Photos and Story by Scott Smith
Kiss and Motley Crüe — what a great, guitar-slinging pair.
The two hard-rock icons hit their stride Aug. 26 in Tulsa, bringing part of their massive, much-talked about “The Tour” tour to more than 18,000 shouting, grinning fans. The scene was the BOK Center, an arena with the best acoustics found in this part of the United States, and more than 18,000 followers of both bands funneled into the venue to catch rock-and-roll sights and sounds to behold.
Following a solid, warm-up slot by the group, The Treatment, Motley Crüe stormed the stage after young female crew members carried “MC” flags through the crowd and male crew members sprayed fans with foamy, machine-gun-like blasts of beer via mounted, Gatling Gun-looking props.
Crüe vocalist Vince Neil sounded strong at the mic, with drummer Tommy Lee thrashing out relentless rock beats on his cymbals and drum heads. Guitarist Mick Mars played two solo sections, and bassist Nikki Sixx stalked the stage right-area, grinding out low-end notes and singing back-up parts into a microphone that was suspended from an overhead lighting rig.
Among the Crüe tracks that roared from the sound system were “Shout at the Devil,” “Kickstart My Heart,” “Wild Side,” “Dr. Feelgood,” “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),” “Primal Scream,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Saints of Los Angeles,” “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” and brilliant version of the early track, “Live Wire.” Lee’s drum set was attached to a roller coaster track-like contraption, carrying the drummer and his kit vertically into a circular pattern. Lee even pulled a female spectator up to the stage to ride with him on the roaming drum set.
Motley Crüe, while sounding even tighter than they did at the Rocklahoma music festival in 2011, let too many f-bombs slam into their 90-minute session. The Tulsa show proved that Motley Crüe still have the sonic chops to dish up a top-tier concert without leaning on the tired trick of profanity-covered shout-outs.
Sans Kiss bassist Gene Simmons’ mid-set, blood-spitting take in the spotlight, Kiss’ performance was much more family friendly. The New York-born quartet started their rousing set with Simmons, singer-guitarist Paul Stanley and guitarist Tommy Thayer churning out the opening notes of “Detroit Rock City” while standing on a high-rise platform.
Drummer Eric Singer perched his energetic self near the back of the stage, giving a muscular effort that acted as the perfect sonic push for his three band mates. The electricity in Kiss’ set never dipped, and the cherished album cuts were unloaded upon the adoring crowd in machine-gun-like style. The eternally loved “Shout It Out Loud” came second, with the bruising tracks “I Love It Loud” and “War Machine” representing Kiss’ unfairly undervalued “Creatures of the Night” LP from 1982.
Often, Simmons will perform either “I Love It Loud” or “God of Thunder” on the stage, but in Tulsa, Kiss Army recruits got both songs. Simmons voice was in good shape, and his bass playing was inspired throughout the 95-minute set. Why Simmons will never get his due as a four-string warrior is as baffling — and completely unwarranted — as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s ridiculous, on-going shut-out of Kiss.
For “Love Gun,” Stanley used a rig to swing out over the crowd before landing on a rotating, lighted platform near the back of the venue’s floor. The “Starchild” sang the infectious track while alternating his rhythm guitar playing with clipped, swaggering dance moves. Like Simmons’ voice, Stanley’s vocals showed hardly no wear from the beatings of touring and Father Time.
Like he did at Kiss’ 2009 gig in Little Rock, Thayer took over microphone duties for a faithful run-through of “Shock Me,” the trademark song of former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley. This part of the show, at times, has touched a raw nerve with some older fans, who think Thayer should perform his own “When Lightning Strikes” at Kiss concerts, not Frehley’s composition.
But in all fairness, Thayer’s remake scored an A at the BOK, as did Singer’s raspy, wild-man voice on “Black Diamond.” The latter served as a vocal showpiece for Kiss’ original drummer, Peter Criss, and features one of Kiss’ greatest instrumental arrangements. Singer barked out the song’s street-tough lyrics while giving his snare, toms and shiny cymbals a true workout.
Kiss numbers “Strutter” and “Firehouse also washed over the crowd in high-decibel waves, and “Lick It Up,” as always, proved even better as a live number than the still-strong studio take from 1983. “Lick It Up,” in true Kiss fashion, incorporated the drum break/vocal scream portion of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and when Kiss’ 1975 anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” signaled the end of the evening, seemingly endless blasts of spinning confetti showered the audience and turned the BOK’s gray-and-blue interior into a massive, ivory-colored cave.
The profanity in Crüe’s set is to be expected, even by non-fans, but the sight of so many tiny, grade-school-aged Kiss Army fans in the audience in Tulsa begged the question, What is appropriate language for an all-ages crowd? Sure, censorship is bad, usually, but more than a dozen f-bombs is a bit too much, even for those rare, kinda-serious, mostly joking rants from Pete Townshend. Every concert-goer, even those kindergarten and first-grade students seen dressed head to toe as Stanley, Simmons, Thayer and Singer in Tulsa, should be considered when the between-song banter begins flowing.