Dark Side of the Highway
Song - Artist - Album
Love Me Two Times (1967) - The Doors - The Best of the Doors, Elektra
Somehow, there always seems to be a thread leading back to KISS.
Such was the case with a week’s worth of concerts at Mohegan Sun, centered around a bombastic show by the larger than life band that was bookended by Night Ranger and Scrap Metal at the casino’s Wolf Den.
Night Ranger, the San Francisco-based band whose first national tour was supporting KISS in 1983, is now represented by the same management company, McGhee Entertainment.
Attracting a capacity crowd to the Wolf Den on a Tuesday night proved there is still an audience for their nostalgic hits, notably the tender “Sister Christian,” and “Sentimental Street” that showcased thick vocal harmonies.
But the frenzied pace of “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and “(You Can Still) Rock in America” left little doubt that Night Ranger still consider themselves a hard rock band. Their set even included songs from Damn Yankees, bassist Jack Blades’ offshoot band with Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Ted Nugent, and even a nod toward guitarist Brad Gillis’s history with Ozzy Osbourne in the unexpected form of “Crazy Train.”
Two nights later, KISS celebrated their fourth appearance at Mohegan Sun with an induction into the casino’s Walk of Fame that brought the promenade outside the arena to a standstill.
Better than their Connecticut appearance last October, there was still a disingenuous tinge to enlisted players Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer mimicking the roles of their beloved predecessors, drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley. But musicianship, and the showmanship of founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, resulted in a fist-pumping, sing-along spectacle that was clearly a right of passage first concert for younger audience members.
Part superhero, part circus, and much more musical than most critics tend to admit, KISS is still a paean to the British Invasion bands that sparked their formative years. Behind the make-up and beneath the elaborate production, their songs still radiated hints of the Beatles, Kinks and Led Zeppelin.
Scrap Metal—whose members were spotted outside the arena following the KISS show—returned for an encore performance (also their fourth) the following night. The pop metal cavalcade featured Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, twin sons of the late pop idol Ricky Nelson, plus namesake Slaughter vocalist Mark Slaughter—whose initial claim to fame was working with ex-KISS guitarist and Connecticut native Vinnie Vincent. Like Night Ranger, his subsequent venture, Slaughter, gained national exposure as an opening act for KISS in 1990.
Although Mark remains a marquee attraction, it was hard to ignore how much his once soaring vocals have deteriorated into an abrasive snarl. Slaughter’s role as one of three guitarists was more listenable. Before becoming the voice of hit songs such as “Up All Night” and “Fly to the Angels,” the singer was a guitar instructor in his native Las Vegas.
Instead, the line-up of all-star guest vocalists—Janet Gardner, John Payne and Steve Plunkett—shined throughout a well-rehearsed set that featured hits from their respective bands, Vixen, Asia and Autograph. Gardner, in particular, stood out as a vocal force, especially during an encore of the Led Zeppelin standard, “Rock and Roll.”
The high-energy music and visual dynamics of all three bands made for an exciting and memorable week for Connecticut fans, more than a few attending all three shows.