We wanted the best, we got ... KISS. We also got Mötley Crüe last week at Bridgestone Arena, where we took in "The Tour" — a Dr. Feelgood-meets-Dr. Love arena-rock double-shot that was like a 10-story-tall gilded middle finger to subtlety.
This wasn't The Spin's first rodeo when it comes to KISS' storied, cliché-by-design concert experience. When we caught the band's 2009 Bridgestone performance, our biggest complaint (besides suffering through tragically tuneless, shirtless openers Buckcherry) was that Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and their hired-hand impostors opened with "Deuce" into "Strutter." An awesome one-two punch to be sure, the set-topping pairing of the band's two best songs meant, at least musically, the show was all downhill after its first eight minutes. And last Tuesday night, the band — performing a truncated version of its show to accommodate Mötley Crüe's dumbfounding carnival of sleaze and BDSM, which we'll get to in a minute — played neither "Strutter" nor "Deuce," resulting in a performance that was comparatively lacking by default.
KISS might wanna rock 'n' roll all night, but they only rocked and rolled for about 90 minutes on Tuesday. They turned in a trim, déjà vu-inducing rehash of the same campy gimmicks we saw last time — gimmicks the band has probably rendered time and time again at arenas across the globe for the past four decades. Gene spit fire during "Firehouse." Paul zip-lined his 60-year-old ass over the crowd during "Love Gun." Gene spit blood. Shit blew up during almost every song. (That never gets old.) And they played a new song titled "Hell or Hallelujah" while thousands took a piss break. And of course, the band levitated toward the rafters, performing "Rock and Roll All Nite" as a blinding storm of steam and confetti rained over the crowd as a finale.
Also, the band once again pinned the needle on the bullshit meter by letting Ace Frehley stand-in Tommy Thayer sing "Shock Me," which this time gave way to an extended guitar-and-drum solo/jam between Thayer and Peter Criss stand-in Eric Singer. Sure, these guys are good soldiers doing a good job filling (literally) big shoes. And truth be told, they nail "Black Diamond" and "Shout It out Loud" way better than Criss or Frehley probably could these days. But who cares about that? It's fucking KISS. And when Gene and Paul left the stage to Singer and Thayer, it was like watching a glorified cover band play dress up for an arena-sized crowd.
OK, now let's talk about Mötley Crüe. Arriving late (yes, we know), we caught only the last five songs of the band's 14-song set. And that was more than enough Crüe to last us a lifetime, even if we missed by minutes Tommy Lee "soloing" on a drum set looping upside down on a 360-degree vertical roller-coaster track. Not to say it wasn't exactly what we came to the concert for: pure mindless entertainment. But sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, as the Crüe's stage production was like an Affliction shirt come to life in a Juggalo's wet dream and set inside the foundry where Sara Connor killed the Terminator.
Every time we looked away from the stage to take notes, we felt as though we were cheating ourselves of another hair-raising, jaw-dropping cock-rock cliché. Another blinding wall of laser lights. Another deafening explosion. Or a cartoonish sneer from Nikki Sixx. Or, courtesy of Lee, another haunting vision of what a meth-addled, rapidly aging Travis Barker would look like. Another wet surge shot from an onstage water gun turret to duck and cover from. And another instance of Vince Neil raising his mic to the air only to receive a sympathetic crowd response falling far short of the sing-along he was obviously anticipating. The set was an overwhelming factory of tactless flare to behold. Watching it certainly killed more brain cells than our $10 beers.
At this point The Spin has seen our share of ornery arena-rock crowds at nostalgic glam-metal happenings like this. But we've never seen a crowd as shit-hammered and prone to shouting out loud double negatives as this debauched bunch. We also noticed that a lot of dads are hell-bent on having KISS be their son's first concert. Luckily, Mötley Crüe's show is child-appropriate. Oh wait ...
For Butter or worse
As The Spin, we have been to more obligatory record release shows than you could possibly imagine. And they pretty frequently seem a little sad and pointless — one more slab of plastic floating on a garbage-covered sea of already unwanted tuneage, celebrated by one more listing on an over-cluttered calendar. Oh, but then you have release shows like the one Friday night at Exit/In, where Turbo Fruits celebrated their latest, the Serpents and Snakes Records-released Butter — which can accurately be described as "long-awaited" and already "critically acclaimed" — and where it was safe to check our cynicism at the door.
The obligatory pre-game beer at The Gold Rush cost us a performance from youngsters Fox Fun. We're sure it was every bit as endearing as postmodern Southern jangle-pop can be. We've enjoyed the Foxes on many occasions in the past, and the "Squawk" single they recently released via Turbo Fruits' Turbo Time Records is pretty enjoyable. Anyway, what we did catch was somewhere around the beginning of King Karl. Hulking and hirsute frontman Cy Barkley could easily be dismissed as a one-trick horse of a single color if you've only seen him with his purist punk hardcore ensemble the Way Outsiders. But hearing him share the spotlight with bassist/singer Bridget Russell revealed a more tender, melodic and intricate side as they ripped through the darker realms of power pop.
Next up, we did the time warp again. After an extended hiatus, drummer Tanner Lunn was back on the skins serving up the rumble behind local psych revivalists Ranch Ghost. The Ghost's reverb-drenched garage stomp has seen a noticeable expansion in terms of fan base, demonstrated pretty noticeably by both the size and seismic activity of the kids going various degrees of ape-shit throughout their set. As a friend of The Spin pointed out, Ranch Ghost is an awful lot like The Black Lips — that is, if The Black Lips were much more chilled-out and didn't spit on one another and everything.
Before their set, Turbo Fruits unfurled a white sheet/screen against the venue's balcony, on which they premiered their new Michael Carter-shot video for the song "Harley Dollar Bill$." The video — which will be available to the masses soon — features shots of the band amid a swingin' party thrown by local motorcycle club Best of Both Worlds. Appropriately enough, it's all loose times and more two-wheeled gymnastics than one could shake a stick at. Many of the BOBW members/video stars were present on Friday night, having lined their hogs up outside the venue just before the video's debut — and they all toasted and cheered, naturally. Many of the BOBWers stuck around for the duration, as did Turbo Fruits' new label daddies (and 50 percent of Kings of Leon), Caleb and Jared Followill.
After dedicating their set to dearly departed End sound guy Brad Baker, Turbo Fruits immediately began providing what can best be understated as "predictability." That is, predictable in that we all knew what kind of a well-oiled, revved-up, newly familiar roller coaster of a set we'd signed up for — frontman Jonas Stein's midair splits, Dave McCowen mugging and grinning as he plows through his lithe bass lines, and tight renditions of new ones like "Ain't the Only One Havin' Fun" and familiar crowd-pleasers like "Mama's Mad 'Cos I Fried My Brain." The Fruits are long past the days when Stein was simply moonlighting from his day gig as Be Your Own Pet's guitarist — hell, that was two lineups and hundreds of gigs ago. The band's untamed and rambunctious riffs haven't gone anywhere, but they've definitely been fused with dynamic and melodic maturity, taking their music from "simply fun" to "downright engaging." Go Butter.
At the end of Turbo Fruits' set, the bottom dropped out over Elliston Place, bombarding the Rock Block with a torrential downpour. Trapped with a couple dozen other patrons, we waited for both the storm and the ringing in our ears to subside, watching as KOL frontman Caleb mounted the stage to bang out a few beats on Fruits drummer Matt Hearn's kit. But the sound guy put a stop to that pretty quickly.