ALL THE WAY LIVE

It was 10:40 p.m., and still no sign of any aging Kiss fans sporting painted cat faces. Nor would there be, but then again, maybe the sight of 35-year-old guys with beer guts and Kiss tee shirts should have been spectacle enough for one night. And judging by reactions to upcoming shows announced prior to Criss' set, the crowd may have been tipping the fortysomething scale. Alternative faves like Nine Inch Nails and Weezer were routinely booed while Foghat drew tumultuous cheers. When they announced a Robin Trower gig, people were scrambling for their wallets to buy tickets on the spot. Yes, Toto, I have a feeling we're not at Lollapalooza anymore.

Meanwhile, back at the bar, the cross Criss crowd grew ever more impatient with Kongo Shock, the evening's opening act. This local eight-man unit was a 180-degree turnaround from the bone-crunching stadium rock most people came to hear. Whose idea was it for them to play two (!) opening sets? "We want Criss!" the fans began chanting, banging Bud bottles against the bar like depraved merchant seamen. Maybe it was a Freudian slip, but their rallying cries soon became "We Want Kiss," and then stopped dead once everyone realized the gaffe they made.

And once Criss finally did sit down behind the drums, the gaffe became even more absurd. It is to the man's credit that he managed to capture the frenzy of a Kiss arena show without employing even a tenth of the necessary hardware. Sure, I panned Peter's comeback album in these pages two weeks ago, and only came to review tonight's show out of a sense of closure; to put the cat out for good. But I was relieved, and so were a great many others in attendance, that this wasn't another washed-up rock-star showcase. So what if his new CD sounded like it was recorded in the 11th hour of a 12-step program--Kiss was never about making great records, anyway. It was about putting on an energetic, completely over-the-top stage show.

As if to prove that point, Criss' crackerjack band of players half his age pulled "Strutter," "Detroit Rock City" and "Nothing to Lose" out of the mothballs, and the place went catshit. It didn't matter that the bass player wore rim glasses and a ponytail, or that the Paul Stanley stand-in was a dead ringer for Marky Mark with a Mohawk. They sounded like Kiss unmasked, but better than the official band has in eons. Sans cat makeup, Criss resembles either Jackie Mason or Barney Rubble with a Tina Turner wig. But his happy-go-lucky stage demeanor and enthusiasm about every single beat he played had the crowd cheering for the unthinkable--a dreaded drum solo! For the first encore, Criss played log drums and treated the audience to "unplugged" versions of "She," "Hard Luck Woman" (currently being revived by Garth Brooks' cover version on the Kiss My Ass tribute album) and, of course, "Beth," which benefited from the absence of the original's slushy string arrangement. Maybe when the four members of Kiss reunite for an October 21 gig at the State Fair this fall, they could stand around Criss holding candles, just like in the video of "Beth." But will it be all Kiss and makeup?--Serene Dominic

Love Spit Love, and Gigolo Aunts
Hayden Square Amphitheatre
September 23, 1994

It's midway through the first song of Love Spit Love's show at Hayden Square, and front man Richard Butler's already pulled out most of his visual tricks. He's done the Airplane (arms spread wide), the Trapeze (one foot in front of the other, arms keeping balance) and the Lazy Susan (spinning around in place, slowly). By song's end, the only thing missing will be Butler's familiar cross-legged squat. Sure enough, he gets to that one on the next song.

Richard Butler is back. And reasonably well-preserved. He still physically resembles an unlikely Johnny Rotten sauntering around stage like a dime-store New Romantic, and his voice is still as raspy and grating and wonderfully evocative as ever.

Love Spit Love signals Butler's return from the land of lost idols. It's tough to pinpoint exactly when Butler and his Psychedelic Furs became completely irrelevant, but the unfortunate mid-Eighties rerecording of "Pretty in Pink" is as good a time to choose as any. Butler's new songs, with his new band, skip the excess smarm of those latter-day Furs efforts, opting instead for the friction of the Furs' early years.

Also evident is a heavy, newfound nod toward R.E.M., of all things. Butler's song titles invoke similar themes ("Wake Up," "Superman"), and his song structures, most notably on "Am I Wrong" and "Half a Life," chime so hard you can hear Michael Stipe's howl in Butler's croak.

Most of the show's epiphanies came when the heavily oblivious crowd managed to catch on to Butler's muse. The anthemic "Change in the Weather" lifted moods, as did "Wake Up," a gorgeous, curiously uplifting song aimed at the aimless: "Don't make promises that don't mean anything," Butler sang as if to himself. "It's light out/Honestly, it's time you're wide awake." Also nice was "Am I Wrong," the band's current single and another moving stab at survival ("You're so pale/In your face/You let life get in your way"). "Am I Wrong" seemed to turn the most heads--though it's likely the party-conscious audience simply recognized the tune from radio.

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