SEPTEMBER 15, 2010
Generations bond over heavy metal
By BOB FLAHERTY
At right, cover art for the band’s newest album “Sonic Boom.”
Yes, that’s me in the picture, piggybacked by my oldest son, Brendan, who’s 39 now, and has ridden all five of his kids on his boulders at one time or another
– and most of their friends. The reason I am perched on his shoulders is because we are getting ready to go to Mohegan Sun to witness the comeback of the legendary hard rock band Kiss. (Long story.) Also in the photo is Bren dan’s youngest, Tyrus, age 6.
“I want to go to the concert, too, Gramps,” Tyrus pouts, and I want to scoop him in my arms and sneak him in with us. But what responsible parent would take a 6-year-old to a big arena rock concert with power chords timed to earsplitting explosions?
Well, this one did. When Brendan was exactly the age Ty is now, I, being the coolest dad ever minted, and being that Brendan at the time was obsessed with Kiss – they did have a great look with the horror show makeup and 12-inch heels – bought tickets and took him to the Worcester Centrum in the winter of 1977. We had lousy seats, but this was during my scoff-at-everything days
– bad seats? Ha! Just wait’ll the lights go down.
Just as the bombast began and band members descended from platforms high above, I made my move and charged the stage with hundreds of others, not a thought given to my having a 6-year-old on my shoulders with his 6-year-old eardrums and not-yet-formed impressions of the world. We got to stage’s edge, now completely engulfed in fog you could taste in your nostrils, the brazen array of unseen 20-foot speakers pulsing like doom. Suddenly; Gene Simmons’ tongue-led visage emerged from the fog, going nose to nose with my frightened child, who would have fallen off my shoulders to the floor were it not for the guy behind me grabbing him before he hit. Simmons and his tongue up close. It was like being attacked by Nosferatu in a Transylvanian mist. I almost fainted too.
About two-thirds of the way into the show, I began to question my judgement in charging the stage. It gets hot up there in that mass of head-banging humanity, hotter still with 40 pounds of arms and legs on my shoulders and Kiss itself drags you to the edge of Hell with all the smoke and pyro. By the encore I couldn’t breathe and had to drop Brendan to the ground as my legs started to buckle. A fortunate thing, it turned out. At night’s end, Simmons held his bass high over his head like a grinning, sinister Samurai before slamming it to the stage, one of its keys pinging off into the crowd. Fans scram bled for it like a foul ball off the bat of Yaz, but Brendan, being the lowest to the ground, came up with it. He kept it for years afterwards, but lost it in a move. These are our only memories from that ’77 show.
He remained a Kiss fan into his early teens, then got into some deeper, darker stuff, becoming a musician in his own right, a talented two-footed drummer for funk/metal bands. I was only a KISS fan for one night in 1977.
But somewhere around the end of July this year, I got a call from Brendan. “Uh, I don’t know if this is anything you’d be interested in and I’m not sure if I’m interested either, but I can get two free tickets to see KISS.”
“Whoa,” I said. “Do you re member me taking you to see Kiss when you were little?”
”YES!” he cried. “I remember being scared to death by Gene Simmons! That’s why I thought this might be cool.”
Without hesitation I said, “Let’s do it. Except this time,” I added, “I’ll be on your shoulders.”
Note about piggyback rides: Kids like this stuff? It’s like balancing on the back of an upright camel, nothing to hang onto, digging your ankles into the camel’s ribs to keep from falling off. “Uhhh, w-w WHOA! Not so FAST, Brendan!”
Irony department: The day after the call, I stopped at my favorite bike shop, Peak Performance in Granby, and was checking out bike shirts, mostly just colorful but nondescript red and white things, when lo and behold, in the middle of the rack hung a Kiss shirt, and there they all are: Paul, Gene, Peter and Ace. Now, I realize that wearing a Kiss shirt says something radically different than, say, Rage Against the Machine, but omens like these don’t come around every day. My wife Annemarie and I went back and bought the shirt for Brendan’s 39th birthday. He loved it. Couldn’t picture himself actually wearing the thing, but he loved it. At 4:30 on the 19th of August I arrived at his house in Easthampton. Dressing for the concert, I wore a black Beatles shirt, their four-color silk-screened faces taken right off the “For Sale” album. I thought it was appropriate, Kiss being one of the few bands whose individual mugs are as recognized as the Fabs. Just like in ’77, I drove.
It is not our first time to gether at Mohegan Sun. Though neither of us play the slots, we’ve gone there to see Little Evil and Tito Ortiz kick the snot out of someone. (Long story.) This, however, would be our first concert together in years. We, along with a couple of his friends, once drove to a Slayer show in Fitchburg and didn’t find out it was canceled until we got there. A station wagon full of howling wolves, including one middle-aged driver, returning to Northampton in a battered old Dodge as morose as a hearse. Rock giveth and rock taketh away.
We’ve moved up in the world. Our seats at Mohegan are the closest thing to backstage you can get, on the balcony, stage left. The sold-out house is dotted with Gene Simmons impersonators, none of them as steady on the stilt heels as the original, flicking normal-lengthed tongues in need of Enzyte for papillary enlargement, but they’re having fun, no doubt.
Sitting next to us is Stanley Lamb, 49, of Palmer, who’s brought his son-in-law, Bryan Lafortune, 28. “It’s Bryan’s birthday,” said Lamb. “He’s never seen KISS before.” Lamb has, in 1977, at the Springfield Civic Center, probably the same week we saw them. “Reliving your childhood, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Opening the show with a driving, infectious set are indie darlings The Academy Is, a short haired garage band whose lead singer has the androgynous moves of an early Robert Plant. Good as they are, it does seems an unlikely opening act for Kiss, though the bass player sports a Kiss shirt. Between numbers, some guy a few rows behind us yells ”You suck!” getting a few cheap laughs, to which Brendan loudly replies, “No, YOU suck!” reaping a lot more genuine laughs, and then he stands up, ready to go at it with the lout if need be. ”They gotta be good or Kiss wouldn’t have invited them, so you’re really dissing Kiss!” he tells the oaf. Yup, taught the lad well.
Between acts on the concourse downstairs I run into a guy about my age wearing an identical Beatles shirt. ”You bastard!” he cries. ”You were supposed to call me with what you were wearing!”
Back in seat, minutes from show time. A 50-foot black drapery is raised to keep the packed house in suspense, but we in the wings can see everything, the band casually getting ready, drummer Eric Singer settling in by himself, twirling sticks, dual bass drums rattling like logs down a ravine.
Down falls the curtain as Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer engineer a Berlin Airlift of an opening, hydraulically raised over Singer on a platform and delivered to stage front, only inches from reaching, exultant fans, all three axes blazing like a C5A out of Westover. This ain’t no Geezer, Geez and Geez reunion tour, baby. This is the juice. Two hours of flame and thunderation has begun.
Original members Simmons and Stanley are pushing 60 or at it, but you’d never know. Gene licks the neck of his bass, spits blood, breathes fire, levitates 60 feet in the air, all the while busting bass lines with a spread-wide swagger to make Sly Stallone look like RICHARD Simmons. In 12-inch serpent-head heels and armor.
Paul Stanley is the quintessential rocker, the kind Marvel Comics would dream up, in rock pose and Lipizzaner strut every second, in every corner of the stage – the bare chest still hairy, the arms still bulging with sinew, the hair… the HAIR! Only the best head of hair on the face of the earth. If it’s a wig, then it’s the best wig on the face of the earth.
Decades of metal is mined, from “Deuce” to “Love Gun” to “100,000Years” to the newer stuff, like “I’m an Animal” from their latest release “Sonic Boom,” which has a heavier edge than the older hits, if that’s possible. During the 1974 hit “Firehouse,” flames crackle from 50 screens. Tommy Thayer’s guitar floats away and comes back shooting fireworks. Stanley soars over the entire crowd like a hellish Peter Pan. Explosions ring like all the Fourths of July into one, many of them choreographed to Stanley’s fist-thrusts. (Nothing brings a song home better than dynamite-tinged chords, I’ll tell you what.) And getting stuck with nosebleed seats nowadays wouldn’t matter – you can watch the whole thing on 50-foot split screens, Simmons’ ever flicking multi curved tongue looking like a sperm whale in the close-ups.
“We have established that you’re a great city!” Stanley shrieks into the mic. ”.And it doesn’t have to start with a D!” BLAM! The intro, of course, to “Detroit Rock City,” my son Brendan’s favorite song. Nailed it.
Stanley even promised that their encore would be a show unto itself, and it was, wrapping up with “Rock and Roll All Night” as tons of confetti shot from blowers into the crowd, giving the effect of being inside one of those globes you shake at Christmas time.
“I’m embarrassed to say it might be the greatest show I’ve ever seen,” said my son. “Maybe I’ve heard better music from unsigned bands, but I have never seen a better show.”
We got lost on the way home and drove 40 minutes out of our way, babbling like teenage loons. As we hugged good night under the street lamp by his house,
he just said, “Dad.”
It’s a good gig, being Dad. He’s the dad now, up to his ears in it; I’m just semi-retired. Either way, you sometimes need a night out with a kick-your-lights out band. Shout it. Shout it out loud.