Who are these guys?
And what are they doing in “The Chet Helms Chronicles”?
The answer to the former question should be obvious; the answer to the latter, not so much.
So let me clear things up…
At 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, August 30, 2008, I settled myself at one of the small, patio tables adjacent to the lawn of the Seven Seas Inn, a funky, turn-of-the-half-century, South Lake Tahoe motel located in the shadow of the monolithic Harvey’s Casino. The weather was perfect – high 70’s and not a breath of wind disturbing the branches of the towering pines. The cloudless sky was as clear and blindingly blue as the shimmering, glassy surface of Lake Tahoe, a few blocks to the west.
I had with me that morning’s edition of The San Francisco Chronicle and a freshly-opened bottle of Anchor Steam beer. I was completely alone; not a living soul in sight. It, as the old commercial once said, doesn’t get any better than this.
I had just extracted the sports section from the relentlessly thinning Chronicle and taken my first, satisfying sip of Anchor Steam when the lawn sprinklers began gurgling, spitting and, a moment later, showering me with water.
I jumped up, grabbed the paper, the beer and a chair and moved to the parking lot, well out of spray’s way. But it was still all good.
Until…the quiet, still air was abruptly and without warning filled with a thunderous sound that I not only heard, but felt. I was convinced that my vital organs were being radically rearranged by the cacophony that seemed to envelope me. It took me several seconds to realize that I was listening to live music, nearby live music – soaring guitar lines; throbbing, rumbling bass and end-of-the-world, pounding drums.
Two words: Heavy Metal.
Never been my cup o’ tea, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was pretty good. I had no idea who was playing, but I was digging it, man. Then, as abruptly as it had begun, the music stopped dead. A full minute later it started again. This pattern was repeated for the next hour or so. Two minutes of frantic, adrenalin-pumping, organ-altering music followed the sudden sound of silence.
Later that afternoon I discovered I had been listening to a KISS sound check. The band, which had been founded 35 years earlier and included two of the four original members – Chaim Witz, a.k.a. Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley – was scheduled to play a concert later that night at Harvey’s outdoor theater, a theater that was only a few hundred yards from my temporary abode.
The tickets were $59.50 and $89.50 and although the event was sold out, my ticketless self heard every note of the lengthy show from my vantage point at the Seven Seas Inn. I could see the lights above the stage, but not the performers.
So here’s my thumbnail review: KISS loves to punctuate their shows with really loud explosions…a lot of really loud explosions. I mean, literally dozens of really loud explosions. They might want to consider calling their next series of shows “The Incoming Tour.”
As to the music: 15 minutes of KISS was, for me, exciting and even a bit thrilling, in a visceral sense. Two hours of KISS, however, was, for me, sheer, mind-numbing tedium.
But here’s the thing: When I was in my early 20’s, there was this thing called “The Generation Gap” and we were advised “don’t trust anyone over 30.” Most of the musicians and bands I listened to and admired, and still listen to and still admire, were and are more or less my contemporaries. (Of course there were a few notable exceptions – folks like Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Willie Nelson.)
KISS, the original members of which are now pushing 60 and are still painting their faces and are still donning those Tranformer-like costumes and are still out there crankin’ it up, appear to appeal -based on my unscientific, single, pre-concert observation – to an audience that is significantly and perhaps mostly made up of Twenty-Somethings.
And I say, good for them.