Hard-rock mayhem of KISS and Motley Crue

Aug 30, 2012 | Posted in News & Updates

By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

KISS: Tommy Thayer, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Eric Singer

KISS: Tommy Thayer, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Eric Singer

"The Tour" isn't the first time KISS and Motley Crue have gone out together, but the last time, the opener was just a hungry, up-and-coming band trying to pitch its debut album.

It was just a handful of dates in 1982, one of the first times Motley Crue ever hit the road in any kind of big way. Arena-rock giant KISS was on its 10th anniversary Creatures of the Night tour, its first without lead guitarist and Spaceman Ace Frehley.

"Seeing them on stage, it was obvious back then that this was the next big thing," KISS frontman Paul Stanley said in a news conference announcing the tour.

Mr. Stanley may have been busy getting his makeup and gear on during those Crue sets, but if that's really what he thought at the time, he was dead on. A year later, Crue unleashed "Shout at the Devil," furthering its climb toward arena-headlining status in the mid-'80s.

Thirty years, and many ups and downs later, KISS and Crue have teamed up for this "Tour" that closes the First Niagara Pavilion season on Sunday.

Hyping the tour, KISS bassist Gene Simmons had a few words for the state of modern music: "We're sick and tired of girls getting up there with dancers and karaoke tapes in back of them. No fake [b.s.]. Leave that to the Rihanna/Smhianna and anyone who ends their name with an 'A.' "

The Crue's Nikki Sixx echoed that thought, saying, "What I would like to see people take away from it is that if you actually practice your instrument and practice writing songs and put 100 percent into your show and every aspect of it, from your clothes to your lyrics, if your singers sing, then this is what happens -- you have a long career and you get to go out and do the real deal."

"The Tour" kicked off in July and it's been "incredible," KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer says in a phone interview. "The thing that's blown me away is the camaraderie between the bands, actually. It's a great spirit and a healthy competition going out there and trying to kick each other's ass every night. But they're great guys and that's going really well."

Unlike the Crue's last tour, with early rival Poison, there weren't any old wounds to patch up between the bands. And unlike in the Crue book "The Dirt," no punches are thrown.

"It's not like any of those tours you've heard or read about," Mr. Thayer says. "It's not like that at all. Nikki has flown with us on our airplane a few times and we hang out. Everyone has known each other for a while, and it's great. Mick Mars is a fantastic guy, a sweet guy. We see each other before the show starts in the hall, and in the catering room, and shoot the [expletive] and talk rock 'n' roll music and have a great time. It's a great vibe."

With KISS having debuted a decade earlier, it's likely that a percentage of the Kiss KISS never embraced Motley Crue and its rogue offstage antics.

"I don't think we expect that all the fans are all about each of the bands," the guitarist says. "There's a common thread there that we're both hard-rock bands that love to put on a great show and be flamboyant. Their show is quite a bit different than ours, actually. That's what makes it great. They have a completely different design and set and lighting approach that's incredible but that's different from what we're doing. More so than what you would think.

"I think what's happening is you get some Crue fans and some KISS fans that normally wouldn't go see the other band, but I think they're being turned on to the other band in a great way. You've got two headlining shows packing together into one show, so it's like 1 plus 1 equals 3. It's got more bang for the buck, I guarantee you, than any other concert tour out there this summer."

Although Mr. Thayer became the KISS guitarist in 2003, he's been around the band since 1994, when he started working as an assistant and handyman.

He speaks from some experience when he says, "It's the biggest KISS stage set we've ever had. There's more video and more technology going on, but we don't lose track of the classic KISS elements either. It's finding the balance between all that great KISS shtick, so to speak, and putting it into a more technologically advanced stage show. There's tons more of everything. Pyro is over the top. We're shooting literally twice as much pyro than we ever have."

KISS is playing a 14-song set of classics -- "Detroit Rock City," "Firehouse," "Black Diamond," "Rock and Roll All Nite," etc. -- along with one new track, "Hell or Hallelujah," from the album "Monster," the follow-up to 2009's comeback album, "Sonic Boom," due for release on Oct. 16.

"Even though 'Sonic Boom' was great," the guitarist says, "I think this is better. Of course, I'm going to say that, because it's coming out, so what else am I going to say, ha ha? It really rocks from song one to song 12. It's a band album through and through. Paul produced it. We just took it to another level. 'Sonic Boom' was more of an experiment, going into the studio with this lineup -- and KISS just generally going into the studio to record a new album after 11 years, that can be challenging and it can be risky. They haven't had great, cohesive records leading up to this. 'Psycho Circus' was kind of a clusterbuck."

This time, he says, "The songs are great and they all fit together really well. You hear bands come out with records and a lot of times, it doesn't feel like a complete record, because some songs don't seem to fit. What Paul's good at is being disciplined about picking the right songs that fit together and make a statement as a collection of songs. They were written just by us, no agendas again as far as trying to write radio songs or power ballads, any of that."

Although Mr. Stanley took the reins, he says it's more a band effort than anyone would imagine.
"You think ofKISS and you think, oh, these guys can't possibly get together at their houses and write songs and record them on their iPhones -- the ideas -- and they can't possibly go into the studio and sit there and record together. That's just not true. We'd get together, go to Paul's house, go to Gene's, get together in hotel rooms with our guitars, record ideas into our iPhone voice memo, get an idea, go to the rehearsal room, just the four of us, and bust out an arrangement for the idea, decide if the song has potential or not, take it to the studio and record it. We sit there together the four of us in the studio and bang it out. It's just that simple. I don't think a lot of bands do it that way anymore."

Now, maybe, they'll have little KISS Army members waiting for "Monster" who bought the KISS Mr. Potato Head toys at Walmart in 2009. When KISS came through on that tour, fans were invited to bring their kids to the show, which was not only a nice gesture by the band, but a way to keep the machine humming for another generation.

"It's mind-boggling," Mr. Thayer says of the crowd demographic. "Every age. It's like the circus has come to town. When you get younger kids coming, they come the next time and they bring their friends, and when they get older they bring their kids. Between now and when I joined the band roughly 10 years ago, it's amazing to see the crowds have grown bigger and more expansive as this thing continues to churn. With KISS, it's a timeless quality. It doesn't become out of date, like some bands that fall into a time frame of 'that's kind of dated now, or 'that's kind of old.' With KISS, it doesn't apply."

KISS/Motley Crue
Where: First Niagara Pavilion.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $36-$56.50; 1-800-745-3000.