Words & Images by: Tracy Nunnery
KISS :: 11.22.09 :: Oracle Arena :: Oakland, CA
If you show anyone in the world a photo of KISS, it's pretty likely that they will tell you right away who it is. That kind of cachet is hard to come by in the fickle world of music. The monster that Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and crew have created is alive, kicking and scratching, and will certainly be for many years, even after they finish their time onstage. Their lucrative creation is completely absurd and they have gone to great lengths to keep it that way.
It's genius, really. When I first saw the KISS Destroyer Tour as a kid in 1976, all of the elements were already in place. It was an over-the-top exhibition of the most elaborate circus turned horror fest. And, as a rock show, not a play was left in the playbook with all of the cliché tricks in the history of rock music pressed into use. When Peter Criss and Ace Frehley left the band, their iconic characters kept marching forward. Fans weren't paying to see actual people; they were showing up, year after year and show after show, to see the spectacle. Although the band behind the makeup may change, the experience will be consistently familiar.
True to form, the show at the Oracle Arena was instantly recognizable. Just as in 1976, pyrotechnics, explosions, blood and "faster, heavier, harder and louder" were the defining features of the evening. There was a fire-breathing, tongue-wagging, blood-spitting demon wielding a bass guitar in the shape of an axe. There was a guy with a star over his eye and a cat playing drums. Oh, and there was some classic '70s hard rock, too. There were old songs and new ones that you would swear were old. It was all ridiculous but thoroughly entertaining. For KISS fans, it was idyllic old school rock 'n' roll entertainment with the volume set to 11.
This time out on the 35/Alive Tour, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons brought along guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer for an evening of neo-vintage entertainment. After opening with "Deuce" and "Strutter," the band played hit after hit including "Calling Dr. Love," "Let Me Go, Rock 'N Roll," "I Love It Loud," and "Rock and Roll All Nite" before returning with an encore of classics, which included "Shout It Out Loud," "Love Gun," and "Detroit Rock City." Stanley also stretched his trademark New Yawk-tinged vocals with a couple of new songs including a surprisingly demanding "Modern Day Delilah," which sounded as if it had been plucked from the vault of KISS oldies.
| Gene Simmons :: 11.22 :: Oakland, CA|
In their roles as the iconic "Spaceman" and "Catman," Thayer and Singer confidently ripped through the familiar songs as if they had been doing it all along. Stanley was busy strutting, posing and cavorting, while Simmons did his best to appear menacing. If only we hadn't seen him out of character in his Family Jewels reality television series. Or would that be in character?
All of the other essential ingredients were also on display just as they have been for more than three decades. The guitar picks were flying like confetti into the face-painted crowd. There were dueling guitar solos, a rotating riser for the classic drum solo, and Gene and Paul suspended, flying on cables above the crowd. There was also an incident where Thayer's guitar appeared to fire explosives, knocking a set of stage lights from the rigging onto the stage below, as a part of the exhibition.
The KISS Army was out in strong numbers, many of whom were sharing their fondly remembered youth with their kids. There were also the merely curious, those folks just wanting to see what a KISS show was all about. In truth, the music is still incidental. For the hottest band in the world, the spectacle is the show.
KISS is on tour now; dates available here.
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