The Musical Experience: KISS, Def Leppard and The Dead Daisies

Two weeks ago, I’m in the uni library writing some philosophical nonsense on decoding texts for an English literature assessment. I’m listening to Bowie to spark my imagination ‘Rebel Rebel’ is interrupted when my headphones near deafen me from an incoming call. I race outside to take this unknown number whilst bracing the stink-eye from fellow students – my phone interrupting their studies.

“Hi it’s Sophie from Triple M, can you make yourself available this afternoon for a panel interview for ‘The Music Experience’ competition you entered?”

Four days later I am on a flight to St. Louis to meet The Dead Daisies.

I guess you could say my first meet with The Dead Daisies was what I expected, their music pedigrees so impressive that I can barely contain myself with the thousand questions racing through my mind.

We meet over a few beers in St. Louis and I am introduced to the band intermittently as they stroll in. Meeting a band at the end of their tour is hardly when they are in their prime.

Jon is reserved but accommodating, Dizzy I can’t really understand as he mumbles back at my attempts to make banter. They retreat to do laundry on their day off, how Rock n Roll.

Marco needs new eyeliner and I am invited to go with him, of course I accept.

It’s my first day of this music experience and I am shopping with Marco Mendoza. At the Chanel counter and every counter thereafter, he has people basking in his charisma. He is an intense character, engaging and full of energy. I soak it up and we chat for hours. I tell him he looks like Edward Scissorhands and we laugh.

On the way back from the mall we get out of the cab and he says to the driver “Do I get the 10% Californian discount?” the driver looks confused.

At dinner I am invited to go over and meet David Lowy. We chat about my career aspirations and my home-town and he is receptive to me. I see his eyes darting around at the band as we speak, he doesn’t miss a trick.

 

The next morning I get to see the ‘not so glamorous side to touring’. Well, It is for me but I can tell it’s not for the band. Everyone has a coffee in their grip and doesn’t say much to each other en-route to a live TV performance. The Dead Daisies warm up and the roadies try to configure another piece of shitty audio equipment. The TV station hosts make general chit-chat with the band, and it’s all over pretty quick, The Daisies nod to each other after the second song and Marco reassures that it went “smooth”. Then it’s off to The Verizon Amphitheater for the mechanical mayhem of show set-up.

Roadies Pat and Lee take me over to see the stage set-up. It baffles me to see how much work happens behind the scenes to make a rock show happen. Lee explains to me:

“You got lighting guys you got audio guys, you got video guys, doing the dance, they’re just doing the dance, moving around trying not to get in each other’s way.” It appears to be an organised kind of chaos.

After being right in the chaos from behind the stage to standing from afar, a few minutes can really bring it to life. A huge mechanical spider that levels up and down the stage is being set up, each leg covered in bright coloured changing lights with its eyes piercing out like laser beams. This, of course, is part of the KISS phenomena.

Behind the KISS dressing room I am introduced to Gene Simmons’ right-hand man, an intimidating German named Mikey, who assertively tells me that I’m not allowed to photograph the KISS outfits that are open in a wardrobe container – ordering the style girls to take them out of my view. His tone was one of ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed’. He gets over it pretty quick when we begin discussing Absinthe “not the bastardised version, the real shit.”

Paul Stanley walks into the cafeteria at dinner time, he lifts the lid on a bain marie and sticks his tongue out as if it were putrid, I laugh, as it is the same dish that my chicken caprese has just come from. He must be bored because he has his own catering.

I’m sitting outside talking to Marco before the show and Paul Stanley comes wandering out again, he looks focused, but also confused – if that’s possible. I’m surprised when I see him up-close: his skin is tight but not in a Botox way, in a freakishly youthful way. Marco introduces us, he shakes my hand and says my name in that way that American people say it: which always feels like it’s not my name. He brushes his hair back and walks away, and I check out the studded red-soled Christian Louboutinboots he’s wearing – and owning like a boss.

I stay backstage for Def Leppard, whose sound is infectious. Rick Allen, annihilates the drum kit, watching him smash it out in a solo was my favourite part of their set and one of my best musical experiences to date. I stand with Roger the guitar-tech and am amazed by his job; I try to contain myself with not a lot of room to move in his small cube of creation. Roger embodies an octopus, busily tuning instruments, flicking switches, filling drink bottles; a stark contrast to Rick Allen.

Throughout the show I sporadically go out to mingle in the St. Louis crowd, which made me feel lonely and strange. It had a carnival type of vibe and pretty rough. I went to buy a drink and was asked for ID, I hand it over and ask what is in the $15 vodka cocktail “Well you can have vodka and sprite, vodka and cranberry….” Now I’m no mixologist but I believe they are mixers. I should have brushed it off but I waxed intellectual with the poor attendant on the semantics of a cocktail.

I didn’t get to see KISS on the first show. I seen them dressed and having photos but I don’t get to see their show until Houston. We needed to get on the road after Def Leppard, which didn’t happen anyway because the tour bus driver slept an hour past his alarm and didn’t get back till 10:30pm. David, The Dead Daisies Band Manager, basically tore him a new one as he does with everyone who doesn’t pull their weight. Alas, the show must go on.

Rules of the road: No pooping on the bus. This was made explicit to me in the first five minutes of meeting everyone in the restaurant at The St. Louis Westin. En-route to the hotel after the St. Louis show we share a pot of beans that Jon bought from Pappy’s a famous barbecue joint. They are delicious – then we have a reality check, five of us are sharing beans, the magical fruit, and we are on a BUS.

Who will be first to break the promise?

The band is in good spirits the next morning. When I ask Brian (Tichy) why he prefers the tour bus to hotels and private jets he says:

“It’s just easy man, you finish a show and you’re here, you can sleep here and if you run out of beer you can always just go and get some.”

I’m trying to weigh this up in my head, what would I prefer? I have spent a lot of time on the bus, writing, travelling but I haven’t yet slept on the bus – actually I haven’t much slept at all. Being in a king cushy bed or life of convenience on the road, I’m about to find out.

The morning starts with a private jet ride on David’s plane. The type of luxury I have never experienced: white leather seats, corner lounges, I feel lucky but overwhelmed. A flight attendant perfectly dressed, hair pinned, subtle lipstick, elegantly spoken. We take off on the smoothest, fastest ascent. She comes round with fresh sandwiches, olives, drinks placed on a lacquered timber table with gold trim. I’m looking out the window and I have a moment, a bitter-sweet moment, and I begin to cry.

Richard shares a story on the way to the Tulsa arena: two nights ago a KISS fan crawls into the back of the merchandise trailer for shelter from the rain, he is blind drunk and falls asleep. The roadie stops for fuel and feels movement in his carriage. He finds the young lad panicked and he jumps out with $7 in his pocket and no phone, 250 miles from home. We all erupt hysterically.

A new task is at hand at a new venue, getting to know the new industrial labyrinth that is the back of house and stage.

Kat the Slovakian photographer for The Dead Daisies makes a great comparison to this notion of a new day and a new logistical challenge. She says that moving from place to place with the band is like the movie Spinal Tap.

“You’re walking through the backstage and the set ups and it’s like, where am I again, this all looks different, but I am doing the same thing.” Some refer to it as ‘Groundhog Day’.

Kat and I weave through the stripped back industrial community of workers. This is a much bigger venue so I imagine it will have great sound. I like great sound!

I get distracted by a little brown dog running around the traps, whilst being shouted at by the venue staff to dodge small spots of pee. The dog belongs to Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard – one of his assistants is busily riding around on a scooter keeping up with the dog.

It’s business as usual on tour.

Tish who is a friendly be-spectacled chick from Def Leppard wardrobe envies her colleague with the scooter.

“I wish I had roller skates at this fucking place, my feet hurt.”

An amphitheaters floor plan is much different to an indoor arena, it’s much cooler for the crew but it’s a lot bigger and there is more ground to cover.

I must have walked past the wardrobe girls working on the KISS costumes backstage at least 25 times over six hours, tirelessly gluing, painting and shining, whilst random tunes blast out of a clapped-out portable boom box. If you were that little girl like I was, this would be the job of your dreams.

If not, it would be a blood and glitter sweat-shop to you.

Dizzy sniffs at his denim vest implying that it could do with a wash, I suggest to him going to see wardrobe and use the steamer to clean it:

“ I like to do things my own way, and not rely on anyone else.” Someone offers him deodorant but he “doesn’t like things under his armpits.”

Dizzy is pretty introverted, but when I see him with his young daughter who came to the show, maybe he just saves his energy for those who matter to him. I did see a softer side to him: pulling my suitcase from under the bus to get out my night clothes he taps me on the shoulder

“Do you need some light?” he asks.

Not exactly Freudian insight to his psyche but I’ll take it.

The dressing room is a circus, show tunes and an ‘anything goes’ attitude to the instruments is the standard warm up. It’s like an ADHD experiment. A non-conventional jamboree.

After the show David comes off stage when I asked how it was he says:

“It’s fun if you like foreplay” a good metaphor for wishing the set was longer.

Richard says “What was up with that crowd tonight?”

“ They don’t like bass players mate” Jon responds.

When asking Jon if he still gets stage nerves after doing this for so long he tells me that in the rare instance that it does happen he channels it as adrenaline or to be precise “knows how to use it.”

We go to get in an industrial lift in the back of stage. Whilst waiting, the cops burst the doors open and drop a man on the ground, stepping on his back and to hold him down. He is wasted and it’s only 7:30pm. One of the hospitality workers in the lift looks at me and says you know what they say about Tulsa:

“You come here on vacation, and you leave on probation”.

The post-show signing desk is entertaining. Women strut towards it flicking their hair, a disorderly manner of people pushing-in, and the hold up of the line as the fans try to get as much time with The Dead Daisies as they can. The band manager barks at people from the side playing time-keeper, he rarely deviates his choice of outfit and I’m sure it is just not to confuse the band as he orders them around. A loud voice interrupts the mayhem:

“Ya’ll from Australia? Oh my daughter (13-years-old) loves Australia, she wants to move there, ya’ll can take her if you want.”

Right.

Kat gives me the schedule book from the tour to keep, before she and the band leave to fly to Houston. This assists me in understanding the operational and logistical side of touring. The book is referred to as “the book of lies.”

I’ve watched David, the band manager, stay on the case of the artists with regard to time for four days now, and I can see why things never run according to it. David is diligent and has no time for bullshit, an essential trait in show business.

On the road to Houston some of the road crew and Brian – who is sporting a Fireball cinnamon whiskey promotional shirt that Pat gave him – stay up drinking red wine and watching movies to tire out. We stop off at a truck stop and James – whose purpose I am still unsure of – buys a $40 stuffed horse that “I have to take back to Sydney.”

We argue over the choice of TV program to watch, it’s a democracy of music, half naked women, or cheesy action films. James gains purpose and vetoes the democracy by settling on a crappy Arnie film. The choice is made for me to get a solid four hours sleep on a comfy bus bunk.

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