MUSIC REVIEW: These monsters of rock brought thrills and the freak show to a grandstand doubleheader.
Imagine eating a Pronto Pup, a tray of cheese curds and a bag of mini-donuts. Then going on that new Stratosphere ride, the double-Ferris wheel and the roller coaster.
Well, the State Fair grandstand presented the musical equivalent of that Wednesday night -- a doubleheader of Kiss and Motley Crue. If ever two bands were built for the fair, these holdovers from the 1970s and '80s, respectively, are. They had makeup, pyro, loud guitars, leather-throated vocals and more gimmicky gizmos than you could find inside the grandstand. Talk about your thrill ride and freak show rolled into one.
Despite the gymnastics of Crue drummer Tommy Lee and the blood-spitting antics of Kiss' Gene Simmons, the music of both bands was really just meat-and-potatoes rock -- served with an overdose of condiments. Just three chords and sex, drugs and volume.
The Crue brought lasers, flamethrowers, fireworks, a flame-shooting bass guitar, water sprayers, fire and scantily clad women who sang, danced and did tumbling tricks in the air suspended only by thick chains.
But the tour de force is always Lee's drum kit, which this time was on a round track so he could play upside down. If that wasn't enough, he brought a fan -- Jessica, who said she was sober (to Lee's chagrin) but sporting a new Crue T-shirt -- for a ride as she strapped on behind him for a trip on the wild side.
Truth be told, despite all the bravado, f-bombs and feigned Hollywood decadence, the Crue didn't exactly rock the house the way they used to. Frontman Vince Neil still has a high-pitched yelp but didn't ooze the energy of old.
The real hero during the sluggishly paced 85-minute set was guitarist Mick Mars, who has been suffering from a spinal disease for years but seemed more active than in the recent past and cut loose on some whammy bar-spiked solos.
Like the Crue, Kiss offered a set that was mostly an assembly of greatest-hits plus one new song. And, of course, the kingpins of rock theatrics had plenty of the same old tricks -- a fireworks-shooting guitar, giant flames, Simmons' flying to the top of the stage and Paul Stanley's riding a cable over the crowd to a platform among the 13,138 fans. The new wrinkles were a giant video screen backdrop (the biggest the State Fair has ever seen), Kiss spelled out on video instead of actual lights at the back of the stage and Simmons' wearing a wedding band. Now that's really new.
Relatively new guitarist Tommy Thayer played it fast and clean and sang credibly on "Shock Me." At 60-something, the ever-energetic Stanley and Simmons didn't seem to miss a platform-shoed step.
Both Kiss and Crue have headlined the fair before, in 2010 and 2005, respectively. As co-headliners, which of these golden oldies was better?
The sing-alongs were a tossup. Lee's drum kit roller coaster couldn't be beat. But Kiss had more creative visuals, no ballads (bravo!) and charged pacing. Heck, even Stanley's arms were better toned than Neil's, even though the Motley Crue singer is a decade younger.
If these two monsters of rock were rides on the Midway, Dr. Love (Kiss) was more exciting than Dr. Feelgood (Motley Crue).
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 Twitter: @jonbream