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.

The evening's second-billed band, Gigolo Aunts, never had a chance to wow the crowd. That's because the Boston-based Aunts had time for only a half-dozen songs at best. "This is sort of our sound check, so bear with us," announced one of the band members when taking the stage. What followed was a series of well-crafted, hook-strong melodies and three-part choruses, all in the best Big Star/Raspberries/Posies fashion. Fun was had for the few hipsters paying attention--"My dad was an acid casualty," explained one of the Aunts. "He named the band."--but the truncated set proved frustrating.--Ted Simons

Alice Donut, Unsane, 7 Year Bitch, and Slug
October 5, 1994

You could've subtitled tonight's outdoor festivities "The Children of Howard Beale Speak Out"--if you remember the film Network--and no one would have thought it a misnomer. The four bands each mounted the stage to spew varying degrees of I'm-mad-as-hell-and-I'm-not-gonna-take-it-anymore rhetoric.

Except for headliner Alice Donut, these groups utilized front persons who threatened, condemned, cajoled and caterwauled--but never extended a single musical note. But, hey, anybody who wants lilting melodies can stay home and listen to Clannad records. This was postpunk at its most ferocious, and every spike-haired head-banger in Tempe turned up to greet the melee.

L.A.'s Slug got things rolling to a jolly start, unleashing more feedback than three copies of "Magic Carpet Ride" playing at the same time. Tempe was the last stop on the band's tour, so you could excuse singer Steve Ratter for getting a little misty. "Thank you for coming out and sharing your evening with us," he purred with all the graciousness of a borscht belter.

Soon well-mannered stage banter gave way to a cacophony of controlled chaos. Ratter's suave moves were pretty funny to watch, like seeing Cliff Richard--whom Ratter resembles--in the throes of a severe epileptic fit.

"Who can your mother be? If I were your father, I'd throw myself in the sea!" he howled during the frenzied yet sedately titled "Symbol for Snack."

Seattle's female foursome, 7 Year Bitch, came off pretty humorlessly in comparison; that's understandable, given the weighty subject matter of its songs. In "M.I.A.," the band paid its respects to mentor Mia Zapata, the raped and murdered lead singer of the Gits, by vilifying her still-at-large murderer in song. "Did society do this to you? Does society have any justice for you?"

With the music pounding along behind her, vocalist Selene Vigil sounded as if she were hitting this subhuman life form with every syllable, as if it were a 2 x 4. Too bad Vigil was little more than a talking head onstage, exhibiting less energy than Roy Orbison with his feet stuck in wet cement. Musically, 7 Year Bitch throws down insistent, easy-to-execute riffs that recall "Peter Gunn," or the Gigantor theme played sideways. These gals prove the point so essential to riot-girl dogma, namely that anyone can play an instrument as bad as a man. The catchiest number of their set was, alas, written by someone else--a cool cover of Jim Carroll's "It's Too Late." As for New York trio Unsane's set, the most musical thing that occurred was a car alarm out in the parking lot. To quote ol' Bill Shakespeare, there was a lot of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Except when the strobe light started flashing. Then it was a lot of sound and flashing signifying nothing. The cover of Unsane's Total Destruction album depicts a bloodied auto grill that looks like it just plowed into a kindergarten class. The music mirrors this, with each song screeching to a halt like a pair of Goodyears on a rain-slick dead end. Not even bringing up three-fifths of Slug at the end of the set could elevate this mess. Hotfoot it back to New York, fellas.

It took the Big Apple's other entry, Alice Donut, to show everyone what a good ol' frenetic stage show is all about. Every lunge and head turn was beautifully choreographed, and lead vocalist Tomas Antona can actually sing. This was professional punk rock. Alice Donut rolls enough classic-rock references into its live show to melt the grumpiest cynical heart. "I want to see that picture of Michael Jackson's cock," Antona interjected on "Hose." Then the band's excellent drummer, Stephen Moses, came out from behind the skins to play trombone on a note-perfect instrumental rendition of "Helter Skelter."

Much of the show derived directly from the band's live CD, Dry Humping the Cash Cow, including the stage banter ("Get the fuck off my stage!"). At several points, the foot of the stage resembled a rush-hour subway station, with people pushing just to get inside. Fans hugging the stage monitors were in danger of either shoving 'em all the way to the drum riser or pulling them onto their feet. "People, be gentle with one another," said Antona, mocking the Altamont Crowd Control book. An order the crowd gleefully ignored.


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