New single from MONSTER)
Bass Solo (Gene spits blood and flies)
God of Thunder
Lick It Up
Black Diamond (with short Paul guitar solo)
Rock and Roll All Nite
Thanks for reading,