Category Archives: Events

Live review: KISS at the Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

December 5, 2009

Gene Simmons prowled the giant stage, scanning the front rows for female fans to harass and thrill. Fingers fondling his bass, Simmons made hard eye contact with his victims, then subjected them to slow, grinding pelvis gyrations — his metallic cod-piece glittering in the lights — and that interminable, wet, wagging tongue. The women gasped and giggled. Simmons, a self-aware pro, laughed back.


This was high comedy during KISS’ spectacularly silly and moderately fun rock extravaganza Friday night at a crowded Erwin Center, a cavernous venue that could barely contain the show’s endless eruptions of theatrical bombast and pyro-porn that finally, during the orgiastic three-song encore, struck a comical level of hedonistic overkill. (Fire! Fire! Fire!)

KISS is lowbrow performance art — children, like so many in the audience, devour this stuff — accompanied by a tinny but extremely loud soundtrack of mindless rock ditties. For 35 years, their concerts have been a savvy blend of bluster and balderdash, with a cloying infusion of Jerry Bruckheimer. (If they began today, KISS would be a CGI creation.)

They do it very well, and the four band members worked hard Friday to keep the audience involved with flattering between song banter, constant eye-contact, call-and-response games, and by anointing the masses with flurries of guitar picks.

Simmons, Paul Stanley and relative newcomers Eric Singer on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar (who does a fine imperson-Ace-tion) never took the crowd for granted, constantly checking in, begging our approval and throwing it right back, like an enormous, flame-strewn self-esteem seminar.

They opened with old-timers “Deuce” and “Strutter” — great songs, though not the most muscular ones out of the gate — with Stanley promising a night of “classic vintage KISS.” For more than two hours, the band stomped through, and sometimes tiresomely dragged out, a hit-list of songs about sex, partying, sex, drinking, rocking and sex.

At least two songs, “Modern Day Delilah” and “Say Yeah,” from their new album “Sonic Boom” (“Get your butts down to Wal-Mart and get yourself a copy!” Stanley hollered) were beer-break tunes, but the crowd thrilled and sang along to “Hotter Than Hell,” “Cold Gin” and “Black Diamond.”

The show hit its stride with faster, hookier songs (“Calling Dr. Love,” “Parasite”) and foot-stomping anthems (“Rock and Roll All Nite”) that matched the volcanic production values.

Amid a backdrop of JumboTrons, swirling sirens, rising platforms, confetti and flaming mushroom clouds, Simmons spewed blood and fire, Thayer shot rockets from his guitar and Stanley wiggled his rear-end at fans before smashing his guitar. Singer’s drum platform spun around.

It’s no secret that Simmons, lascivious demon-beast, with that long-legged skulk and spiked armor, is the show’s cynosure. In a literal high moment, he was lifted by cables to the arena rafters, where he mounted a platform and gazed down upon his worshipful kingdom.

There he bellowed 1982’s “I Love it Loud,” his lips and chin stained with fake blood. The song ended and the lights went out. It was only in the safety of the dark that the winged batman could do something so ordinary and un-KISS-like as what came next: He descended back to earth.



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‘The naked truth about Girls Gone Wild’

When video series came to town, even some women who said they wouldn’t ended up showing skin

Feb. 7, 2003, Austin American-Statesman

Lauren is not getting naked.

Somehow, the bleached blonde with a toffee tan thinks that a girl can get wild without really getting wild. That in this day and age a girl can attain most righteous wildness by spurning the fundamental step of giving the public a peek.

What gum drop world is she living in?

When the video cameras from “Girls Gone Wild” come to your town — and they came to Austin on Tuesday night — there are certain expectations, and every single one of them has to do with bare skin. The “GGW” cameras do odd things to young women. Naughty things. Namely, they inspire women to lift their tops and expose themselves, often while their tongues hang out sloppily. This is called wild.

Not, says Lauren.

“I will not be showing (anything). Absolutely not. No way. It’s called ‘Girls Gone Wild,’ not ‘Girls Gone Naked,’ ” says Lauren, who, like many in this story, withheld her last name. The 21-year-old with a leonine mane of yellow hair and jeans low enough to reveal lots of red silk thong works at a bar and is studying to get her real-estate certification.

“I don’t look down on any girls who are wild enough to do that. To each her own,” she says. “But that’s just not my style. You’ve got to leave room for the imagination, you know.”

Thirty minutes later, Lauren was taking it off.

There she was, on stage at country-dance warehouse Midnight Rodeo in South Austin, gleefully lifting her Girls Gone Wild mini-tank top for about 700 howling, whooping, screaming, yelling, barking, caterwauling young men, who were apparently seeing their first bare breasts. Writhing with professional panache and shooting a carnal glare at the boys, Lauren’s soft-spoken modesty melted, then hardened into Elizabeth Berkley in “Showgirls.”

Woooooo-yeeeaaaahhhh-owwwww! went the men.

Ha! went the dozen women on stage.

The women, ages 18 to 23, were competing in a “Girls Gone Wild” talent contest (is lap dancing a talent?), the winner of which will appear on a “GGW” pay-per-view event in March.

The direct-order video company’s Austin stop was part of a 31-city tour that’s brought camera crews to San Diego, Philadelphia, Dallas, Lubbock and, the night before, San Marcos. First prize Tuesday night was $100 cash and an all-expenses paid trip to Panama City, Fla., where the winner will take part in another “GGW” contest.

It’s a common perception that in party aka college towns, Mardi Gras has become a kind of open-air flesh bazaar. Like members of a native tribe, grunting young men proffer tacky plastic beads to greedy women, who gladly, if drunkenly, haul their tops over their chests and under their chins for impromptu peekaboos. The boys go wild.

Joe Francis, the 29-year-old multimillionaire who created “Girls Gone Wild,” decided several years ago to bring video cameras to these and similar spring breaky gatherings. Give the girls beads, make them go wild, tape it and sell it.

“GGW” boasted more than $90 million in direct-response orders last year and the brand has become shorthand for “drunken-girl antics.” “GGW” trades in “normal people” and avoids strippers, Francis says.

The company’s 83 titles include “Craziest Frat Parties,” “Ultimate Spring Break” and “Sexy Sorority Sweethearts.” MGM is making a feature film based on the video exploits, something between “Spring Break” and “American Pie.”

Francis says any young woman will lift her top for the low price of guaranteed male attention.

“You’d be surprised, man,” Francis says by phone from his L.A. office. “Every time I go out, I see a girl who I thought would never do it.”

Joe, meet Lauren.

“I know, I know,” says Lauren, holding her forehead like a kid who’s been caught breaking a promise. She’s backstage, being escorted by the “GGW” crew to the winner’s circle. Lauren won the contest.

“It was the heat of the moment,” she explains.

Sociology of a shirt lift

“I’m not drunk enough,” says Crystal Woodworth, a bespectacled blonde in a white tank top.

Tonight, she’s leaving the stripping to her peers.

“I encourage them. If you have a beautiful body, why can’t you share it with everyone else?”

Crystal’s friends have been wheedling her to do it all night.

“Why do I have to go on stage to do it? I can do it for you myself. I don’t need that extra push. I do it for my friends all the time.”

Crystal is a good friend. Continue reading

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‘Art exhibit’s visitors in a nude mood’

Gallery stages private viewing of Austin artist’s photos for a clothing-free Hill Country club

Aug. 25, 2005, Austin American-Statesman

The naked man looked at the clothed man, and then he looked at the naked people, and then back at the clothed man, all the time wearing a scrunched look that said, “What is this weirdo doing here?”

The weirdo, fully dressed, was there to talk to naked people. He told the naked man this, and the naked man relaxed. But the clothed man did not relax, for he was one of only a few clothed people in an art gallery filled with naked men and women. Twenty-one of the naked people were there in the literal, quivering flesh, and about as many were hanging on two long walls, the subjects of life-size photographs by Austin artist George Krause.

Friday night at the D Berman Gallery on Guadalupe Street, a bunch of nudists came to a nude art show. The Hill Country Nudists, an informal club of devoted clothes peel-offers, are always on the lookout for novel ways to gather, and what’s more fitting than naked people looking at naked people?

Gallery owner David Berman was happy to give the group a private viewing, and Krause, clothed but bald, came to talk about his work. Each human-size black-and-white portrait depicts an ordinary person, standing stark naked, facing the camera. Krause’s singular technique uses white light to create a smoky sfumato effect, bathing the figures in a ghostly, X-ray glow.

Naked people admired the photos’ indiscriminate honesty, and the boxy, concrete gallery echoed with the slappy patter of bare feet. Sipping cheap cabernet in plastic cups, nudists mixed casually in the shocking altogether, proud in their mammalian resplendence. They embodied all sizes and shapes, from pears to bears, though the age scale tipped to ear hair and back aches.

“Seeing the photos in the middle of a group of nudes reinforces how many different kinds of bodies there are,” said nudist Bill Morgan, whose body hair could pass for clothing in some cultures. “Running around with this group has done a lot for me in terms of accepting my own body.”

One thin woman was all bare flesh but for a yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet, while a tall man with a round belly wore only silver-rimmed spectacles. A green, quarter-sized tattoo announced itself from a woman’s right dorsal cheek. Tan lines: oddly scarce.

Hill Country Nudists has roughly 60 members, about 40 of whom are men, says club president Steve Bosbach, diminutive and hairless as a fish. The lopsided male-to-female ratio was on full-frontal display at the private party. It was a man’s world.

There was chatter about “liberation,” “society” and the nudist “agenda,” yet a curious dearth about sexuality and the whole nakedy thing. One wondered how these people abstain from . . . looking.

“With some practice, it’s completely possible to maintain eye contact with a topless woman,” Morgan said. “You don’t stare, but you don’t avoid looking in a particular direction either.”

Morgan, 55, has a long gray ponytail and lives with his mother, who was surprised by his nuditude. She doesn’t see him naked, though her son likes to spend a few hours a day kicking back in the buff. Like his clubmates, Morgan does many things without attire, cut free from the bondage of cotton fibers. Perhaps it’s the leather seats, but one thing he has not done is drive naked.

“I’ve wanted to drive naked a few times after club get-togethers,” he said. “Putting the clothes back on is the hardest part.”

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Tarantino’s all-night movie marathon

Slipping out on QT rates director’s cut

Feb. 26, 1999, Austin American-Statesman

Austin movie aficionado Harry Knowles plopped on the sidewalk at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Slumped in a mangled lotus position, he looked ever the sage Buddha. A Buddha of B-movies. A Buddha with hair like the kid’s in “Mask.”

Buddha yawned.

“Tired, Harry?” asked a guy in line.

“Sleep,” replied our backyard Buddha, “is for mortals.”

A hush fell over the small crowd. A car alarm tweedled in the night.

It was Sunday, around 7 p.m. Knowles and many of the young men in line at the Alamo had only just left the theater at 9 that morning. They had stuck out an all-night stretch of movies: Quentin Tarantino’s Exploitation Marathon, a lurid six-flick endurance test that ran from 8 p.m. Saturday till breakfast time Sunday. (Or, for QT fans: from dusk till dawn).

It was the first of two all-night blowouts during “QTIII,” Tarantino’s annual, only-in-Austin film festival, which began last Friday. It continues tonight with gangster movies and finishes Saturday with a kiddie matinee at 1 p.m. and the all-nighter, “Men, Women and Chainsaws,” at 8 p.m.

The all-nighters pose an Olympian challenge for film hipsters. Not only are they dared to withstand six obscure cult films of wildly diverse entertainment value, they must do it in the presence of the film demigod himself, who not only handpicked the bill, but owns each movie, loves each movie and sincerely wants us to love each movie. (“My enthusiasm might accidentally oversell a film,” he said not inaccurately Sunday.) Talk about pressure.

I dropped out Saturday after the second feature, “Alligator,” a surprisingly deft “Jaws” forgery, whose script Tarantino declared “one of John Sayles’ best.” (See the “oversell” line.)

Escaping was tricky. Tarantino was sitting directly in front of me and I thought I might slip out unnoticed. Here’s what he said to me at Sunday’s ’70s double feature: “You didn’t make it very far last night.” Nailed.

I shrugged, thinking, “Hey, man, I’m not 20 anymore. Doing 12 hours in a movie seat watching 40-foot-tall Chinese gorillas at 6 a.m. is not an option.”

Knowles and the other bloodshot stalwarts who made it through the night were working off more than willed stamina. Alamo owner Tim League reports the venue served 15 to 20 pounds of coffee Saturday.

Here’s the thing: It probably was worth staying for all six movies. Each night, with humor and expletive-spiked erudition, Tarantino strikes a spirited mood and invites fans to chat up the movies with him. (Though he deflects autograph-seekers. “This is like a party, all right?”)

Egos are shed, and Tarantino cuts an approachable figure, with a great laugh, a boyish mien and one of those tiny, bottom-lip tufts of hair that could be mistaken for cappuccino foam.

When he takes the stage, he paces with his sentences and gesticulates for punctuation. It’s the delivery of a rapper. An edgy energy fuels his crackling preambles, which draw from a stunning fund of knowledge, revealing the promiscuous appetites of a true cineaste. Introducing one film, he tossed out allusions to Buster Keaton, Hong Kong flicks and “Alexander Nevsky.”

Cool, yes, but not too cool to gush during a kiddie matinee, “I’m so tickled to see all these kids!” The kids were tickled to see him.

And then Quentin Tarantino sat down and gobbled an ice cream float.

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The marvelously macabre Mütter Museum

Gross anatomy: At Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, science and the surreal combine for unforgettable experience

April 15, 2007, Austin American-Statesman

Pathologies are my thing. Twisted limbs. Fleshy protrusions. Faces swathed in nappy hair, Chewbacca-like. Conjoined twins. Horns curling from foreheads. Extra heads — those are always fun.

I don’t revel in the maladies of others; I revel in the Other. People are fascinating. People are more fascinating with three legs.

This foible of mine, this adorable morbidity, came early on, delighting my parents, who stood back, weighed adoption strategies and ever so gingerly catered to my wiggier curiosities. For my eighth birthday I requested and received the illustrated book “Very Special People: The Struggles, Loves and Triumphs of Human Oddities.” Since then, many have believed I belong in this book.

These outré fascinations have grown to include death and the dead, and have led me to abnormal forays in my frequent travels. There I was at the Royal London Hospital, sleuthing with the grace and aptitude of Inspector Clouseau for the skeleton of Joseph Merrick, aka the Elephant Man. (Mission: failed.) At the Golders Green Crematorium in London I witnessed roaring ovens and jars of fresh ashes, some heartbreakingly labeled “baby.”

There was the blech-fest of the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo, where all squirm and squiggle of microbe-y monster were displayed in clear, fluid-filled cases, sometimes feasting on animal innards.

At the Museum of Forensic Medicine in Bangkok, medical students dissecting cadavers giggled when they saw me spying in the doorway, pointing my camera. I repaired upstairs to the musty exhibit of bottled fetuses, crumbling bones and full-length cadavers floating in dishwater liquid like humongous pickles.

My two noble efforts to see the freak show at Coney Island were thwarted by poor timing. Yanking on the bearded lady’s follicular abundance will have to wait.

Yet, for a constant traveler of my tastes and temperament, the Taj Mahal of the morbid has long been the famed Mütter Museum, a repository of anatomical horrors and shrine to primitive, rusty-tooled medicine in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. It is where, at last, after years gazing at its Web site, I recently visited. Disappointment was not in the cards.

Part edifying scientific journey, part powerful appetite suppressant, the Mütter is smack in Philly’s city center, a brisk walk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Inside, once through the deceptively donnish foyer, the museum is cool and musty, packed with old wood and glass cases revealing the historically pertinent — Florence Nightingale’s sewing kit — and the surgically slimy — a mammary tumor afloat in liquid, resembling a buttery dessert.

Human skulls — some intact, some cracked or bullet-pocked — checker an entire wall, each tagged with the cause of death, be it hanging, suicide or disease. The brownish heads came to the Mütter from Central and Eastern Europe in 1874, a major acquisition for the medical institute, which boasts 62,000 visitors a year, many of them children on school field trips. (I want to go to their school.)

Founded in 1849 and named 10 years later for surgery professor Thomas Dent Mütter, the museum throws open in graphic, natural detail the ranging possibilities of the human body, and the havoc that can befall it from within and without. Diseases, injuries, birth defects — it’s an elaborate temple to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Much of it is not pretty. This is a given. It can be ghastly, grisly, unimaginable. (The “wet specimens” section is home to a jar labeled “Moist Gangrene of the Hand.” In it sits a human hand rotted black, the skin tattered like a torn leather glove, bones poking from the wrist.)

But to merely recoil at the exhibits is to shut out a world of contemplation, and to allow an emotional reflex to override a rare opportunity for understanding.

Not that emotions wither in the objective, secular hothouse of science and medicine. We are human, after all. And the museum unpeels the tangible layers of our humanness, down to the bones in many cases.

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