As a person who wasn’t alive in the 70’s or even the 80’s, it was an utter treat to be able to see KISS. Under all the make-up, you sometimes get lost in just how many years this boulder of a rock and roll band have been around.
When I first entered the arena (Rogers Arena, to be exact) on the evening of July 6th, I was taken aback by the audience. Everyone seemed to be dressed to the nines and beyond. A KISS gig seemed to symbolize so much more than the average rock show for many of these concert go-ers. From exact replication of the costumes worn by Starchild (singer and guitarist, Paul Stanley), Demon (singer and bassist, Gene Simmons), Catman (a couple of different people played this character, the drummer), and Spaceman (quite a few incarnations of lead guitarist). There were also plenty of people with their own unique interpretation of their own KISS character. The rest of the crowd seemed to be wearing, buying or admiring somebody else’s KISS memorabilia. The mogul in Gene Simmons must be grinning the entire way across Canada on this Monster Tour, in support of their new album, Monster.
The alcohol was flowing and the crowd was definitely warm by the time I found my “seat”. I stick the quotations in there because of the lack of actual sitting that happened in that seat. I missed the opener, Shinedown, but truth be told, the night was completely about KISS for me. I didn’t need a band to get me in the mood. The crowd more than did the job. The arena itself didn’t seem nearly as full as the hallways, however. The upper bowl hadn’t been opened and there seemed to be a lot of empty seats in the far sections. Pre-show there were plenty of advertisements for all things KISS: the new album, Monster; a KISS themed mini golf course in Las Vegas; a KISS themed wedding chapel in Las Vegas; and we can’t forget the KISS KRUISE! This band has really found a way to cash in on capitalism like no other, but I can’t say I’m not tempted to run off to Vegas to get married by a guy in white make-up, sticking his tongue out at me way too far with the devil’s horns in the air.
The pre-show music was well placed and with the volume increased significantly for the last Led Zeppelin song before the curtain dropped, it was clear what was about to happen. The word KISS plastered in their custom faux-neon-light lettering printed on the massive curtain dropped from the lights and fell to the stage. Cue fire, smoke, and a descending spider-like creature of lights. With drummer Eric Singer on his own hydraulic drum kit, Paul, Gene and lead guitarist, Tommy Thayer, drifted down upon a cloud of haze onto the stage. They kicked off the show with “Psycho Circus,” the title track of their 1998 record. It took the fans on the floor a little while to get into it, what with the chairs littering the area usually reserved for General Admission. After some fist pumping, you could see the KISS Army begin to take shape in Vancouver and they swiftly ended the first song with the lyric, “Welcome to the show!”
Anyone who would even consider doubting the live show that this band puts on has never seen it. The pyrotechnics kicked off right away, and there were mini fire-explosions in time with the music. There was fireworks coming from the drums, from the guitars… And a KISS show is never complete without about a million appearances by Gene Simmons’ tongue. The massive screens behind the band zoomed in on an excellent shot of a guitar (bass guitar?) pick on his tongue. With more fireworks and pyrotechnics, we were ushered into one my favourite KISS songs, “Shout It Out Loud” from ’76’s Destroyer. Between their outrageous costumes, make-up, hair and even heels, you’d think they wouldn’t be dancing around too much. Okay, so no leaps into the air, but the positions these men got themselves into shocked and amazed me on many occasions. The main offender was singer, Paul Stanley. During the breaks in the song where Gene took over the singing duties, Paul was finding himself playing his guitar on the ground, laying spread and dragging those shoes around with him.
In classic KISS fashion, “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” off of Hotter Than Hell, was up next and this meant they had to take it that much further. Gene completely took over vocal duties and it was guitar solo heaven. Between Tommy and Gene’s solos, and then Paul’s between-the-legs solo… It was quite the spectacle. Gene’s bodily fluids started to join the show at this point so his tongue wasn’t just hanging out of his mouth anymore… it was aiding in his bass playing. As his tongue slid up and down his bass neck, I couldn’t help but wonder what possible make-up these men could use to survive this kind of wear and tear. The sweat, the spit, and later, the blood and through it all, the make-up kept up.
Paul seemed a little too into the song at one point and nearly tripped, but his shoes look like 10′ heels and I’m honestly surprised that nobody twisted their ankle during the performance. Gene’s signature heels with the silver shin guards are amazing, but I can’t imagine walking around in those, let alone performing! At this point, they brought the crowd into the performance. With a few “This side vs that side” shouting matches and a thank you for supporting rock and roll instead of the soccer game happening, they kicked off “I Love It Loud”from 82’s Creatures of the Night and right into a new song off of Monster, “Hell or Hallelujah.” The new song sounded oddly familiar with their classic brand of heavy metal and it held up against the hits.
“War Machine” blasted off next, another monster jam from 1982. Fire and brimstone seemed to go hand in hand with the blasting beats. The pyrotechnic synchronized perfectly and this seemed like a suitable time for Gene Simmons to try his hand at fire breathing. With a flaming spear and something flammable in his mouth, it exploded over the audience with his breath and the heat was felt through the audience. Hell, every time a flame erupted from any part of the stage, which happened periodically, you could feel it. It was infectious.
To cool off the crowd a bit, they played “Heaven’s On Fire” from their break into glam metal. Yeah, remember than time when KISS stopped wearing face-paint makeup and just made their hair huge? It was a time of animal print substituted for the leather and studs. It was interesting and created some amazingly sexual songs, namely on Animalize, Lick It Up, Asylum, and Crazy Nights.. But what is KISS without the alter-egos that come with the make-up? Of their 20 studio albums alone, those were the only ones that survived the make-up-less era.
A quick jaunt back to the beginnings, off their first album, the 1974 self-titled KISS, they played “Deuce.” The grooving tunes made me grateful that I was only a couple of decades too late for the original incarnation. I lived to see one of most infamous KISS songs and there was something special in the air during that song. Apparently the beginnings of that song is what the original Spaceman (lead guitarist), Ace Frehley, auditioned with to get into the band, after Gene had written the song. A song that has stood the test of nearly 40 years! “You know your man is workin’ hard, he’s worth a deuce.”
Back to modern day, KISS reminds us that they still rock with 2009’s “Say Yeah” off of Sonic Boom. I couldn’t tell if Gene’s drooling was from his bass guitar licking, sticking his tongue out for most of the show, or just simply salivating from the riffs being played. Either way, I was into it. “Shock Me” was next, from 1977’s Love Gun. Tommy Thayer took over the vocals and from the song, it blended into a few solos. One of which included an opening bar of “O Canada,” which set the audience on fire. Tommy danced around the stage with his guitar playing tricks and bag of pyrotechnics, with fireworks coming out of the end of his guitar. This flowed into a bit of a jam between Eric “Catman” Singer and Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer for the song “Outta This World.” Eric pulled out a bazooka at one point and it became yet another place for fireworks to shoot out of. Following the theme of solos, it was time for Gene to go wild. The demon stayed true to the KISS legend and rocked out to “God of Thunder.” Between the coloration of the lights making him look creepy red and green, paired with him spewing blood from his mouth, he pounded away at the bass lines to the roaring fans. His axe shaped bass only added to the macabre theme and that inhuman tongue sliding around among all that blood was nothing short of demonic… And then he was raised into the spider creature to complete his solo from the best vantage point, simply above all else.
Likely the best song from the mid-80’s glam phase, “Lick It Up,” brought everyone to their feet after solo city. The rockin’ vibe was taken into “Love Gun,” at which time Paul decided to ask the audience to shout out his name in order to get him to come out into the audience. After a few tries, the crowd asked nicely enough and he flew across the crowd with a trapeze-looking contraption to end up on a platform in the middle of the floor access, by the sound booth. He performed “Love Gun” there, on a rotating platform, so as to see every last KISS Army member in town. After flying back across the crowd, the explosions of confetti littered the audience.
With what seemed like a final hurrah, more explosions of confetti were met with the sounds of “Rock And Roll All Night”. The confetti raining from the sky couldn’t encapsulate more perfectly how I felt. That song defined many moments in my lifetime and will likely continue to do so. Even more exciting, Gene and Tommy rode some stage equipment out into the audience. An extender brought them out a good 20 or 30 feet from the stage and out where the fans in the stands could fully absorb the band members. Between their many ventures around the arena on their stage equipment, this seemed the most original mode of transportation.
They said a goodbye and headed to the wings, but as we all knew, they would be back. Without even much chanting, they came back for an encore and played “Detroit Rock City,” which brought with it the nostalgia that I was waiting for from Destroyer and made famous by the movie of the same title. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” from Dynasty was up next and the set was completed with “Black Diamond,” a close worthy of a song from their first album. A good old-fashioned guitar smashing, along with many signs of appreciation from their singer, and that was a KISS concert, officially in the books for me.
Sure, nothing would ever compare to when they were at their peak and you’d get the signature Paul Stanley jumping kicks. But for a band that has been around for 4 decades, they still rock and roll like no other. I thought the ticket prices were steep, but for the performance and equipment they used, it’s almost justifiable. The façade of the make-up keeps you distracted for long enough to not even remember how old they must be, because they sure don’t show it in the performance. I just hope that this band keeps at it ’til I have kids and they get to see the synchronized guitar-playing/head-banging of 3 dudes in front of a drummer, all in black and white, called KISS.