ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 5, 1996
The Rocket really nailed it. The Seattle music paper’s latest cover sports hilarious caricatures of Kiss’s Gene Simmons and the Sex Pistols’ Johnny “Rotten” Lydon, under the headline “Geezers of Rock”. A prune-faced Lydon is depicted with bloodshot eyes, slobbering all over himself, wearing a button that reads “Never Mind the Metameucil”. Simmons is portrayed as fat and bald, with false teeth dangling from his famously protruding snake of a tongue.
Nearly 20 years after releasing anything good (Kiss) and anything at all (the Sex Pistols), both acts have reunited with their original members and set out on heavily-hyped, highly-anticipated tours. Would Lydon prove as rotten as his legend purports? Would Simmons’s tongue be in good enough shape to waggle through a full show? These and other burning questions were unquietly put to rest over the holiday weekend, when the bands representing two opposite extremes of the ’70s-rock spectrum set up shop in town.
Both groups opened their shows in ways that spoke volumes for their respective musical ideals (or lack of such). Kiss’s stage at GM Place on Monday (September 2) was totally shrouded in black curtains, which were pulled away just as the raucous strains of “Deuce” were met with intense blasts of white light from an enormous Kiss logo centred over Peter Criss’s drumkit. Then the band, in all its costumed and flesh-painted glory, began prancing and posing under wildly flashing rows of multicoloured lights.
When the Pistols started their show at the Pacific Coliseum on Saturday (August 31), the lights were already on, illuminating a sparsely decorated stage that included a black-and-white tabloid newspaper backdrop, a few union jacks, and little else. “I think you know who we are,” quipped Rotten matter-of-factly, before the band launched into “Bodies”.
It seemed apt that the perennially pro-lust Kiss would open with a paean to sexual favours while the anti-everything Pistols made their entry with a gruesome ditty about aborted human fetuses.
“Fat, 40, and back!” declares Lydon on the Pistols’ new CD, Filthy Lucre Live, and the pudgy punk isn’t kidding. Unfortunately, he also seemed tired during most of the show, as if it took all the energy he could muster just to pull off those geeky “Look ma, I’m a nerd!” dance moves. Impressively buffed, the shirtless Paul Stanley was the antithesis of saggy Lydon, and when he lasciviously displayed his leather-clad butt to one of the remote video cameras, it was evident from the resulting big-screen image that he’s been spending lots of time on the Stairmaster.
Maybe that’s what he’s been doing for the last 20 years instead of writing good songs.
Kiss didn’t perform any of its post-1978 material, and nobody wanted it to. The Pistols couldn’t have performed any post-’78 material because their only album came out in ’77, so they played pretty well everything from Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols and that was it. But there was something missing. Where was the venom? Where was the rottenness? Where, indeed, was the punk?
I wanted to hear Lydon berate the crowd, exercise some surliness, maybe lay a big honkin’ gobber on some unfortunate fan, just for old time’s sake. But the aisleway between the stage and the Coliseum crowd had been made even wider than it normally is, and there was little interaction between Lydon and the fans he loves to hate.
The singer showed a bit of his famed churlishness when the band was called back for an encore after just 45 minutes or so. “If you don’t like this, there is always Kiss!” he carped. “And if you don’t like it, you can kiss this,” he said about his own flabby butt. Then the band finished off with “Anarchy in the U.K.”, took the money, and ran.
Talk about The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle.
Kiss, on the other hand, gave its fans their full money’s worth during a 20-song, two-hour set. Simmons breathed fire and spewed blood, and even “flew” up to a platform above the lighting rig during “God of Thunder”. Ace Frehley’s various guitars smoked and flamed, lit up from inside, and shot off sparkly bombs. It was all big, bright, loud fun, and although the nostalgia buzz wore off for me after a while, the other 14,000 or so audience members seemed transfixed throughout, with most on their feet from beginning to end.
Seventies-rock fans who cared not for the glittery machinations of Kiss or the antisocial legacy of the Sex Pistols actually had a third concert choice over the long weekend, which turned out to be the most rewarding one from a strictly musical standpoint. Steve Miller’s low-profile PNE show on Saturday didn’t attract as much attention as the “events” it was sandwiched between, but the 53-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist delivered a classy, first-rate show, leading a crack seven-piece band in material culled mostly from his ’70s albums The Joker, Fly Like an Eagle, and Book of Dreams. Heck, even opener Pat Benatar is still a banshee at 43.