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Saturday, 12th July 2014

Austin, TX - Media Reviews

Kiss & Def Leppard at the Austin360 Amphitheater By Patrick Beach

Months ago, when I asked my charming bride if she would like to see Kiss at the Austin360 Amphitheater Saturday (OK, I sort of told her we were going), her reply was: "Please take somebody else. Please." Then I said, "NOTE THE DATE." See, Saturday was my birthday, kind of a big one.

I won.

And maybe halfway into the set, even she was converted. So I'm done apologizing for liking this band. With founding members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley in their 60s, and in the band's 40th year, and with absolutely nothing left to prove, they worked like crazy to make the sold-out crowd lose its collective mind. The set list included a few relative obscurities and surprises. (This is a band know for its spontaneity-stifling discipline; apparently they're mixing it up a bit more this time out.) Stuff blew up. There were flames and fireworks and confetti. That show can most accurately be described with one word, one that's way, way overused: awesome. They are comic book superheroes complete with super powers. They can fly. And they're also a really tight, ridiculously entertaining rock and roll band. With crazy costumes and kabuki makeup, it doesn't even matter that founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have no more chance of getting back in the band than Lance Armstrong has of pedaling the Tour de France. The idea of Kiss, shameless and grandiose at the same time, is greater than any one of its members.

I wasn't expecting "Shout It Out Loud" and would have preferred "Firehouse" instead of "War Machine" for Simmons' fire-breathing act, but they did unpack "Deuce" and "Hotter Than Hell" for us old-timers. Oh, yeah, there was a lot of gray hair in the house. And also kids, many of them in face paint. Being a Kiss fan apparently is an inheritable affliction.

Also wasn't expecting "Detroit Rock City" but they did that, too, perhaps because it was Saturday night and I was feeling uptight because of nightmarish parking misguidance and misdirection by Circuit of the Americas staff that had us driving around the racetrack for longer than the band was onstage. Even the post-makeup stuff like "Lick It Up" sounded great. Maybe because of the distractions. Maybe because I'm just a sucker. And they did "Cold Gin" and "Love Gun" and "God Of Thunder." That's when Simmons took to the air.

The one previous time I saw Def Leppard it was a professional obligation and I was fully prepared to hate it. Yeah, THAT band, those kings of melodic hard rock radio-friendly enough to be unthreatening to your high school girlfriend. But that time I happened to be sitting next to some high school-aged girls who were positively thrilled, and I couldn't help but watch the show through their young, uncritical eyes. This time what really stood out were the songs. Go ahead and laugh, but "Bringing on the Heartbreak" and "Foolin'" and "Rock Of Ages" and every other hit that MTV played way, way too many times have more hooks than your great uncle's tackle box and they stand up, a point made most emphatically during an acoustic mini-set, where it's impossible for a weak song to hide behind stomp box fuzz. Also standing up nicely is Joe Elliot's voice. Anybody looking to build an outfit of moderately heavy hitmakers should study these guys.

Back to Kiss: You know that feeling you get when you realize you've seen one of your favorite bands one too many times, like you didn't know you should have quit them and not tainted the memory of the one last good time with the last time that wasn't that good? That was not the case with Kiss Saturday night. They might be as packaged as a box of Lucky Charms but they know it, and so do we, and they've never broken the compact: Show up, give us a bunch of money and we will blow you away.

And that's what Kiss did Saturday night. They won.

By Austin 360 2014.

Wish List: Kiss & Def Leppard By Luke Winkie

I wish I was in Def Leppard. I also wish I wasn’t caught up in the useless pontificating that causes people to look down their nose at a Def Leppard and Kiss double bill at a racetrack – the one Saturday night at the Circuit of the Americas.

I wish I bought kettle corn and munched through “Love Bites.” I wish I got to spread my arms open toward the sky at the end of “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” I wish I was opening for Kiss.

I wish I could disarm the jokes about these decades-past-their-prime hard rock acts who are selflessly donating proceeds from this tour to the Wounded Warrior Project. I wish I wrote “Hysteria.” I wish I could wear leather pants like Def Leppard bassist Rick Savage.

I wish I could aerobicise like Kiss frontman Paul Stanley. I wish shows at the Mohawk had pyrotechnics. I wish I could breathe fire like Gene Simmons. I wish I could impress upon you the gravity of that moment in 1983 when “Lick it Up,” performed Saturday, prompted Kiss to appear (on MTV) without make-up for the first time.

I wish I had a career as varied and fertile to produce a “disco period.” (Sorry, no “I Was Made for Loving You” for Austin.) Especially when, decades later, a stadium full of people are still cheering for the moment you supposedly sold out (no, not opener “Psycho Circus”). Kiss has earned its 40th anniversary tour.

I always thought “Detroit Rock City” kinda sucked. Maybe that’s because I hadn’t heard it blasted from the largest PA in Central Texas. Ditto for the hard glam classics making up the majority of the set: (in order) “Deuce,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Hotter Than Hell,” “God of Thunder,” “Cold Gin,” “Love Gun,” “Black Diamond,” and closer “Rock & Roll All Nite.” The explosions helped.

No bands ever sounded better than Kiss and Def Leppard Saturday night. It doesn’t matter that the latter’s Joe Elliott can’t hit the high notes anymore. Those lines pour out of any audience’s mouths just as the notes fly from their air guitars. A concert like this is pure instinct now. These songs are what these men are on a pure fundamental level.

There was a time when everyone in a rock band could sing harmony. It’s not my era, but it still blows my mind when I see it in person. When Kiss powers the undying mantra “I wanna rock & roll all night, and party every day,” well, you still believe them.

By Austin Chronicle 2014.

Concert Review: Def Leppard and Kiss By Doug Van Pelt

Can these old bands still rock and roll? I mean, the guys in Kiss are in their 60s. The men in Def Leppard their 50s. Thank God for makeup, but all visuals aside (including the age and dress of some of the patrons that came to show at the show), these bands still have it … and then some.

I brought my 16-year old daughter to the show, so this was a test. “Will it bore her to tears, make her laugh or scare her completely?” These are subtle fears I try to brush past as we head out to the massive playground known as Circuit of the Americas (COTA for short) in Austin, Texas. It’s the newest home for Formula One racing, as well as big-audience concerts and the X-Games.

Texas is known for its heat and, even though we haven’t hit triple digits yet this year (I think), it was sweltering — so much so that each performer remarked about it at some point during their set. I have to admit that I felt sorry for the opening band. Even at 7 p.m. the sun was punishing us all with its heat. This mostly unknown act had the challenge of warming up a crowd that hadn’t even half arrived yet. People were still filing in when this Canadian band starts thundering out a double-guitar power metal attack — but it got better as soon as lead vocalist Kobra Paige walked out. Eye candy for sure, but women in metal are still a novelty to some extent. It shouldn’t be so and for the most part audiences take them on neutral ground, which is all an artist asks for. She rivaled Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia in power and range and tipped her hat to a wide range of power metal vocalists — from Dio to Bruce Dickinson to Michael Kiske to Rey Parra. She held her own, the guitarists blazed away and they did alright. No one in the front stood up, so it had to be difficult to put forth all that energy and not get much back. Their beefed-up cover of Heart’s “Barracuda” elicited a good response and most tunes garnered applause, but their 30-minute set was over quick and that wasn’t bad for a virtually unknown band. Lots of people now have a good clue as to what their sound is and that’s a good accomplishment.

The between-song music was indicative of the bands on the bill this night, but a big boost in volume when The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” started at 7:53 p.m., I knew it’d be the last track we’d hear before live music started. This puzzled me, because I thought this classic tune was only about 5 minutes long. That’s an 8 minute, 32-second song! The final drum cadence/roll came on and I just knew the band would start playing along to it. Sure enough, right at the top of the hour the band’s giant black backdrop with their red and yellow logo in the big, jagged and bold letters of their band logo shot upwards and revealed these Brits wailing away to one of their rock and roll ancestors.

By the time the band rolled into their own song, “Let It Go,” I realized I was flat-out giddy. I felt like a kid at a metal show again. Forget that I had my daughter with me, who may or may not enjoy what she was hearing, I had goose bumps and an undeniable sense of heavy metal energy. The boys are back in town and their bringing it down!

Fortunately, for a band like Def Leppard, they have plenty of hits to fill their set up with. They started rolling ‘em out with little to no fanfare, save for a few polite and chatty comments from frontman Joe Elliot: “Animal” and then “Foolin” and it was easy to feel like the band could do no wrong. Fortunately, they did no wrong and it was a delightful, energetic and crowd-pleasing show. “Love Bites” slowed things down just a little bit with their big chorus melody and the band was accompanied by massive video screens directly behind the stage with images and words that relayed the song’s theme.

“Let’s Get Rocked” pumped the place right back up. Then Elliott showed up front and center with an acoustic guitar, and Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell did the same. Elliott invited the audience to sing along to “Two Steps Behind,” which the crowd kinda failed to do. Then they segued into the great, churning and burning ballad “Bringing on the Heartbreak,” which felt all wrong to me. ‘Wait a minute!’ I thought, ‘they can’t play this song without electric guitars blazing away at the end. Fortunately, right on cue (where Elliott screams, “NO! No-oh!” the electrics come out and Collen and Campbell cut loose. This long solo then transitioned into their cool instru-metal “Switch 625,” which extended the rocking just the right amount.

“Hysteria” added a nice touch with a lot of vintage photos of the band in its heyday, including plenty of shots that include the dearly departed founding guitarist Steve Clark. It felt like a smart idea that really seemed to work. You know, if you’re looked at as some sort of nostalgia act this late past your prime, you might as well own it and hit the audience with some feel-good visuals while you play one of your hits from your biggest-selling album.

“Rocket” had a cool video screen backdrop of lots and lots of television sets – many with individual images and some working together to show larger images from multiple small windows. It was a fun visual to watch. Vivian Campbell was brought out front and center for a direct introduction and a nice announcement about him sporting a brand new wedding band. He intro’d the song “Armageddon It,” which featured a ton of social conscious messages and images during the tune. The band ended the set with “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” which was a highpoint that had almost 100% crowd participation, which is always fun with that many people (10-15,000 people? I don’t really know, but Austin’s 360 Amphitheater looked packed).

The night wasn’t over for Def Leppard, of course, because they hadn’t played a couple of must-plays. Sure enough, for an encore they laid into “Rock of Ages,” which drummer Rick Allen introduced with his faux German. They finished things off with “Photograph,” which sounded great and also sported lots of scrapbook-style photos on the big screen. I need to also mention that two large screens also stood on either side of the stage, which primarily ran live footage edited on the fly of the musicians performing, along with many excited crowd shots.

My daughter loved it. All was good with the world. But what would she think of Kiss? We were about to find out.

I could tell the band was about ready to begin their set, as Led Zeppelin tunes started rocking over the P.A. One thing I have to say about Kiss, they know greatness. They’ve been blasting Zeppelin before their shows forever. Kiss may not have the ultimate musical chops, but they know who does and their homage is a cool thing.

I left my daughter in her seat for the first two songs, where my photo pass got me in the photo pit to capture these images. It’s great being that close to a super visual band. They play it up hard for the photographers and those in the front rows. It’s easy to shoot these guys. Photogenic they are.

A giant black banner with their iconic silver logo dropped to reveal the three upfront members – Gene, Paul and “Ace” (aka Tommy Thayer) on a riser that looked like the back of a giant spider, which hydraulically lowered the jamming musicians to the stage, along with lights everywhere and flashpots exploding. It was a Kiss concert and it was in full swing from the first second on.

“Psycho Circus” was the opening number, which served as the rock-it-up energy-raising song that a set intro needs. They went right into a golden oldie (“Duece”) and then said hello and sauntered into “Shout It Out Loud.”

Wow. Kiss is so fun to watch, their songs so simple and fun. Only The Ramones can rival the kitsch and party atmosphere these guys generate. It’s great for what it is. Kiss played another new song next, called “War Machine” (from Creatures of the Night), which some really cool and creepy footage of hundreds and thousands of robot warriors marching with weapons in hand.

Paul Stanley’s interaction with the audience was warm and friendly, but felt a little dry. Perhaps it was the heat. He introduced “Hotter Than Hell” and it was hard not to think about the temperature outside – especially anywhere near the stage, as all the pyrotechnics going off was generating immense heat. My daughter and I both expressed wonder and felt sorry for the performers, who couldn’t wipe the sweat from their faces (in order not to smear their makeup). It’s not easy being Gene. Did I mention that he took a torch and breathed fire during this song? If you know Kiss, you know that it happens during this song.

The band went into “Lick it Up,” which featured Ace and Paul going up on the spider riser. Drummer Eric Singer (made up as “the cat,” aka Peter Criss) took the lead from the two guitar players that were setting up a building and repeating riff that exploded back into “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which featured the guttural “Yeahhhhhh” at the end of the crescendo (possibly the best scream in rock). They then jammed some more. I thought I heard the groove to Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded,” but I was just lost in the riff, enjoying the rock. More fire, more explosions and then back into the “Lick it Up” chorus. Ace’s guitar shot off three major fireworks right off the tip of his headstock, as if it were a gun.

Gene took center stage and did a bass solo, where he spit blood and then flew up in the air on a set of wires, like a giant bat up into the platform on the spider’s back. It looked like quite a feat to manage that landing up there on that platform so high. He led the band through “God of Thunder,” which sounded nice and heavy with lots of low end from his battle axe of a bass.

Paul quieted things down with his announcement that the band was about to play an older song that they don’t often perform, but one that usually gets the crowd singing along when they do. It was “Hide Your Heart” from the Hot in the Shade album that was released smack dab in the middle of the hair metal era. It was one of many rock songs about this reoccurring character named Johnny (“Jukebox Hero,” “The Marshall Plan,” “Shooting Star”) and had a catchy chorus that was fun to sing along with all of it’s “Oh-oh-oh’s” and all.

The band went way back in their catalog and played “Cold Gin” (from their self-titled debut album, circa 1974). Then Paul did something kinda funny. He told the crowd that he would join them. But he wanted them to shout his name. Not once. That wasn’t loud enough. Three times and then he’d come. We love ya, Paul, but did you really need that ego massage there? He was whisked to the midpoint of the crowd just above the soundboard, where he landed atop its roof and led the band through “Love Gun.” It was a lot of fun and most everyone was singing the old hit.

Eric Singer led the band back into the concert closer with his uncanny Peter Criss-sounding raspy vocals (that always reminded me a bit of Rod Stewart) that kick off the tune “Black Diamond.”

“Out on the streets for a livin’
Which has only begun
Oooh, oooh, ooooh!”

The song ended with a bang and Paul explained that they wouldn’t go through the faux-formalities of leaving the stage to be asked out for an encore – because it was late and this part of Austin had a noise ordinance curfew, so they lit into “Detroit Rock City” and capped the fun evening off with “Rock and Roll All Nite,” with a grand finale of fireworks, fire and confetti cannons on either side of the stage. It was gloriously fun. And now I have a really good idea (at least visually) of what it feels like to win a national championship in football. Confetti just kept getting shot into the air in mass quantities and it floated down like a snow storm.

We are the champions! And, for a brief 90-minute set, so were Kiss.

By HM Magazine 2014.


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